There were pizza biscuits, bologna biscuits, orange cranberry streusel biscuits, and biscuits with jalapenos in them. There were celebrity chefs, including Michelle Bernstein and Nathalie Dupree, in addition to our own great chefs from Blackberry Farm. There were cooking demonstrations, bake-offs and a Mr. and Miss Biscuit contest. A $150-per-ticket dinner Friday and a $125-per-ticket brunch on Saturday raised money for Second Harvest Food Bank and Share Our Strength. And there were samples — lots and lots of samples.
And crowds. The crowd got so thick on Saturday that ticket sales to sample the wares on Biscuit Boulevard had to be suspended. Talk now is that next year the venue for the International Biscuit Festival needs to be expanded. This year, only the second in the festival’s tasty history, the activities went from Market Square and the Krutch Park extension, south on Market Street (renamed Biscuit Boulevard for the weekend) all the way to Church Avenue.
There are suggestions that next year Gay Street needs to be closed for Biscuitfest, as it is for the Rossini Festival. But the city has to consider the impact that would have on traffic, especially with the Henley Street Bridge closure forcing more vehicles onto Gay Street. You hate to have a detour of a detour.
But, back to the biscuits! We bought the set of tickets called the “Better Bundle,” which got us into everything except the dinner, which we added separately. This definitely is the way to go if you want to experience all that Biscuitfest has to offer, including two nights of concerts.
The festival began on Friday evening with the Biscuit Blast-off, which was the opening reception at The Square Room. Authors signed cookbooks, wine and beer were served and there were samples of Murray’s cheese and, of course, biscuits.
Then, after an hour, it was on to the big Biscuit Benefit Dinner, held at the S&W Grand on Gay Street, a restaurant that has been closed for several months. It was reopened for one night only under the hands of celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein and a cooking crew from Blackberry Farm.
Shout out to The Pour Guys and owner Jerry Kruse who provided the bartending and fine dining service throughout the evening. The set-up in the closed restaurant was simple but elegant.
Sam Beall, the proprietor of Blackberry Farm, described Michelle Bernstein as “one of the most exciting chefs in the country.” After dinner, she said she was honored to be invited to Knoxville. “When you get a call from Sam Beall and Blackberry Farm, you say yes,” Bernstein said. “I’d have come here to pour water!”
Dinner started with a soft poached farm egg with raw and poached spring vegetable salad with tomato vinaigrette followed by slow poached lobster with celery gnocchi. Main course was braised fennel and lobster broth with Tennessee foie gras over a buttermilk biscuit with oxtail gravy. Dessert was strawberries with sheep’s milk yogurt ice cream and cornmeal pound cake. Each course was paired with wine. My favorites were the two reds. Beall described the Robert Sinskey Vineyards’ Pinot Noir, Carneros, 2001, as “more than organic — it factors in the phases of the moon and more!” But the best wine, in my book, was the Showket Vineyards’ Sangiovese, Napa Valley, 2001, which was served with dessert.
Here’s a cute story. During the festivities, Todd Moody rose to make a toast to his mother- and father-in-law, Gail and Fred Smith, who have been married 50 years this year. Their daughter, Stacy Moody, had promised to give them special treats all year long to celebrate — and this dinner was the first one. Congrats to them!
Saturday morning seemed to dawn early — and it was a hot one. We skipped the Biscuit Breakfast, being served in a huge tent off Market Street, because we knew we were headed at 11 for the Biscuit Brunch put on by Blackberry Farm. But we did stroll on Biscuit Boulevard to take a look.
Which brings us to the problem. By late morning, festival organizers decided to suspend sales of the tasting tickets and just let all the booths sell their biscuits. At least that did away with having to stand in the ticket line. But lines at the booths were frustratingly long at times.
On that note, we headed to the Biscuit Brunch.
Meanwhile, the Mr. and Miss Biscuit Contest was starting up. I swung by there to see what was going on.
Then it was on to the demonstration tent for some demos and cook-offs!
The International Biscuit Festival was an awesome, awesome event. There are a lot of folks who deserve a lot of credit. But I want to point out three in particular who I personally witnessed working literally all hours to make this happen: John Craig, the head of the Market Square District Association; Gay Lyons, a tireless downtown volunteer; and Judith Foltz, the city’s director of special events. Thanks so much, friends. It was great.