Last week, leading up to the fabulous International Biscuit Festival, Knoxville was host to almost 100 food writers, chefs, photographers, bloggers and other foodies attending the Southern Food Writing Conference. The conference, now in its fourth year, also features, as you can imagine, some of the best eating our area has to offer. And some pretty good entertainment. When you’ve got these folks here, you need to put your best foot (or food!) forward.
Alan and I attend every year, using The Blue Streak as an excuse. That’s probably the only way the darn thing actually pays off. Ha.
The conference and the biscuit festival which had been sponsored by White Lily Flour since the beginning, had a new major sponsor this year, King Arthur Flour. According to the conference organizer, John Craig, also known as the “biscuit boss,” White Lily’s parent, J.M. Smucker Company, blamed company-wide cutbacks for the decision to drop sponsorship of the Knoxville events. King Arthur was happy to pick up the sponsorship and the opportunity for visibility with the food press and 20,000 food enthusiasts who attend the actual festival.
“Would you like bacon in it?” asked Tupelo’s Max Archer, who was serving them up. I didn’t hear anyone turn that offer down. “It’s happiness in a glass!” raved Chadwick Boyd, a food and lifestyle expert from Atlanta and New York who has helped Craig with the conference since it started.
“People want one thing from us,” Reid said. “Recipes. Recipes from a trusted source.” To meet that demand, she said, every issue of the magazine will have “a healthy volume of kick-ass recipes.” After careers in advertising and running restaurants, Reid joined King Arthur Flour in 2001 to test recipes for the James Beard award-winning “Baker’s Companion” cookbook. Since then she’s taught baking, invented recipes, and driven the King Arthur Bake Truck. She’s a baking evangelist. “Baking connects people across time, across places, and across cultures,” she told the crowd at the opening session.
Here are a few notable and relevant lines from her poem, “Statement of Faith:”
- “Barbecue transcends politics.”
- “There are no grownups.”
- “Tea time is why there is no road rage in England.”
- “Cool Whip is at least as scary as Freddy Krueger.”
Her book is called, “As Sweet As It’s Going to Get.” I bought a copy and highly recommend it. It’s available by clicking the link or at Union Ave Books in downtown Knoxville.
So, there’s this website called “The Bitter Southerner” and it is terrific. I say that as a Southerner myself, as a foodie, and as a former journalist. Chuck Reece is the founder and editor-in-chief of it. Here’s the deal. The site posts one long article a week (on Tuesday) about something unique regarding the South. “Mainstream media mostly only covers the genteel tea party South and the weird redneck South,” Reece said. “I decided you’re a lot better off being your own news media.”
Here’s how “The Bitter Southerner” describes itself to potential readers: “If you are a person who buys the states’ rights argument … or you fly the rebel flag in your front yard … or you still think women look really nice in hoop skirts, we politely suggest you find other amusements on the web. The Bitter Southerner is not for you.”
But it definitely IS for me! I recommend you start with this article, “Dixie is Dead.” Click here. “Y’all whacked the beehive today,” one reader told Chuck after it was published. Yep. I’d say that’s true.
Soon it was time for lunch. Everyone headed up Gay Street to The Emporium Center for the Arts on the 100 Block for a repast catered by Holly Hambright and sponsored by Visit Knoxville.
“My dream has been fulfilled,” Gallaher said. “I’m living in a town I love and was born to. Knoxville is more vibrant than anywhere I’ve ever been.” And, that’s saying a lot since he has traveled the world when he worked for DEGA, a catering company to musicians on tour. (He also worked at Blackberry Farm and at the Tennessee Governor’s Residence.) “It’s a great time to be in Knoxville. I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” he said.
And he offered a tantalizing hint. “Amazing former cooks and chefs from Blackberry Farm will open four or five new restaurants in the next few months.” Wow. Can’t wait!
Our next interlude was the biscuit-themed art exhibit on display upstairs at The Emporium. You should check it out, if you get a chance. It’s up until the end of the month. Here are a few samples.
Back at the History Center after lunch, we heard from food photographer Pableaux Johnson from New Orleans. “Because I grew up in Louisiana,” he said, “I was raised speaking ‘food.’ That’s what we do.” I thought that was an interesting viewpoint. Click on his name to go to his interesting website. Also, editor Helen Rosner of Eater.com and writer Keith Pandolfi talked about writing personal essays. He wrote a particularly moving one called “Searching for Forgiveness at Friendly’s.” Just click on that title if you’d like to check it out.
The next interlude came mid-afternoon when attorney Melinda Meador interviewed Charlie Peroulas, whose family has owned the iconic East Knoxville Italian drive-in, Pizza Palace, for 34 years. It has been featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” on the Food Network. Interestingly, Charlie said his father was one of those “super tasters” you’ve heard about. He had an extremely well-developed sense of taste and could identify the ingredients in almost anything. He’s the one who developed the secret red sauce at Pizza Palace. It’s still a secret. The recipe is locked in a safe deposit box somewhere in Knoxville. “To this day, the staff assembles the sauce and I finish it,” Charlie said.
One very big highlight of the conference every year is Thursday night when attendees board a bus at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Knoxville and head to Blackberry Farm for dinner. This year, we stopped on the way at Blackberry’s new brewery in downtown Maryville.
So, here’s the recipe that makes one 10 oz cocktail:
1-1/2 oz. Old Forge Distillery Coffee Moonshine
3 oz. medium-dark roast coffee
2 oz. whole milk
1 tsp. Old Forge Distillery 1830 Original Moonshine infused with split, whole vanilla beans
Infuse at least 3 to 4 vanilla beans in about a cup of shine for at least a week. (You never need to remove the beans form the shine. It only gets better!)
Make ice cubes from the coffee. Serve the mixture over 3 to 4 of the ice cubes.
“Folks think Blackberry Farm is about wine, but we are really about beverages,” Beall explained. “Most beer doesn’t complement food. Our beer does. It sits well on the table with food.”
Beall said that within the past month, distribution has started in all the Southern states except Mississippi. Locally, we can get this beer at Knox Mason, Public House and Tomato Head in downtown Knoxville, at The Brasserie and Bistro By the Tracks in West Knoxville and at Whole Foods.
If you’d like to read more about Blackberry’s brewery, The Daily Times did an excellent article about it. Click here.
When we got to The Barn at Blackberry Farm, guess what. More to drink. This time, champagne.
“This dish is a snapshot of what is in our garden 300 yards behind this building,” Sam Beall said. “There’s a little piece of each row on that plate.”
Andy Chabot, Blackberry’s sommelier and director of food and beverage, said Spottswoode is “the greatest producer of food and wine in this country.” It was a great match.
“We love to serve eggs at dinner because we love our chickens,” Sam said. “This one is complemented by the smokiness of the trout.” Andy said he selected the 100 percent chardonnay to pair with it based on its “powerful intense butter flavor.” (Surprisingly, I actually like chardonnay if someone as skilled as Andy Chabot is pairing it with my food.)
“We had a lot of discussion about whether rose was appropriate in front of great culinary minds like you,” Chabot laughed. “Tonight we are going through about half of what we have here. But rose goes with barbecue.” He was correct.
“There is not an animal on this plate. It’s nothing but vegetables,” Beall explained. The dish was paired with a 2008 Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which the sommelier described as “our house favorite.”
What a fantastic day. We got back to downtown Knoxville after midnight. But we were up bright and early the next morning.
This report will be continued in the next Blue Streak post.
What a Blue Streak. There is something in this entry for everyone. (I like the beer and writing stuff best!)
Now that looks like a proper Bloody Mary. I see a stop at Tupelo Honey in my future.
Maria: There was so much going on at the conference that it was hard to decide what to put in and what to leave out.
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