My friends Julia and Gary Bentley on the bus to Blackberry Farm for dinner. Their attendance at the conference was a Christmas present to each other. What a great idea.
Yes, dinner at Blackberry Farm is a main attraction of the Southern Food Writing Conference every year. But there’s a whole lot of other good eating and drinking during the two-day food fest.
The goal of the whole thing: put Knoxville on the culinary map. Read on and let me know if you think that mission was accomplished.
Some out of town food got a chance to shine, as well. I, for one, can’t wait to eat at Willa Jean in New Orleans next time I’m there. The French Quarter eatery, partly owned by chef John Besh, provided breakfast on Thursday and Friday of the conference here earlier this month and really knocked it out of the ballpark.
Another interesting part of the conference is the new products attendees get to sample. This year, one of the standouts was a watermelon drink called Tsamma. Julia and Gary, pictured in the first photo, are drinking a signature cocktail made with it.
Tsamma. Every bottle contains over one and a half pounds of watermelon. And just 80 calories.
Knoxville mixologist (and lawyer) Dawn Coppock created these signature cocktails using Tsamma. She called them “Thumpin’ Good Watermelon Vodka Coolers.” She’s a genius.
These square biscuits are signature items from Willa Jean. If you look at the eatery’s website (click here), you will recognize them immediately. They welcomed us to the opening session of the conference.
“What makes them so flaky?” asked my health conscious husband as he finished one off. I hesitated briefly before breaking the news to him. “Butter.”
Here’s how I ate mine. With pimento cheese — and blueberries. (Hey, hubs isn’t the only one on a health kick!)
That was our “snack” at 10:15 a.m. the first day! (See why I love this conference?)
Knoxville attorney Melinda Meador during a morning “interlude.” She read a hilarious essay called “Fear of Frying” from Michael Lee West’s book “Consuming Passions.” (I just ordered it.)
Here’s Kim Severson of the New York Times. “You can tell any story through food,” she said.
I loved this bit of advice. You can do all kinds of research on-line these days. “But there’s no substitute for picking up the phone,” Severson said. She’s right.
OK. Back to the food.
Lunch the first day was at the Sunsphere. It was catered by the great folks at Plaid Apron Cafe in Sequoyah Hills.
I had never heard of carp ribs. But there they were on the buffet line so . . .
The carp ribs were good, but my favorite lunch items were the collard greens.
The banana pudding was popular, of course.
And we got free shortbread to take with us. (My office loved it.)
The conference continued and after a few more speakers, it was time for another snack!
Also prepared by Chef Alon Shaya, charred broccoli salad was made with Blue Plate Light Mayonnaise with Greek Yogurt.
It was hard to be hungry as we headed to Blackberry Farm for dinner. (Click here for a report on that fabulous meal.)
Friday seemed to dawn awful early (!), but I practically lept out of bed and rushed to The Square Room on Market Square because I knew Willa Jean would be preparing breakfast again.
Oh my God! The grits with crawfish gravy are worth driving to New Orleans to get!
The morning speakers were interesting, but my mind was racing toward lunch, which was being set up at The Emporium on Gay Street.
Why the anticipation? Guests would get to taste some offerings of Chef Tim Love, who is opening The Lonesome Dove Cafe in the Old City this summer.
You could choose between iced tea and this new rose which Chef Love helped develop and brought to market within the past month. It’s called Love and Hope. Guess which beverage I chose!
Oops. My friend Erin Donovan from Visit Knoxville was not too pleased to see this moonshine cake on everyone’s seat. Why? A close look at the label revealed it was made in Chattanooga!
Here’s Erin, left, with Chyna Brackeen whose company, Attack Monkey Productions, arranged music for the International Biscuit Festival.
Dawn Coppock and her son, Leo Coppock-Seal.
First course was Simpson beef tenderloin tartare with grilled toast and a deviled quail egg. Simpson Farms is in Athens, TN. (I can’t eat tartare, so I spread the tiny egg on the toast and had another glass of wine!)
The stacked rabbit enchiladas were beautiful. (But I don’t eat rabbit, so I had another glass of wine.)
Finally, food I can eat! The strawberry-rhubarb Muddy Pond Sorghum scones with fresh whipped cream were delicious. (I decided against another glass of wine!)
Chef Tim Love making remarks. Everyone is looking forward to The Lonesome Dove opening.
Jen Mowrer and Colby Gallahar of Scripps Networks Interactive.
After lunch and a few more speakers, most folks left for Madisonville to tour Smoky Mountain Country Hams, home of the famous Benton’s bacon. Since I’ve been there before, I opted to take a nap. (The wine, you know!)
Evening brought the closing event of the conference — The Biscuit Bash, held at The Standard.
Getting ready for Biscuit Bash sponsored by Scripps Networks’ Great American Country channel.
Chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro, left, and his assistant, Winter Hose, get the pig on the table! DeAlejandro owns OliBea, the breakfast place in the Old City.
Tons of cookbooks were for sale.
There was no shortage of food.
An interesting take on egg salad.
Melissa and Chad Tindell with her son, Christian Copelan.
The band, Baskery, was such fun! They are from Sweden.
Here they are in action:
All in all, the Southern Food Writing Conference is a great way to spend two delicious days. Dates for next year have not yet been set. We will add them to this post when they are available for calendar-marking purposes.