The Southern Food Writing Conference always brings a bevy of heavy hitters in the journalism and cookbook writing world to Knoxville and this year’s conference, held here earlier this month, was no exception.
Writers and editors from Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Atlanta Magazine, The Charlotte Observer, Epicurious, Charlotte Living and Birmingham Magazine were among the 80 or so conference attendees who met here and, in the process, dined at some of our area’s finest eateries and were fed by some of our best known chefs.
I love how this conference, which starts with an optional Wednesday night dinner, extends through Friday evening and blends seamlessly into the weekend’s International Biscuit Festival. Biscuitfest organizers, also responsible for the writing conference, take advantage of the visiting food biz celebrities by having them judge the various biscuit baking contests that Saturday brings. It’s a match made in foodie heaven.
Here are a few of my favorite highlights from the more than two dozen conference sessions. Hey, thank me later. It’s a tough job, but someone had do it.
- Erin Byers Murray, the managing editor of Nashville Lifestyles magazine, noted, “Every good Southern story involves a road trip.” She also advised, “Write as you go,” something I need to take to heart. She’s written a book on oyster farming and currently is working on a book about grits.
- Food writer Adrian Miller, who also describes himself as “a recovering lawyer,” told others to, “Write the book you want to read. Don’t edit yourself as you go. Just write. Set a writing goal for yourself. Share your dreams with others.”
- Carrie Morey, the owner of Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, swears by White Lily Flour. “White Lily makes me look really good,” she said. “If you don’t have White Lily, I wouldn’t make the biscuits.”
- Jennifer Cole, formerly of Southern Living and Travel & Leisure, is now a freelance food writer. She related the secret to her success. “It’s all about diversification,” she said. “You have to balance projects that pay the bills with the projects that feed your soul.”
- Shaun Chavis owns a public relations firm in Atlanta that focuses on food. She is an independent cookbook editor and helps people write them. “Food and story are two powerful influences,” she said. “Cookbooks are valuable because they tell stories.”
- Toni Tipton-Martin is a food writer and activist in the area of African-American cooks, who often through history have not gotten the credit they deserve. The first African-American cookbook was self-published by Malinda Russell in 1866. It contains a dozen recipes for gingerbread. “Gingerbread is known as a celebration food for the enslaved,” she related. I did not know that.
- Three folks from Scripps Networks Interactive were there to tell us that culinary tourism is on the rise — especially among millennials. Here are the top destinations, in order, they said: Italy, Spain, France, Greece, USA (California), India and Thailand. Also, vegan retreats are on the rise.
And, before we knew it, it was time for lunch. We were directed to Pretentious Brewing Co. in the Old City where proprietor Matthew Cummings and his business neighbor, Chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro of Olibea, were teaming up to provide a meal.
Then, it was back to the East Tennessee History Center for more sessions.
One of the highlights was a touching video about Yassin Terou, the Syrian-born owner of Yassin’s Falafel House, which is located at 706 Walnut St., in downtown Knoxville. Terou garnered a standing ovation when he appeared after the video to answer questions.
Here’s the video:
Another highlight, of course, was the little bourbon shooters that were passed out mid-afternoon!