It would be foolish not to believe that a huge part of the draw of the annual Southern Food Writing Conference is the chance to have dinner at acclaimed Blackberry Farm in nearby Walland, Tennessee.
And this is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Blackberry Farm certainly benefits by exposure to writers from magazines and newspapers ranging from Martha Stewart Living and Better Homes & Gardens to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Being active in Knoxville’s non-profit and cultural community, we get a chance to eat at Blackberry Farm a few times a year at various fundraisers and events. But, take it from me, the best dinner of all is when the food writers are visiting. The wine pours just seem a little more generous and the stellar service is even more spot on.
This blog post covers the second half of the conference schedule. And, happily, it starts with that fabulous dinner at Blackberry Farm.
Last year, the food writers got to see Blackberry’s new event center, Bramble Hall, while it was still under construction. This year, they got to dine there — and visit the new wine tunnel that connects Bramble Hall with The Barn.
Chef Cassidee loves to forage and Blackberry Farm is a great place to do that, as you will see from the dinner photos. She also makes full use of the gardens there. “I picked all the little herbs I could get from the gardens,” she said.
This course was paired with a 2014 Vernay Le Pied de Samson viognier from Collines Rhodaniennes. The wine takes its name “Le Pied de Samson,” meaning ‘Samson’s foot,’ from regional folklore, which tells of a giant, Samson, who with one foot on either bank of the Rhône River bent down to drink from the river and quench his thirst. Pretty cool name.
Andy Chabot, Blackberry’s sommelier and food and beverage director, called the wine, “maybe the best viognier in the world” and pointed out that “viogniers are great when paired with greens.” (Note to self.)
Interestingly, the second course also was a salad, although a warm one.
It was paired with a 2013 Melville chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County, California. “Chardonnay with creamy greens is amazing,” Chabot said.
Its wine pairing was a 2013 Kimsey grenache from Ballard Canyon, also in Santa Barbara County.
And then came another course.
“The beet greens on your plate were picked today,” Chabot said. He paired the beef dish with a 2003 La Sirena syrah from Santa Ynez Valley, also in Santa Barbara County.
We took a little break in the eating to watch John Craig, founder of the Southern Food Writing Conference and the International Biscuit Festival, give a special honor to cookbook author Ronni Lundy.
“I don’t know why I’m getting all these awards and accolades,” Lundy laughed. “I feel like I’m supposed to die!”
We were all about to die from eating too much, but dessert arrived!
And, with that, the night was a wrap! I got back to my condo in downtown Knoxville at 11:45 and dove into bed because Friday’s activities started at 8:30 a.m. at The Square Room on Market Square.
After a breakfast of biscuits and gravy (!), the morning sessions were lively.
“The Wall Street Journal still skews older and male, but I don’t have to focus just on those readers,” Kracklauer said. Just as I was starting to feel a little jealous and wondering if I should have stayed in the journalism field, she added this. “We’ve had a slew of layoffs at the Journal, and I constantly feel like we are on the chopping block.” Nope, never mind. I’m good with my choice to leave the profession.
After a few more sessions, it was time to walk to lunch at the Lonesome Dove Bistro in Knoxville’s Old City.
On our walk back to The Square Room, we were told to stop by Mast General Store for a special gift and to try out the Cruze Dairy Farm pop-up ice cream store on Gay Street.
Part of the afternoon agenda included a tour of four local breweries. But when Sara Rose and I approached the short buses we were to board for the activity, we noticed they were not air-conditioned. With the temperature hovering at 89 degrees, we decided this was a deal breaker and we opted out.
I did not, however, opt out of the closing activity — the Biscuit Bash held at The Standard on Jackson Avenue. Yep, more food.
Chef DeAlejandro won a special distinction at the next day’s Biscuitfest. He deservedly received the “Biscuit Hero” award. All told, he prepared lunch for 100 on Thursday, this big spread on Friday, and he had a booth at Biscuitfest on Saturday (click here to see his awesome biscuits). He served 3,000 meals in all. Whew!
Good job here condensing a big two days! The Blackberry Farm dinner was a high point of the year! Glad you got all those details and good pictures. Thanks for reporting on these good things happening in the area so that we can explore them too. It was my favorite three days of the year!
Thanks, Deborah! I agree about it being the best three days of the year!
This year’s conference was fabulous. Thanks for documenting the experience!
Chad: It really was! A great job by everyone involved.
Cynthia, you amaze me at how you collect wine details, names of participants, and victuals. You really are quite the journalist. Thanks for the recount of two fabulous days eating and talking about eating. Blackberry Farm was a crowning glory event, but the other foodie talks, treats, and meals blended together to make one sassy, Southern event I’ll never forget. Thanks for coverage of this event in years past — you’re the reason I can now say I’ve had a beef ribeye cap at Blackberry!
Rusha: Well, if I helped get you there, I’m glad! It was fun to have another friend along on the culinary whirlwind! It makes you proud of our little hometown, doesn’t it, my traveling friend?
Moxley, great job covering this event. I have to go next year!
Cynthia, thank you so much for letting me sub for Alan! This conference is a must-attend for anyone in the food business. And trust me, don’t give a second thought to your career change! You are exactly where you are supposed to be!
Pat: You would love it!
Sara: I agree about the conference. And I agree about my career! Thanks again for being my friend and my “date.”
Wow. I need your life. Looks fabulous.
Monique: You should consider joining me next year! You would love it.
OK–Next year, I’m in. You’ve convinced me.
Gay: Yay! I finally wore you down!
I would love to go. Help me remember!
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