Blackberry, Lonesome Dove beckon writers to return

Allan Benton of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams with freelance writer Jennifer Cole after dinner at Blackberry Farm.

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.

Erin Donovan of Visit Knoxville shows off a signature cocktail offered to conference attendees as we gathered in the lobby of Crowne Plaza to board coaches to Blackberry Farm. This year’s conference theme seemed to be watermelon — we had it in many forms during the conference. The cocktail contained several watermelon ingredients — and tequila! Yum.

Here’s Dawn Coppock, our cocktail queen. She has designed a signature cocktail every year for our bus trip.

And guess what! We were offered another signature cocktail as we got off the bus at our destination! That’s J.D. Hibbs with the goods.

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.

Cocktails on the lawn. This photo was taken from inside Bramble Hall looking over to The Barn.

I loved this idea! Olivia Painter offers appetizers on top of a terrarium!

Ross Hatton welcomes Rusha Sams to the wine tunnel.

Here’s one of the beautiful tasting rooms.

There’s whiskey down there!

And LOTS of wine.

The REALLY good stuff is locked up.

Another nice tasting room contains this elegant map. I loved the serene feeling of the tunnel.

Bramble Hall ready for us.

Aren’t these pesto stuffed baby carrots adorable?

Chef Cassidee Dabney.

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.

Spring mushroom salad contained morel mushrooms, English peas, verjus and pecans. Verjus is the pressed juice of unripe grapes.

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.

Called “Blackberry Farm field greens,” this course contained ramps, bolts, shoots and hickory syrup.

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.

Crispy guinea hen terrine served with pea tendrils and rhubarb gastrique. Yum.

Its wine pairing was a 2013 Kimsey grenache from Ballard Canyon, also in Santa Barbara County.

Chris Kahn, right, food stylist, biscuit baker and Southern Food Writing Conference volunteer from the beginning, stopped by our table to chat with Sara Rose of Bush Brothers, the bean folks.

And then came another course.

Painted Hills beef ribeye cap with smoked beet puree, beet greens and horseradish bearnaise.

“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.

Craig announced that Lundy’s three Southern cookbooks — “Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken,” “Butter Beans to Blackberries,” and “Victuals” — had been inducted into “The Essential Works of Southern Food Writing.”

“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!

Strawberries and cream with curly dock and vanilla olive oil. (Curly dock is a relative of rhubarb in the buckwheat family.)

Chef Dabney chats with Knoxville private chef Simon Hall after dinner.

Sara poses with Mary Celeste Beall, the proprietor of Blackberry Farm.

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.

Freelance writer Jane Black, left, and Beth Kracklauer, the editor of my favorite section of The Wall Street Journal, “Off Duty,” which runs on Saturday.

“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.

Shaun Chavis explained how she helps people write cookbooks through Check it out.

After a few more sessions, it was time to walk to lunch at the Lonesome Dove Bistro in Knoxville’s Old City.

The antler chandelier leaves no doubt where you are!

The food writers packed Lonesome Dove’s lovely upstairs dining room.

Already on the table were two kinds of fettines — wild game roulades that are spit roasted over mesquite and shaved into very thin slices. This one contains wild pig, venison and huckleberries.

Here’s one with pheasant, chukar, quail, cheddar cheese and sorghum.

Chef Tim Love wisely made the rounds. From left, Pat York, Love, Heidi Billotto, Liza Swift and Susanne Duplantis.

I adored the main course, which was served chilled. Smoked salmon, baby arugula, farro, spring vegetables and feta with a basil-jalapeno pesto.

Dessert was a fantastic strawberry shortcake with vanilla bean whipped cream. ‘Tis the season!

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.

Here’s the sweet gift from Mast, right, and a sample product from another conference sponsor, Cholula hot sauce.

Haha. Love the light fixtures at the Cruze Dairy Farm store!

Melanie Hansche of Rodale’s Organic Life tastes the offerings.

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.

Here’s chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro behind a huge table of food. He looks good there.

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!

A closer look at some of those victuals.

Lord, look at those pork rinds!

There were scores of cookbooks for sale and several authors to sign them.

I bought these.

And I bade farewell to a great group of folks to spend two days with. Here are Melissa Corbin and Bill Alexander. See you next year!

Filed under: Downtown, Events, Food, Journalism, Knoxville, Media. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Blackberry, Lonesome Dove beckon writers to return

  1. Deborah Sams, on May 31st, 2017 at 2:34 pm said:

    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!

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on May 31st, 2017 at 3:12 pm said:

    Thanks, Deborah! I agree about it being the best three days of the year!

  3. Chad Tindell, on May 31st, 2017 at 3:35 pm said:

    This year’s conference was fabulous. Thanks for documenting the experience!

  4. Cynthia Moxley, on May 31st, 2017 at 3:36 pm said:

    Chad: It really was! A great job by everyone involved.

  5. Rusha Sams, on May 31st, 2017 at 3:45 pm said:

    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!

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on May 31st, 2017 at 3:56 pm said:

    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?

  7. Pat Ball, on May 31st, 2017 at 7:48 pm said:

    Moxley, great job covering this event. I have to go next year!

  8. Sara Rose, on May 31st, 2017 at 9:31 pm said:

    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!

  9. Cynthia Moxley, on May 31st, 2017 at 10:26 pm said:

    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.”

  10. Monique Anderson, on June 1st, 2017 at 8:19 am said:

    Wow. I need your life. Looks fabulous.

  11. Cynthia Moxley, on June 1st, 2017 at 9:28 am said:

    Monique: You should consider joining me next year! You would love it.

  12. Gay Lyons, on June 1st, 2017 at 3:37 pm said:

    OK–Next year, I’m in. You’ve convinced me.

  13. Cynthia Moxley, on June 3rd, 2017 at 12:55 am said:

    Gay: Yay! I finally wore you down!

  14. Monique Anderson, on June 6th, 2017 at 3:25 pm said:

    I would love to go. Help me remember!

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