Biscuit Bash – SDN column 5 June 2013

I was standing in line – for a meal, I’m sure – at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. That’s where I met John. Both newbies to the SFA, we introduced ourselves, asking the stock question of the weekend: What is your connection to food? At the time, I was just three weeks into my developing story of “Pharmacist by day, freelance food writer by day off”. John had a day job, too – downtown Knoxville, Tennessee real estate developer. But his food connection was much cooler. John was the Biscuit Boss.
At that point in 2010, the International Biscuit Festival was barely a year old. As I understood the story, a group of folks in Knoxville got together to brainstorm ideas for a spring festival that would bring a crowd to the downtown area. The legacy of the White Lily Flour Company (founded in Knoxville in the late 1800’s) made a biscuit-focused festival a natural choice. It only took one more year for the Biscuit Festival to earn the number one spot on livability.com’s Top Ten Food Festival list. I arrived two years later. Finally.
Daughter and I hit Knoxville about an hour before the first event of our weekend. Prior to the Biscuit Festival proper was a two-day Southern Food Writers Conference which culminated Friday night with the Biscuit Bash. The Bash featured bites and drinks inspired by the conference authors and speakers, as well as a showing of the Joe York documentary, “Pride and Joy”. Having reviewed the menu beforehand, I was a little afraid I might have to take Daughter to Wendy’s afterward – some of the dishes were going to be a little fancified for her taste – but she surprised me.
I thought it would be a good idea to walk to the venue, so our first order of business was to get something to drink. Cat Kinsman of CNN’s Eatocracy was the inspiration for two of the drinks available, a Bourbon Slush and Tomato Lemonade. I’m a big fan of “infused” lemonades – not so big a fan of straight tomato juice. I’m sure it was very healthy. But when I went back for a refill, I chose a blackberry lemonade instead. Much more my style.
The first offering being passed around was a product of Pillsbury, a major sponsor of the weekend – a deep-fried biscuit ball (on a stick, of course) dipped in a vanilla glaze and covered with sprinkles. Very festive, and a big hit with Daughter, the queen of the donut hole. Maybe I had brought the right person to the party after all.
As soon as we got the okay to start perusing the tables I went for the Shrimp and Grits from Regina Carboneau, the Chef de Cuisine on the American Queen riverboat. One bite of cheesy grits, one shrimp. They were just teasing me. Daughter spotted another of the few biscuits available at the party, a Cream Cheese Biscuit with Benton’s Country Ham, which turned out to be her favorite, and saved me from a post-Bash fast food run. I was doubly happy because if I had said, “Here, try this piece of country ham” she would have made a face – but she dove in assuming it was bacon and kept going back for more. Whatever works. And thanks to Cynthia Graubart, a James Beard award-winning cookbook author, for making that happen.
The real bacon was on the table, wrapped around a piece of watermelon that seemed to be pickled or candied or something. Even bacon couldn’t convince daughter to try this one, but I snatched several, created in the name of Julia Reed (no relation), an author and editor at Garden and Gun. Chef Hugh Acheson went back to the basics of southern pickle plates with his pimento cheese and celery sticks. Not long after we got there I spotted Sheri Castle, author of “The New Southern Garden Cookbook”. I met Sheri a couple of years ago at a Symposium and was eager to try the interpretation of her recipe for Peach Cobbler with Cheddar Biscuits and Blackberry Buttermilk Sherbet. This ended up being another bite that I went back more than once to “try”.
One of the most unique bites of the night was a smoked trout salad atop a corn cake studded with sweet peas, via Chef Holly Hambright. Another wild one was Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Scottadito with Berry Gastrique. I had to look that one up. In the Italian dictionary it means “burning fingers” – in the mouth it is a fancy lamb chop. Cheese wiz Liz Thorpe suggested a trio of cheeses that I’m sure were immensely pleasing to people who love funky cheeses.
On the trip up we heard a podcast that mentioned Francis Lam, a Clarkson Potter editor and Top Chef Masters judge. I thought that was quite ironic because I knew he was one of the conference speakers and would likely be at the dinner. The bite with his name on it was Collards and Fish Sauce, aka Greens with Extra Umami. I didn’t go for seconds, but I think it might have been pretty good hot.
Then there was the buttermilk division. In the Pride and Joy movie, Earl Cruze of Cruze Farm touted the benefits of drinking his buttermilk every day, and I got the chance to try it in two different ways. Cruze Farm Girls were roaming the venue with jugs of buttermilk and cups. I took a slug; Daughter took a sip and made a face. Or maybe she just made a face. Later it showed up again in Matt Gallaher’s Cruze Farm Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberry-Rhubarb Conserves and Riverplains Farm Egg Meringue. A mouthful to say, and a series of yummy mouthfuls to eat.
We had planned to walk back to the hotel after the film, hoping to walk off a few calories before hitting Biscuit Boulevard the next morning, but it was pouring rain. Thank goodness the Biscuit Boss had a bus.

Biscuit Pop

It’s A Biscuit…Really

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