[This is Part the Second of my throwback series, reminiscing about last year’s Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium as I prepare for the 2017 iteration.]
The Wife and I just returned from this year’s Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. I have decided that this once-a-year weekend full of food tasting, food knowledge, and a touch of food frivolity is akin to college football season: when it’s over, we just kinda’ live for the next one to start. This year’s theme was “Corn as Symbol, Sustenance, and Syrupy Problem.” I had no idea how much there was to know about corn. This new hat I’m wearing – Corn Expert (check out my authority here) – is liable to keep me pretty busy.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, so let’s start there. Our first morning began with Royal Cup Coffee out of Birmingham. The Wife likes to get the fancy stuff, like lattes and cappuccinos. I’m not averse to waiting for pour-overs when I have the time, but my favorite beverage from the Royal Cup truck is the nitrogen-infused cold brew. I’ve lauded this coffee a number of times before – it’s cold (but not iced) and it’s strong (but not bitter). And somehow, miraculously, it needs no cream or sugar. But wait – there’s more!
This time I learned a little more about how it’s made. With Royal Cup’s “tap” the coffee is infused with the nitrogen as it is dispensed, which helps keep the nitrogen from over-interacting with the coffee in the tank. And instead of carrying around giant nitrogen tanks, they have a machine that generates the nitrogen from the ambient air. It’s true that I mostly care about how great the coffee is, but my inner nerd did find that fascinating. Now, on to the eats.
Breakfast number one was performed (because it’s art, people) by Chef Edouardo Jordan of Salare restaurant in Seattle, Washington. Yes, we know that is not in the South, but this gathering draws folks from all over. He’s actually from Florida (which by some accounts is not in the South, either, but I’ll leave that for a later debate), and the menu at Salare lists the American South as one of the influences. Case in point: one of the first things you’ll see on the menu is Pork Trotters served with Collard Greens. Chef Jordan was also listed as one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2016. So his Washington license plates didn’t really cause a stir, and no one asked him to produce a birth certificate.
There were no pig’s feet to be seen in our breakfast, but it was nevertheless unique: Okra Stew with Whole Duck Confit, Berbere, Egg and Cornbread. One of the hallmarks of the SFA is to break down barriers, so that we can understand each other more fully, more fairly. Other folks do that, too – we just do it over amazing meals. This one helped break down the barrier of what someone “should” have for breakfast. “Egg” was the only thing I recognized from previous morning meals – never had okra, duck, or cornbread that early. Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend, and I’ve been to Ethiopia several times, which – oddly enough – probably means that it’s the only other component of this dish I may have eaten for the morning repast. Barrier broken: okra stew for breakfast is a winner.
At a corn conference, how do you top the idea of serving cornbread for the first meal of the day? How about corn granola and a corn pot pie? That’s not exactly what Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois of Blue Smoke restaurant in NYC called them, though. The Roster of Eats and Drinks for Day Two listed them as Andouille Breakfast Pot Pie and Corn Granola Custard Parfait. The pie did have an egg hidden amongst the corn and sausage, tucked under a beautiful crust, therefore: breakfast. The custard had a bottom layer of fruit and was topped with the corn granola – imagine your favorite crunchy, nutty granola, then add crunchy kernels of corn. Who would have thought the words “corn” and “parfait” would go together? Or “egg” and “pot pie”? And for breakfast to boot? Not me, for sure. But I won’t forget them, and would order them at any opportunity.
Breakfast on Day Three is always tough. It’s the next-to-last meal of the weekend. Mere hours from its consumption and we’ll be counting the days till next fall. It would be sadder if the food wasn’t so wonderful. Chef Jeremiah Bacon from The Macintosh in Charleston, South Carolina, keenly kept to the theme of “You’re giving us WHAT for breakfast?” with his Tabasco Clam Quiche. My primary experience with clams is of the fried variety, so I truly did not know what to expect. Tabasco I can deal with – I don’t always put hot sauce on my eggs, but it’s a familiar concept. And if you Google “breakfast quiche” the hits are legion. Clams, though. Clams not crisped with fried batter, or stewed in chowder. Again, however, my trepidation was for naught. Chef Bacon did us right and brought a little Charleston sunshine to our last day in Oxford.
One might say, who would want (fill-in-the-blank with okra, duck, corn or clams) for breakfast? Once upon a time I may have leaned in that direction. But somebody had to be the first to eat shrimp and grits in the morning, be it a citizen of South Carolina’s low country, or of Mozambique (the true origin of that dish, per culinary historian and symposium speaker Michael Twitty.) As a matter of fact, somebody had to be the first to eat a fried egg in the morning or decide that milk on corn flakes was a good idea.
So let’s raise a glass of nitrogen-infused cold-brewed Aztec organic coffee to the chefs who broke down those barriers and broadened our breakfast horizons. Cheers.