Posts Tagged With: Tabasco

Breaking Breakfast Barriers at the SFA (2016)

[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.

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These are a few of my favorite things…

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.

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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.

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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.

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Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium 2014, Part Two: Arepas and Underbellies

About a year ago I went to Houston, Texas for a seminar. Not long after that I went to Oxford for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. Ironically (or not?) the same chef showed up in both places. This is the story of that. And a little more.
My first night on the first trip to Houston I went with friends to Underbelly restaurant, the creation of Chef Chris Shepherd. I was slightly confused later as I read in the SFA’s weekly digest that a series of audio food documentaries (aka oral histories) had recently been done, also called the Underbelly of Houston. Lots of bellies here. I wondered if there was a link, and in a way, there was.
When I was in the midst of figuring out where I wanted to eat out in Houston, two different local residents (who have no ties to each other save the fact that they know me) recommended Underbelly – the restaurant. I was intrigued by what I discovered. Chef Chris describes his cuisine as Creole, defined as “the merging of diverse cultures with local ingredients.” Naturally, this kind of thing happens often in port cities, and Houston is the largest port city in the South. But he didn’t just say, “I want to do something Sichuan tonight” and pull out a Chinese cookbook – he found Cori Xiong and Heng Chen, the couple that owns Mala Sichuan Bistro, and learned from them. I’m told he also did the same thing in a number of other ethnic restaurants, and even encourages his restaurant patrons to check out some of these places before they come back to Underbelly.

Chef Chris plating at the Powerhouse

Chef Chris plating at the Powerhouse

At the Symposium each year, there is a big lunch on Saturday with a guest chef. This year’s lunch was given the moniker “Tabasco Dim Sum Luncheon” and Chef Chris led the way. I’ve never been to a dim sum restaurant (one more for the bucket list), but I’ve seen one on TV. Often the small portions of food are brought around on a cart, and the diner can pick and choose from several different options. This is basically how it was done at the luncheon, all the way down to the extravagantly decorated grocery carts. (Yes, there was a cart parade.)

Shopping cart bling

Shopping cart bling

At Underbelly (the restaurant – try to keep up) there is a full-on butcher shop where they make their own charcuterie, but this is not your Uncle Sal from Sicily’s salami. Some of the things we tried in Oxford were pho-spiced bresaola, paneer summer sausage, Sichuan saucisson sec, Vietnamese pickled pork sausage, whipped Gochujang lardo – and that all came with lard biscuits. Sadly, the biscuits were about the only things I could readily identify.

Charcuterie and pickles...and a biscuit!

Charcuterie and pickles…and a biscuit!

The charcuterie plate was waiting for us when we sat at the table. There were also pickles: daikon, red beans, soy green beans, mustard greens and carrots. The rest came in a controlled flurry in the wildly colorful carts. Salt Snapper Fried Rice. Sweet and Spicy Tabasco-glazed Ham Ribs. Korean Goat and Dumplings. The goat dish is on the menu at Underbelly, also, and by popular demand is one of a rare few that have not rotated off. This was not my first time to eat goat, but it was certainly the version with the most flavor.

Got goat?

Got goat?

But wait. There’s more.
Fried chicken with Tabasco-spiked Gulf Coast XO sauce, the chef’s version of a Chinese seafood sauce. Also from that genre, broccoli with caramelized fish sauce. Garlic cucumbers appeared about now, then fried bologna steam buns with Tabasco-infused Mayo. This was certainly not your Uncle Bob from Big Creek’s bologna sandwich. But it was good. Along the way were cold Sichuan noodles and eggplant with fig miso.

Bologna has come a long way, baby.

Bologna has come a long way, baby.

My favorite of the dozen plus courses was the char siu buckboard bacon with shrimp chow mein. I didn’t really recognize this as bacon, to be quite honest, and there is a reason. Typical bacon is made from pork belly. Buckboard bacon is from the butt or loin. And char siu is a Cantonese method of making barbecue pork. Every bite I ate seemed to get better and better.
Are we seeing the merging of diverse cultures yet, the real underbelly? Asian cheese in the summer sausage – you won’t find that at the Hickory Farms kiosk. Mustard greens I know, but pickled? Fried bologna bao? This was the kind of meal not to be entered with any preconceived notions, other than “Whatever that is in the takeout container is bound to be good.” And who doesn’t love a parade?

Bucket o' buckboard bacon

Bucket o’ buckboard bacon

Backtrack to breakfast, same day: another international meal to prepare us for the fusion to come. An arepa is a Venezuelan sandwich – a grilled cornmeal patty, sliced in half and stuffed with goodies. I had heard of them, but not served this way, and certainly not for breakfast. Lis Hernandez is the one who brought them to us, all the way from her shop in Atlanta: Arepa Mia.
The main arepa was the one she calls the Pernil – slow-roasted pork with caramelized onions. There were squeeze bottles on the table that looked as if they contained extreme green guacamole – cilantro sauce and guasacaca sauce. The two were similar, both with lots of cilantro, but the guasacaca had oil, vinegar and garlic while the other had mayo and jalapeno. For the vegetarians and the curiously hungry (that would be me) she offered another version with roasted butternut squash, eggplant, black beans, and caramelized onion. It didn’t make me want to be a vegetarian – the other one was roasted pork, for goodness’ sake – but it certainly left the garden gate open.

Condiment Coozies?

Condiment Coozies?

As I reflect (mouth watering) on these two meals, I have a couple of questions. It’s been a year and I haven’t eaten anything from Chris Shepherd – what did I do wrong? And would it be unfair to dream of a bowl game in Atlanta just for an arepa?

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SFA Symposium, Day One

The first full day of the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium is always full of anticipation.  The first time I attended I was anxious because I had no real idea what was in store for me.  I got registered, was handed a t-shirt and some uniquely-flavored peanuts, and sat down next to a group that turned out to be on Alton Brown’s television staff.  Now, in my fourth year, I don’t get anxious because of the unknowns, I get giddy because I know I am on the brink of quite possibly the best three day event a food enthusiast can find.

Our first official meal of the weekend was also the simplest.  But don’t be deceived: simple doesn’t necessarily mean plain or boring.  As always, the Royal Cup Coffee Company was there to provide our souvenir mugs for the weekend and keep us caffeinated.  And for breakfast?  We had cake.  Not coffee cake, not crumb cake – this was a genuine cake.  Dolester Miles, pastry chef at Bottega restaurant in Birmingham, gave us hefty slices of toasted cornmeal pound cake – for breakfast – with jars of strawberry and fig jam around to give it a little bling.  Not fancy at all, but if I had not known a great lunch was coming in just a few hours, I might have had a …third…piece.

Lunch on Day One, I have finally come to realize, follows a pattern.  One year it was waiting for us in individual bento boxes, the next we got a shoebox full of more boxes – little metal containers labeled with the food therein, which now hold my paper clips and push pins as well as those taste memories.  This time lunch was on a round metal tray covered by a banana leaf.  You may wonder how a banana leaf ended up at a meeting focused on southern food.  I did, too.

Country Captain Revisited was the title given the luncheon.  I had heard of Country Captain but somehow never found an opportunity to give it a try.  It is a curry-based chicken and rice dish that was likely brought to a southern port city via a British military officer linked to the East India Trading Company.  (Definitely the simplified version of the story, I’m sure.)  Chef Asha Gomez, originally from Kerala (southwest India) and currently at Cardamom Hill restaurant in Atlanta, took it back to its roots.  Since rice is the normal accompaniment to the chicken, she created a version of vattayappam, a steamed rice dish also from Kerala.  The green on the plate (besides the banana leaf) was Kale Thoren, which I had to forgo because the word “coconut” was in the description.  (The Wife loved it.) The bright pink side dish was – you guessed it – Beetroot Pachadi.   (You guessed it, right?  At least Pachadi was on the tip of your tongue?)  Someone was really trying to get beets into my system this particular weekend.  Not bad, but you guessed it again – tasted like beets.  Perhaps my favorite side was the sweet potato fritter with tamarind chutney.  Chef Gomez told us that eggplant fritters are popular in Kerala, so she took one of our favorite Southern ingredients and did a little fusion.  I would have scammed The Wife’s, but she liked it, too.  For dessert we had Peach and Ginger Fried Pies with Cane Syrup and Jaggery.  I had at least a couple of fried pies over the weekend, and this was probably my favorite.  Nice by itself, the syrup and jaggery (unrefined sugar from palm sap) gave it the edge over the others.  To drink, we had a cup of Cumin-scented Jeera Water.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, this is a common drink in Kerala that pretty much cures anything and everything – if you don’t mind drinking cumin, that is.  Then again, considering how some of the prescription solutions and syrups I have sold to many of you must taste, it really wasn’t too bad.

Country Captain, Asha Gomez Style

Country Captain, Asha Gomez Style

I need to give a mention to the afternoon snack.  Somewhere amongst the fascinating talks about Eugenia Duke and her mayonnaise and Sister Schubert’s roll dynasty, we were given a little pack of Molasses Spice cookies from Grey Ghost Bakery in Columbia, SC.  I confess: I ate them till I was dizzy.  Not a smart move, perhaps, but Columbia is not a short drive.  You do what you have to do.

Friday night dinner was another tradition, the Taylor Grocery Degustation.  I always figured that “degustation” was just an eleven-letter word for dinner, and that the people who wrote the program were just trying to be creative.   The creative aspect may be true, but I took the time to look up the word this time, and this is what Wikipedia told me: “Degustation is a culinary term meaning a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company.”  Well, now I know that the program-putter-togethers chose just the right word.  The description goes on to say that usually a degustation involves sampling small portions, and as far as the front porch at Taylor Grocery is concerned, that is mostly true.  Anne Quatrano of Star Provisions in Atlanta made us little cups of something she called “Re-boiled: greens, peas and Tabasco-smoked catfish.”  When we finished that we went inside and sampled some very large portions of fried Simmons Farm-Raised Catfish with all the trimmings.  After enjoying some of that good company with friends from New Orleans, we decided to catch the school bus back to Oxford.  I remembered that usually there are two front-porch appetizers, and I had only found one, until we headed for the bus.  I had consumed much more than my fair share inside, but I still snagged a Griddled Catfish and Eggplant Rice Pocket Bread with Cucumbers prepared by Rebecca Wilcomb of Herbsaint in New Orleans.  One for the road.

Back at our rented hacienda, our cycle began: eat, sleep, repeat.  Bring on Day Two.

 

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