Posts Tagged With: the macintosh

A Tale of Two Suppers

[Part the Fourth of this whirlwind series looking back at Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium 2016, with the 2017 celebration in my sights.]

It has recently occurred to me that we human beings tend to eat by themes. In large part, restaurants set their menus by themes. Italian, Mexican, Thai, Southern, etc. Even in the home you can see it: pizza night, taco night, greens-and-peas-and-cornbread night. The idea doesn’t really stand out until you find places that shake up our thinking. For example, I ran across a place in Birmingham last week called Wasabi Juan’s Sushi Burritos. I kid a lot, but this place is for real. In Dothan, Alabama I found a place that featured hibachi and yogurt, another with Indian food and barbecue. I guess this is what those in the biz call “fusion”.
Suppertime at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium can certainly be classified as fusion of many sorts. Our opening meal on Thursday night was branded the Brunswick Stew Welcome Supper with Rainbows, Unicorns and Pie. Though many were involved in the meal in one way or another, the coordinator extraordinaire was Nancie McDermott of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Nancie is a terribly nice lady I met last year who happens to be a prolific cookbook author and cooking teacher, among other gifts I’m quite sure. When we arrived at the table, a bounty was already awaiting us: deviled eggs with cilantro and curry, watermelon rind pickles, Erika Council’s cornmeal cream biscuits with country ham, Bill Neal’s pimento cheese, and spiced pecans. It was a veritable picnic on the grounds, except these grounds had been taken over by a herd of unicorns.

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The hot part of the meal was Brunswick Stew with hominy, creamed corn and edamame. Remember that this weekend was all about corn? And remember I said there was fusion? Thus the edamame. I’ve never had Brunswick stew with relishes, either, but we had pico de gallo, curried apple chutney, and John Martin Taylor’s chow-chow – and saltines, of course. Fusion. On the side were Virginia Willis’s Sweet Potato Spoonbread (one of hundreds of names of corn-based bread) and Eugene Walter’s Hoecakes with butter and Muddy Pond Sorghum. Hot stew with cornbread and syrup on the side? Yessir, anytime. For dessert it was Bill Smith Sr.’s Sweet Potato Pie (deliciously spiced, I must add) and Sweet Corn Custard Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream.

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Now that you’ve got an idea of what the table held – barely – let me backtrack a little and ponder aloud on the fusion idea as a whole. Towards the end of our meal, Nancie was brought out from the tent kitchen – still in her apron – to talk to us about how the meal came to be, and what she said really resonated with me. Because I didn’t have the good sense to record the moment, I’ll paraphrase. She said that when it comes to food, cooking, or iconic dishes like Brunswick Stew or barbecue, we say there are “rules” – but really there aren’t. One eater may like the stew from the annual volunteer fire department fund raiser, while the other may prefer her grandmother’s recipe. Was it odd that Nancie’s stew (for that night anyway) had edamame in it? Compared to traditional recipes, yes – it wasn’t “normal”. It was still good, and it still had the familiar flavors of most other Brunswick stews I have come upon. But my first with edamame.

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Sadly, I couldn’t get out to Starkville, Mississippi’s Oktoc Country Store this year, but in previous years I have bought their stew by the gallon, with nary a soybean (aka edamame) to be found. It is consistently hearty and I measure all other Brunswick stews on the Oktoc stick. I came across a similar dilemma in my years in North Carolina when it came to Western North Carolina barbecue (tomato-based sauce, usually shoulder) or Eastern style (whole hog with vinegar sauce). What is best? What is “right”? What is “normal”? The answer is “D: All of the Above.” It’s all good to somebody.
Food can be a divider, as we have studied in previous symposia, but it’s much more fun when it brings us together to a level table, regardless of how the bowl in the center is filled or who filled it. This meal, with friends and well-behaved unicorns all around, was a great introduction to our corn-centric weekend.
Friday night dinner at the SFA has come to be a fusion of tradition and experimentation. The annual fried catfish dinner at Taylor Grocery – complete with fries, hush puppies and slaw – was somehow even more satisfying than usual. The bonus bites on these nights are the chefs that transform Simmons Catfish Delacata cuts into some pretty amazing creations. Chef Alex Raij of Txikito in NYC created a Delacata catfish empanada infused with the flavors of Spain and the Basque regions that her restaurants celebrate. Jeremiah Bacon of The Macintosh in Charleston, South Carolina, used that same Mississippi catfish to create Delacata Mortadella Sandwiches. I need to tell you that I had a vision of what Mortadella was supposed to be, and I didn’t have high expectations. My experience with traditional Mortadella, though limited, was not especially positive. Perhaps I need to try your Italian grandmother’s Mortadella and re-evaluate. My wish for you, though, is to one day try this catfish-infused version. These perfectly round slices were pan-fried, dabbed with tartar sauce, and served on a little slider bun. They were incredible. I seriously considered making a meal of them and skipping the catfish inside. I didn’t consider it very long, but I considered it, and that says a lot.

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I confess I did not test the sushi burrito, the hibachi chef’s yogurt, or the Indian barbecue, but I absolutely appreciate their willingness to go there. Somebody had to be the first to say, “Instead of throwing away these watermelon rinds, let’s pickle them.”

Why not edamame in my stew, or Mississippi catfish in my Spanish empanada?

Why not, indeed.

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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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