A Weekend of Informative Excess

Sunday, June 28, 2009

As usual, I can't believe it's already time to go home. I've spent a really lovely weekend in western Virginia and eastern Tennessee with the Southern Foodways Alliance. It's a part of the world about which I knew very little. It is a region of rich musical heritage. There is a burgeoning farm to table movement afoot, with the restaurants and farmers' markets one would expect to find and the patrons who visit them. There is a NASCAR culture, complete with a truly remarkable, to me at least, racetrack that can seat 160,000 people. This is more people than live in Chapel Hill and Durham combined.I got to take a couple of laps around this track in a pace car. It was fast and loud and smelled like tires and gasoline. I loved it. This from one who doesn't even own a car.

As is often the case with these trips, we were in a place with many old, well-loved established restaurants, like the Dip Dog Stand or Pal's. We were treated to an endless parade of hot dogs, hamburgers and sides such as ketchup potato chips. We had lunch one day at the Burger Bar, reputedly the site of Hank Williams' last meal. There are new places with accomplished chefs and sophisticated menus as well. This is pretty country with picture book farms that have begun to supply local kitchens, much like has happened here in Chapel Hill.

In Abingdon, Virginia we had one of the most inventive meals I can remember. The kitchen of Town House, in Chilhowie teamed up with Anson Mills of Columbia, South Carolina to prepare a beautiful lunch on the lawn of the farmhouse of Anthony Flaccavento, a board member of the Appalachian Sustainable Development Commission. This organization promotes farmers' markets and encourages commercial relationships between farmers and local restaurants and merchants. (See page 70 of the July 2009 issue of Southern Living for a photo essay of nearby Charlottesville, where a similar thing has taken root, so to speak. Among those featured is former Chapel Hillian Gail Hobbs-Page.). This lunch combined local fruits and vegetables with artisanal grains to make a buffet that required two plates per person.

One evening Sean Brock, a native of western Virginia (But the chef of McCrady's in Charleston), prepared a wonderful supper at the Bristol train station. The principal ingredient was local rainbow trout. We had trout caviar, smoked trout salad and trout fillets sauteed with Allan Benton's bacon. Mercifully there was banana pudding instead of trout sorbet. It was a pretty evening and we had a soundtrack of traditional and old time music.

The real pleasure of these trips is the cordiality of the SFA membership. The food is always remarkable and the beer fairy is never far away but this collection of very different people with similar interests is a constant delight

posted by Bill Smith at 6:49 AM 0 comments

Champagne trumps rock, scissors and paper

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Moreton Neal often advises "You'll feel better after a glass of wine". I'm always suspicious of alcohol as a remedy for problems, but sometimes... This afternoon I played unexpected hookey with my agent Katharine Walton and a bottle of champagne. It was like a week in Bermuda. We were rewarding ourselves for packaging honeysuckle sorbet in dry ice, packing it successfully according to DHS regulations and getting to the RTP Fedex hub in time to ship overnight to the Kitchen Sisters in San Francisco. I've been so busy lately that I only had time for one post in the whole month of May. Given the economy, this sounds lucky, but I do have my limits. I actually started several posts but could never get back to finish them and there was a lot to talk about. Joe York, film archivist for the Southern Foodways Alliance was in town to interview Cliff at the meat market. Friend and fellow food blogger Kim Sunee was here following me around with her new video camera as I picked honeysuckle. The briar berries in my garden came and went, but not before appearing for one night only in a "yard tart" on Crook's menu. Mrs. Norwood's niece showed up with a king's ransom in mayhaws. This is the first time in years that I've had any and the sorbet we made was spectacular if I do say so myself. Then there was the trip to Wilson for a fun raiser for the arts council there- lunch for 100 with no kitchen.

The above paragraph was written two weeks ago, thus underlining my point. In the meantime I've had a visit from Melissa Block from All Things Considered who came for honeysuckle sorbet. I was too busy running my mouth to take a picture of her, but here's one of the baseball cap she brought me. I also attended a pot luck supper for Pableaux Johnson, friend and food writer from Louisiana. April McGreger brought devilled eggs made from pickled eggs. I thought that I was done with honeysuckle for the year, but insidiously it has returned, so occasionally it will return as well to the menu. (The Kitchen Sisters received theirs intact by the way). This revival caused me to realise that the sorrell in my garden did not return this year and I have always thought that it was impossible to kill. On Thursday I'm off to Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia for a Southern Foodways Alliance field trip focusing on Nascar, old time music and of course, moonshine. Hopefully I'm back on track and will be posting regularly again.

posted by Bill Smith at 4:07 PM 0 comments

Soon, I promise

Thursday, June 4, 2009

posted by Bill Smith at 8:42 AM 0 comments

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