Most people like to eat food. Our memories are embedded with smells, sights, and flavors that make up the stories of our lives. In fact, when I think of the word ‘culture’ I think of two things art and food. Both express the way we think of ourselves, nurture ourselves, seek pleasure, and search for the divine.
I remember when I first moved out of state for the first time I wanted to eat at McDonald’s all the time. I wanted to eat there because a burger at McDonald’s in Alabama tasted the same as a burger in Washington State. It was something I could count on being the same. But something DID change. I changed. When every meal was presented like a present, wrapped in paper, placed in boxes, I became increasingly aware of my role as a consumer. I realized the food from this chain tastes the same everywhere because it is not alive. It is, in fact, a product. There is no love in its preparation, compassion, conscientiousness, or even nutrition. I found myself wanting my grandmother’s food so badly, food I saw come out of the dirt.
This is the Southern Foodways Alliance’s mission statement:
The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.
Friday, I attended the SFA’s piggy bank dinner hosted by Natalie Chanin (of Alabama Chanin) at The Factory with featured chef Vivian Howard (of The Chef & The Farmer). This fund-raiser meal was such a treat to me (a birthday gift actually) because I was excited to see the faces interested in preserving Southern food culture. I got to listen to local farmers talk about food and local talkers talk about farming while eating the very best food in the South that night (seriously, no, I don’t care what you ate Friday, my dinner was better).
Why Vivian Howard?
Pretty much, Vivian Howard gives a damn. She gives a damn how the food she serves is raised, prepared, cooked, presented, eaten, enjoyed, and thought about. She gives a damn about her community’s food culture and wants to suck up as much knowledge as she can about where their food comes from and how to make it. She gives a damn about the farmers that work hard every single day to feed a community as well as their families.
She has, with her own hands, butchered whole animals to use from snout to tail in her restaurant. She speaks with a tone of reverence and authority over the food she creates. And basically she is a food medium. She is confident, yet humble and puts us all into a place where we can visualize the care taken to prepare what we put in our mouths.
This farm to table dinner celebrated local farms and Southern food culture by bringing together the summer bounty into one meal among a diverse community of eaters.
Cocktails: Cucumber Limeade sponsored by Cathead Vodka
Cherokee Purple Tomato Toasts with Smoked Corn Mayo and Pickled Red Onion
Corn on the Cob with Citrus, Herbs and Pecorino Romano
Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie “Cuvée Harmonie” (sponsored by Grassroots Wine)
I was so excited to see these little tomato toasts. Just the night before I had made some for all of us. The pickled red onion added another layer of great flavor! This was also my first time to have MINT on corn. Loved it!
Country wrapped Peaches with Gingered Goat Cheese, Spiced Pecans and Balsamic Vinegar
Charred and Pickled Pattypan Squash with Basil Pesto, Fresh Mozzarella and Stewed Tomatoes
Nicodemi Rose Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Grassroots Wine)
Unfortunately, I did not get to taste the peaches in the second course since the plate didn’t make it to our end of the table. Next time I will sit at the end closest to the kitchen for sure. But the squash here was amazing! I will definitely be trying a version of this in my kitchen soon. The cheese and pesto with squash was so bold and warm!
Blueberry BBQ chicken with Squash and Fontina Casserole and Cucumber and Speckled Butterbean Salad (Chicken by White Oak Pastures)
Broc Cellar Valdiguié (Grassroots Wine)
The fontina casserole was a completely new experience to me. It was perfect for both the chicken and the butterbean salad. This wine was my favorite as well. It really went nicely with the cheese and the chicken. This blueberry glaze on the chicken was so fruity and bold! It was a new BBQ chicken experience. It is hard to make BBQ different. This was great!
Coconut Cheesecake Pudding, Graham Crackers, Ginger Infused Melons and Macadamia Benne Seed Granola
Louis de Grennelle Sammur Brut Rose “Corail” NV
Comments at my table were “WOW” “YUMMY” and “If breakfast was a dessert.” I will leave it there.
As I finished my dessert, I was thinking about all the lovely people I was with (including my precious husband who experienced it all with me). I sat with dear friends and met new ones. And that made my heart full as well as my stomach. I think SFA’s dinner achieved its goal here. Best birthday gift ever!
Consider going to one of SFA’s dinners. There are more planned for the future at The Factory. The next one features Ashley Christensen. This organization is a much needed refreshment in our fast food culture.