Last year, we launched our Friends of the Café Dinner and Factory Chef Series, which was quickly established as part of our Makeshift initiative. As with most things here at Alabama Chanin, the idea evolved over time from an interesting idea into something bigger. In 2015, we are continuing to host Friends of the Café dinners, combined with a corresponding workshop series—a branch of The School of Making. The series will combine our celebration of slow, sustainable, and inventive food with our ongoing conversations on craft, design, food, making, and community.
The initial idea for this series was simple—each month, The Factory Café would feature seasonal dishes inspired by regional chefs (or restaurants) that shared our values of celebrating place, artisanal craftsmanship, and good food.
In April 2014, we welcomed the cuisine of Blackberry Farm, along with recipes from chef Joseph Lenn. After introducing the farm’s cuisine to our menu, our kitchen staff was inundated with orders of Green Tomato Pie, Zucchini Caesar Salad, and house made crepes. I was so excited our community was embracing and supporting our new venture—and was also happy to be able to bring a taste of the Appalachian Foothills to Florence, Alabama.
The following month, we featured the recipes and stories of two of my personal heroines, The Kitchen Sisters (also known as Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva). I shared my own hidden kitchen story, and encouraged others to do the same.
Chef Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club joined us in June, for our inaugural Friends of the Café Dinner. Chef Hastings is a disciple of the Slow Food Movement—think good, clean, fair—and we were honored to have him and his team at The Factory. That first dinner was an evening of exquisite food, lively conversation, and support for the Alabama Gulf Seafood organization.
In July, chef Vivian Howard was featured in our café. Vivian hosted a Piggy Bank Dinner benefiting the Southern Foodways Alliance here at The Factory, where her Cucumber Limeade Cocktail and North Carolina-style blueberry barbeque chicken were the hits of the evening.
Ashley Christensen—renowned chef and all-around badass—created the menu for our August dinner (which also served as a fundraiser for the SFA). We asked her why she was drawn to the organization and her response was, quite honestly, the epitome of Alabama Chanin’s vision for our dinner series:
“I was most drawn to this idea of great minds gathering and exchanging ideas, and bettering each other. It taught me so much about the importance of generosity of knowledge and experience. I want to be better. I want to be transparent. I want to learn from my neighbors, and share all that I can with them.”
Longtime friends and collaborators Drew Robinson and Nicholas Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q wrapped up our 2014 series with a delicious dinner in October. Smoked meat was served alongside beer from Good People Brewing Company—a twist on traditional wine pairings. It was a great way to send the series into hiatus.
P.S. Read full recaps of our previous dinners (and Q+As with featured chefs) on our Journal here.