I’ve been a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance for years. I plan to be at the 16th Annual Symposium this coming October, if I can get a ticket soon enough (last year’s event sold out in minutes). The Symposium (as it’s loosely called) is wonderful simply in the fact that you spend the series of days learning, dining, and drinking among such an amazing group of individuals working to preserve the South’s culture and history through food. Last year, Alabama Chanin designed BBQ-inspired dresses for the 15th annual Symposium. This year, we have new plans in the works. As I’ve written over and over again, what I love most about the SFA is their commitment to documentation and preservation of the present, the who’s who, if you will, in Southern kitchens (across the nation) today.
In the February 2013 issue of Southern Living, an article featured a handful of chefs from Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and of course, Alabama, who are preserving southern cuisine in new and reimagined ways that reflect the changing landscape and demographics of the contemporary South.
Nintety-year old Leah Chase’s recipe, Gumbo Z’Herbes, reads like a catalog of southern greens: mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, beet tops, cabbage, romaine lettuce, watercress, chopped spinach, and carrot tops. Add several kinds of meat and gumbo filé and this quintessential New Orleans dish begs for a pilgrimage to taste the original at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. The recipe also brings to mind a favorite Edna Lewis staple I read about a few years ago, just before Gourmet closed its doors. Simmered Greens with Cornmeal Dumplings calls for “an assembly of greens,” emphasizing the depth of flavor that combining several different kinds of greens adds to a dish. Both Leah Chase and Edna Lewis have been role models for many – in the kitchen and around the table. Southern Living reports of Leah Chase, “For her, the strength of the Southern Foodways Alliance is its ability to transcend borders and bring people together over food.” Exactly.
On the other end of the spectrum, Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky, and Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, are folding cultural backgrounds and new influences in with local ingredients. Lee is Korean-American and a Brooklyn, New York transplant who infuses the flavors of his parents’ mother country into local, Southern elements. His collard greens and kimchi is amazing. Smith serves Mexican influenced dishes (pozole is the featured recipe in this article) he learned from his own line cooks, loyal and skilled culinarians who started out as dishwashers and gradually acquired the skills to be chefs.
Southern Living also included chef and friends Frank and Pardis Stitt. I love all of their restaurants (three in Birmingham). Frank has been an inspiration for Alabama chefs and eaters alike, and resides at the forefront of the Slow Food movement in my home state. Check out Frank’s delicious Rabbit Pilau recipe (and his beautiful cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table).
The magazine illustrates some recent changes – good changes – to southern cuisine, which include new leadership and fresh ideas that better represent the South as it is today. It’s good for all of us…