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Mississippians Shine at Food Journalists Conference

Wally Joe.
Wally Joe.

By Laurie Triplette


See photo gallery at bottom of page.

The world has come to know that Oxford is a food town and Ole Miss a foodie school whose denizens know how to cook, talk and write about the subject.

To confirm this as fact, consider that on Sept. 9, Ole Miss alumnus Jim Stark won $70,000 duking it out with professional chefs on the television show, Food Fighters. 

As if that weren’t enough, last week in nearby Memphis, a prime group of Ole Miss-affiliated scholars, writers and cooks helped put on the dog for the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ) at Eat. Drink. Write. Memphis!, the association’s national conference. And one Ole Miss student, Sarah Bracy Penn, was a winner in the AFJ annual writing awards competition, the oldest still-functioning contest for food writers. (Check out Sarah’s article “From Italy, with Love” at https://www.sarahbracypenn.com/#!from-italy-with-love/cgmz)

The AFJ weeklong event kicked off with a special Tuesday night Duck Viewing at The Peabody, where Ole Miss alumna and AFJ conference coordinator Susan Puckett served as honorary “Duckmaster” during the  hotel’s famous afternoon duck march.

The AFJ attendees then joined a brass band-led second line parade from The Peabody to the historic A. Schwab Trading Company on Beale Street. The Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored the opening meet-and-greet event with a titillating array of tasty appetizers, locally brewed craft beer and wines. Nationally acclaimed Memphis chef, restaurateur and caterer Karen Carrier tickled attendees’ tastebuds with a sampler of locally sourced veggies, meats and seafood such as grilled okra and chickpea fritters.

Another highlight of the week was a vegetarian luncheon at Felicia Suzanne Restaurant, prepared with Chef Miles McMath, the renowned chef from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who is the only hospital chef ever to be invited cook at the (James) Beard House, and Justin Fox Burks, the blogger, photographer, and cookbook author. Tomato pie, hot water cornbread, smoked mushroom tamales, and creamy grits never tasted so good.

Hotty Toddy world was strongly in evidence throughout the week, at the Staxx Museum of Soul and other venerable sites around the headwaters of the Mississippi Delta otherwise known as the Peabody hotel. 

Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) documentarian Joe York presented snippets from three of his documentaries featuring old-school regional barbecue pitmasters during a session entitled “Tales from the Barbecue Trail.” 

SFA director John T. Edge moderated a panel on how oral history can enrich storytelling, The entire panel included specialists affiliated with the University of Mississippi – SFA oral historian Amy Evans; Kate Medley, former newspaper reporter and SFA historian who produces “A Spoken Dish,” a video project out of North Carolina through which she seeks to “document the palate of a changing South”; and Pulitzer-prize-winning photojournalist Alysia Burton-Steele, an associate professor at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism & New Media.

The Wednesday night “Taste of Memphis” at the Staxx Museum of Soul included two craft beer breweries, a whiskey distiller, a new coffee company, a nationally acclaimed chocolatier, and more than 21 restaurants and food shops. 

The food tastings were set up with pairs of restaurateurs. Among them, the following Ole Miss alumni prepared outstanding dishes: 

Kelly English, Restaurant Iris and The Second Line (paired with Erling Jensen: The Restaurant)

Wally Joe, Acre Restaurant (paired with Jonathan Magallanes of Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana)

Michael Hudman/Andy Ticer , Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and Hog and Hominy (paired with Frank and Eric Vernon of the Bar-B-Q Shop)

Ryan Trimm, Sweet Grass and Southward Fare and Libations (paired with Nick Vergo of Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous)

Katy Gordon, Muddy’s Bake Shop (paired with B.J. Tamayo of Alcenia’s)

The Thursday night awards banquet at the Peabody featured a clever theme menu based on the recipes of Chef and restaurateur Regina Charbonneau, of Natchez. Charbonneau happens to be culinary director for the American Queen paddleboat company and author of a recent cookbook, Mississippi Current Cookbook: A Culinary Journey Down America’s Greatest River. Charbonneau was introduced by her good friend Julia Reed, the Greenville, MS native who is a nationally acclaimed author, editor and journalist. 

Peabody chefs Andreas Kisler and Konrad Spitzbart prepared a four-course dinner featuring dishes derived from Charbonneau’s cookbook. The entire menu reflected the three sections of the Great Muddy —  from the Minnesota headwaters to the lower Delta. 

Conference attendance reached 129 between Tuesday, Sept. 9 and Friday, Sept. 12, with 25 staying over to take a 24-hour supplemental Delta “Detour.” Attendees came from as far away as England and Canada.

For more information on the AFJ conference and AFJ winners: https://www.afjonline.com/winners-finalists.cfm

Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA)  and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).

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