It’s been two weeks since Music City Eats, but I’m still really excited about all the great things I learned and all the great people I met at the festival.
I’ve already read a few wrap-ups of the festival, which have primarily focused on all the food that was available from both local chefs/restaurants as well as nationally (and internationally) known chefs. And the food was great (more on that later), but what I enjoyed most were the demos and panels and being able to speak one-on-one with the folks who are among the best at what they do in the whole world. So that’s what I’d like to write about first; not just to share with readers, but as a reference for myself.
The first demonstration I attended was Nancy Silverton’s “Dessert Anyone?”. Pastry crusts of any sort are just not my strong point (okay; I have failed miserably at every attempt, actually), so I was very interested in watching Chef Silverton make the Torta Della Nonna from her Mozza cookbook. Just to watch her technique was fun and interesting. [Side note: many thanks to Alisa Huntsman for sharing her dowel trick for rolling out dough to a specific height.] The only disappointment of the demo was that we were not allowed to sample. Heartbreaking.
Later, during the Harvest Dinner, I did get the chance to try one of Chef Silverton’s creations: she made a delicious ricotta-stuffed squash blossom that was deep fried. It was the most delicious thing I ate the entire weekend (and the only vegetarian option aside from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream at the dinner). It was great to learn directly from her that she uses male blossoms and that if you don’t prefer to fry, they’re just as good not fried as well as stirred into a risotto (at the very end) or in a fritatta. Now I regret leaving all those male blooms out in the garden.
Speaking of Jeni’s, I also got to chat with Jeni Britton Bauer at the Harvest Dinner. Any time Jeni’s is at an event, I always go there first when there’s no line and I still have plenty of room for ice cream. Because Jeni’s is the good stuff. Anyway, Jeni (Chef Bauer? Chef Britton Bauer? It seems odd to refer to her any way other than Jeni) is a delightful person, as you’d expect the head of an ice cream maker would be. During a panel discussion Saturday, she told some great stories about developing new flavors and working with local farmers to get the products she needs. A quest for local huckleberries (in order to avoid fighting with grizzly bears to procure them) actually resulted in a flavor that uses the fresh new sprouts of celery leaves.
So, in case you’re wondering, developing new ice cream flavors often requires some muddy trips to the farm for inspiration and quality control. It also involves a lot of work shucking corn, cleaning fruit and testing, testing, testing. She also draws inspiration from non-dessert foods made by great chefs. Later, I learned that Jeni and I have the same birthday, so we’re pretty much best friends now, right?
On Sunday, I attended the demo led by Michael Symon, “It’s All Greek to Me.” Surprisingly, my TV is tuned to HGTV more than the Food Network or Cooking Channel, so I wasn’t all that familiar with Chef Symon. But he was hilarious. And full of useful tips:
- Don’t use non-stick [I don’t anyway.] because if you cook food long enough at the right temperature, it won’t stick anyway. Cook most foods over medium-high heat and let them caramelize (it’s not burnt!).
- Did you know it’s the ribs of the pepper moreso than the seeds that contain the heat? I didn’t. But I don’t eat peppers. Regardless, it’s good to know.
- Chef Symon also told us about the process garlic goes through when it is commercially peeled and minced. I absolutely despise peeling garlic, so I frequently use the minced garlic in a jar. He told tales of it being boiled and bleached and all sorts of other ways it loses its flavor in the process. So I figure I just need to stop being lazy about it. Plus, I’ve got some bulbs planted to have some of my own homegrown garlic next year.
- He also talked about how his mother made “inside out grilled cheese sandwiches” with halloumi cheese (a cheese you can grill/fry in a pan) by layering herbs and tomatoes between slices of the cheese and…argh, I want that RIGHT NOW.
Among the other things I learned:
- Jennifer Justus relayed the story of the origins of hot chicken. I had no idea that it was hatched (hurr hurr) right here in Nashville by a woman trying to teach her boyfriend a lesson about running around behind her back. He liked the spicy chicken so much, he started selling it.
- Giada de Laurentiis said she really believes that having kids in the kitchen to help prepare food helps to overcome pickiness. It makes sense that they’d want to try food that they helped to make, so I am going to work on making this happen in our home. Mini Eats is not very adventurous.
- Blackberry Farm has their own Preservation Kitchen. As in, a whole space dedicated to pickles, preserves, and all the other techniques used to preserve food when it’s at its most plentiful to use at other times of the year. Man, I would love to intern there.
And, of course, in addition to all the great knowledge I picked up, I ate some great food and had some great drinks. Saturday’s vegetarian selections were a bit slim, but Sunday was great. A lot of restaurants were going for a more brunch-type offering Sunday and took it easy on the meat, which I appreciated.
And then there was the liquor. So, so many great wines plus Jameson and Willett and Ole Smoky Moonshine…if I’d tried everything, I’d still be tipsy. But it was great to have the opporunity to try so many new wines—and my first taste of Jameson! Jameson with ginger ale is pretty darn tasty. Jameson was also tasty added to the mocktails that Mountain Valley Water provided (side note: Mountain Valley Water is my favorite bottled water and my 2nd favorite water overall behind Memphis water and just ahead of NYC water).
I’m very hopeful they’ll have this event again next year (and that I’ll be invited back to cover it). It was a lot of fun, though I hope they’ll make some tweaks to make it more accessible for Nashvillians; not just geared more toward tourists. For example, it would have been nice to have more food samples during the Flavors of Nashville event. Many restaurants ran out of food (I regret that I still have had nothing from The Catbird Seat), so a lot of folks missed out. I think having foodservice there (not just restaurants) would be nice. Harper’s Ham and Palmetto Cheese were both there, so more along that line, for example, the local farms and dairies with cheese and preserve samples as well as the local pasta and bread makers. Certainly, the organizers can’t help who does and does not accept an invitation to serve, but maybe reaching out to a broader list (and maybe outside the metro area into middle Tennessee) would help.
Overall, I think it was a great festival, particularly for people who got to sit in on more demos and panels. I’m not sure when I’ll ever get the chance to learn about making pastry and general cooking tips from world-renowned chefs again! That was truly fantastic.