Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Southern Foods Y'all

When Richard Blais arrived to join other top named chefs presenting cooking classes at the Loews Hotel assembled for the 2012 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival he showed up with a bunch of leftovers. “I had a chicken carcass in a pan, some celery tops, cilantro stems and the tails trimmed off of radishes,” said Blais, a winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef All-Stars.”

Chef Richard Blais gets creative with everythying in the kitchen

Blais, who is busy writing menus and getting the kitchen set up to open his latest Atlanta restaurant, The Spence, wasn’t taking short cuts or trying to underwhelm his foodie fans. He was there to prove a point. “It’s ethical and economical and even virtuous to use every part of a product,” Blais told his audience. “The garbage can is not an option.”

Hey Richard, are those carrot tops? You win the Top Sustainable Chef contest too!

Southern Flavors Today

The three day festival focused on food and wine, featuring southern chefs, wine experts, craft beer brewers, bourbon makers and food producers filled the midtown hotel, nearby tasting tents and local restaurants with culinary stars and enthusiastic followers. In its second year, The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, organized and founded by Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, champions the past, present and future of Southern plates and palates.

How about a dash of Duke's mayo with your Dish?

There was plenty of fried chicken, barbecue and biscuits, of course, but the variety of foods presented showed that “eating Southern” today means a reverence for the region’s farm fresh produce from Georgia pecans to Vidalia onions. And palates are changing.

A bit out of focus but so dang cute, Bryan Caswell gets ready for Cast Iron Cookoff.

During the “Cast Iron Cook-off” pitting chef Bryan Caswell of Houston’s Reef restaurant against chef Kelly English from Iris in Memphis, two of the judges - who just happened to be the moms of Love and Feichter chosen to reign over the Mother’s Day event- shared with the crowd that they were cooking with less bacon fat and more olive oil and enjoying more fresh herbs, salads and vegetables.

Can't have an Atlanta Food & Wine Festival without some Georgia Peaches!!  

Nose to Tail, Seed to Stalk

There’s an old adage that good cooks know how to use ‘everything but the squeal’ when preparing a whole hog. Blais takes that philosophy even further by applying the concept to all meats, fish and vegetables. His cooking class called “Waste not. Taste a lot.” took folks back to the days when very little went to waste. “Wasting food makes me sad. There’s great flavor in the stems and trimmings of vegetables. You can slice the cilantro stems and use like chives. Corn cobs are the bones we add to stock to make corn soups taste even better. As chefs we should ask our selves ‘what do we do with the extras?’ such as the salsa verde I made with carrot tops during my demo.”

The menu at The Spence will feature both broccoli florets, for instance, and the stems which a lot of cooks just discard. Blais who is executive chef and partner says, “I think the broccoli stems are beautiful. We will make little pedestals out of them as rounds we can sit sautéed scallops or sweetbreads on top.” Nutrition note: broccoli stems are higher in fiber than the florets. And stems, seeds and stalks of most plants are high in antioxidant content.

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival featured star chefs and eager foodies. Norman Van Aken packs the room.

Tail to Fin

Using the whole fish is good for the palate and the planet, too.

Chefs Norman Van Aken and son Justin add a dash of Caribbean flare and flame to recipes.

Father and son chef duo Norman and Justin Van Aken from Miami and Key West grilled a whole red snapper, “This is nose to tail cooking too. We should be thankful for the use of every part of the fish and without being too preachy it’s respectful if you’re taking this creature from the sea,” said the elder Van Aken who notes that cooking fish on the bone is much more flavorful than preparing just the filets.

Sharing some tips from their upcoming cookbook, My Key West Kitchen, Norman Van Aken suggests using the bones, head, fish and tails of a grilled fish to make a delicious fish stock, “It’s like brewing a cup of tea. Why not throw in some lemon balm too?”

So cooking Southern today looks a lot like cooking Southern generations ago prioritizing farm fresh flavors and smart kitchen sense; it just took us a few years to get back to the past.

Watch Norman Van Aken and me in vintage CNN On The Menu video
He's a rogue model pioneering New World Cuisine

1 comment:

CEOAtTheTablePR said...

What an amazing weekend with so many amazing people. I can't wait for next year!