It’s difficult to believe that this year’s edition of the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival will be the fifth iteration of the popular gathering of Southern chefs, mixologists, sommeliers, artisanal food suppliers and their fans. In only four years, the festival has earned a reputation for attracting top-shelf talent and creating a jam-packed program of activities over the course of four days that rivals just about any other similar food event in the country.
AFWF cofounder Dominique Love has plenty of reasons to be excited about the 2015 festival being held in Midtown Atlanta May 28-31, and not just because it’s a major anniversary year. “Sure, we’ll celebrate our fifth birthday, but the spirit of the entire weekend has always been celebratory as we recognize the old and new traditions and inspirations of the food of our region,” she says.
Not satisfied to rest on her laurels, Love and her cofounder, Elizabeth Feichter, continue to evolve the festival’s programming and engage new talent. Taking direction from an Advisory Council of the South’s top chefs, the organizers are constantly on the lookout for the next generation of notable food and drink personalities from the broad geographic region stretching from Texas to Washington, D.C.
Another health-based seminar explores the curative benefits of an unexpected source: corn likker. In Moonshine and Medicine, Atlanta-based homeopathic-medicine expert Anna Russ will regale students with stories of ’shine in the early 1900s as a popular cure for ailments such as arthritis and colds. And sobriety. Medicinal use of alcohol was the loophole that kept many major distilleries afloat during the dark ages of Prohibition and allowed them to hit the ground brewing when the states finally came to their senses and ratified the 21st Amendment.
While the focus of the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival has always been the cuisine of the entire region, for 2015 organizers are narrowing their spotlight to a laser point. Arkansas chef Rob Nelson will illuminate the “high South” food traditions of the Ozarks stretching across Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Chefs Greg Baker, Vivian Howard and Kelly Fields will share samples of their native regional cooking styles in a cooking demonstration called Cooking Between the Lines. Expect rustic Florida “cracker” cuisine from Baker, veggie-centric rural North Carolina treats from Howard and some sort of delicious Louisiana pastries from Fields.
Individual Southern states are also carving out specific spaces in the seminar calendar and as separate “foodways” in the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival’s popular tasting tents. Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi will each have their own sections of the tents to showcase the rich culinary heritage of each state.
Other AFWF traditions include the Rathbuns’ Watch List Dinner, where chef brothers Kevin and Kent Rathbun introduce attendees to the latest batch of Southern chefs and beverage professionals making their mark on the culinary scene. The Fourth Annual Tribute to Southern Growers Dinner, presented by Blackberry Farm from Walland, Tennessee, will recognize the farmers, ranchers and purveyors that make Southern cuisine so memorable. The dinner will also be a coming-out party of sorts for new Blackberry Farm executive chef Cassidee Dabney as she replaces the recently departed Joseph Lenn. There’s nothing like cooking for a crowd of connoisseurs willing to shell out for a high-dollar dinner to make your mark, but Dabney should be up to the task.
The overall mission of the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival is to shine a national and international spotlight upon the food and beverage of the region. On a micro level, though, the AFWF offers amazing opportunities for food lovers to interact with the heroes of Southern food on a very individual basis as part of educational and entertaining programming. If this sounds like something you’d be into, tickets are still available on the event website, and Delta is ready when you are.
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