Music to Your Mouth

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Whoever first coined the phrase “you can’t go home” was probably in the middle of a long weekend at Palmetto Bluff, the setting for the 6th Annual Music to Your Mouth Festival (MTYM).

MTYM is a food festival to end all other food festivals.

It’s hard to explain the first time you enter the 20,000 acres that is Palmetto Bluff. The vast beauty of the conservation preserve filled with spanish moss and 32 miles of riverfront is breathtaking. Without a festival to attend, one could still get lost for days in the beautiful residential community with a resort spa and Jack Nicklaus signature golf course. And if being pampered or hitting the links is not your thing, there’s always kayaking, biking, and fishing.

Adding a weekend of culinary indulgence to this serene environment, and you’ll think you’ve gone to heaven. It’s hard to name another event that features so many of the South’s finest chefs in such a relaxed, approachable setting.

Sean Brock, Drew Robinson, Hugh Acheson, Chris Hastings, John Currence, Allan Benton, and Ashley Christensen were just a few in the all-star lineup. The James Beard Foundation and Southern Foodways Alliance were active participants with awards and showings of short films showcasing the legendary bourbon-maker, Julian P. Van Winkle, III and the godfather of pork, Allan Benton.

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Two days of bluegrass music created the perfect soundtrack to this Southern foodie weekend. But the best part, for me, was walking from table to table sampling the best in culinary creations while listening to interviews by John T. Edge and demonstrations by some of the finest chefs of the South.

Limited tickets meant no long lines, which is a good thing when you are transfixed by the smoked ham and cast iron skillets of bacon on Allan Benton’s table. Or when you’re being served a plate of Jim ‘n Nick’s perfectly smoked pork on white bread drenched in BBQ sauce and a couple of their divine cheese biscuits. Hungry yet? And since there was only a small band of Southern food worshipers,  finding a spot at fire pit to roast your gourmet s’mores was easy.

The MTYM folks got it right even more by donating a portion of every ticket to Second Helpings, a local organization set up to fight hunger.

From the potlikker block party to the oyster roast, the event was Dixie at its best. After all, a festival which sports a Bacon Forest and Game Day Beer Garden just takes things to another level, right?

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I survived the weekend of indulgence. My waistline wasn’t so lucky. But I have a year to work off the damage before next year’s Music to Your Mouth Festival!

Photography by Evelyn Laws

Boudin & Beer

How cool to attend a food festival called Boudin & Beer in none other than the Boudin capital of the world – New Orleans. Okay, maybe it’s not the capital of Boudin…probably more bourbon, beignets, or jazz. But wherever the origination of this Cajun speciality, the festival did the Crescent City proud.

I have to admit, I am no boudin connoisseur. I had never heard much about boudin other than its a Cajun sausage sometimes sold at gas stations. So, the draw to this festival was two things: I liked saying the name and the headline chefs were Emeril Legasse, Mario Batali, and Donald Link. Enough said.

My old Louisiana-born friend and SXNE photographer, Evelyn was quick to join me for the weekend of eating our way through good ole Nola. We hopped in her car and headed west. Our short road trip originated in Pensacola, FL. Nothing like having to evacuate to Florida to escape a hurricane headed for the Northeast (another post entirely).

Over 50 chefs participated in showcasing their boudin-making talents. It was a who’s-who of chefs from the South and across the country. Names like Mike Lata of Fig, Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club, Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner, John Currence of City Grocery, Josh Laurano of Babbo, Dan Drohan of Otto, Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace, andAlon Shaya of Domenica took the lead in crafting the best boudin I’ve ever had. It was a great way to spend an evening and help raise money in support of children’s causes.

Attending this event was a no brainer, but Evelyn and I hit the jackpot when we met up with the unofficial mayor of New Orleans, Julia Reed. She guided us through the tents of sausages, beer, and bourbon like a pro. We floated with ease from table to table as Julia greeted every famous chef like they were her long-lost cousin. Her Southern tenacious charm made it so easy to cut in line to get a refills on drinks. I don’t know that I ever want to do New Orleans without having Julia by my side.

Food and drink wasn’t the only attraction. The Francophonic sounds of the Cajun band Feufollet were greeting us as we walked in. They’re a group of young prodigies out of Lafayette, LA whose music pays homage to its traditional Cajun roots yet produces it with a new sound that attracts younger listeners. My 9-year-old is one of them. Their songs are in French and she doesn’t understand a word she’s singing but she belts them out. Her favorites are “Au Font du lac” and “Femme l’a dit”. I think the lyrics might be a bit dark for a little girl, but as long as she doesn’t know what she’s singing, right? You’ll find yourself trying to sing these all day long.

 

The other incredibly entertaining moment came when the 60-man group, 610 Stompers, performed for the rowdy crowd. This group of men, dressed as if they could have been Napoleon Dynamite’s brother, performed very memorable choreography to “I Need a Hero”. In fact, the hip thrusts are forever seared into my brain…and I kind of wish they weren’t.

By the end of the evening I didn’t have to look to Evelyn for pronunciation of the word boudin. Maybe it was practice or maybe it was bourbon. Probably both. Whatever the case, I was feeling pretty good about the way N’awlins and the super-chef community came together for a great cause.

Photography by Evelyn Laws and Susan Scarborough.

Ole Miss Homecoming, Day 2

Before heading over to the Grove Saturday morning, we stopped by Bottletree Bakery.  We were warned that this popular pastry shop would be packed with locals and out of towners who all seemed clued in to what an amazing place this was. We were lucky to get a table but to be honest, I would have taken a to-go box of pastries outside to the curb.


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The apple brioche was to die for. And while the chocolate croissant was a fav with the kids, we all agreed the cheddar cheese biscuits filled with homemade sausage was worth every bite of cheesy, calorie-laden goodness. And don’t get me started about the famed strawberry humble pie.

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Service was fast and friendly from our groovy waiter. Really wanted his t-shirt.

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Knowing tent after tent of deviled eggs, BBQ and sweet tea would be greeting us in a couple of hours, walking around the Square, as a little shopping seemed like the thing to do.

We stopped in at Square Books’ main store and their two outposts, Off Square Books and Square Books, Jr., which are all located within a couple blocks of each other. I’m not surprised that three bookstores anchor the Square given the literary history of Oxford.

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By the time we made our way to the Grove, a sea of blue and red had already been pitched and BBQ filled the air. Game day television was on and the Ole Miss band was marching through on their way to the stadium. Winding our way through the crowd, we ran into Senators, old friends from Florida and legendary authors like Curtis Wilkie.

As if we hadn’t eaten enough already, my friend Evelyn and I couldn’t resist trying another of Chef Currence’s establishments, Snack Bar.

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Snack Bar has a much more relaxed vibe than City Grocery. In fact, it’s located in a strip mall. But once inside, the food and influence of @BigBadChef (John) takes over and you get lost in another culinary trip of unexpected twists on Southern food.  An unlikely combination of flash fried okra, peanuts, garlic and Indian spices was impossible to to stop eating.