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The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival Re-Introduces The Comforts Of The South




[dropcap size=small]A[/dropcap]ccording to Greg Best, one of the original founders of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, the food and wine industry went far fast. Food lovers were overwhelmed, tasting limitless fusions of Eastern and Western cuisine with innovative techniques to make it all happen. Cooking is changing again and slowly, but surely, the trend is reversing itself. Chefs are embracing farm to table cooking and finding inspiration in their great- great grandmother’s kitchen.

This year at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival held May 30-June2, in Midtown Atlanta, GA., the culinary delights of the Old South and Old World are at the forefront. The themes for the 2014 Festival are old traditions, new traditions, and imports and inspirations. Chefs from around the world are going back to the past to nourish the present Dominic Love, CEO and founder, of AF&WF, noticed the new trend when they gathered the founders committee to plan this year’s weekend long event and the conversation was all about historical fare.

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“Colonial was interesting. It came completely out of left field to hear people talk about it. In person there was a lot of talk about colonial, but you kind of expect that because you’re in a room and one person talks about it and others chime in,” Love explains.“….But then to pick up the phone and to be on a conference call with people who knew nothing about the meeting and for them to be talking about it was really surprising. It’s a lot of Southern chefs and they find innovation in looking back. So really going backward was to find who you are and what this dish is about, what the history is and what the techniques are.”

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Making the Past Relevant

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The appeal of going back to the roots of great southern cooking lies in the simplicity of the art form and historical value of the food.  Right now, old school drinks are also seeing a rise in popularity. The growing trend is incorporated into the AF&WF line-up. Like the food, drinks from the colonial period are making a comeback. Love says the Julep is no longer reserved for the Derby Day.

“It’s the ales and ciders. Ciders are just the rage right now. People are talking a lot about those and craft beers across our region are really strong now,” Love says.”What I found interesting is that there is a book that date backs to colonial times to where Virginians would wake up and the first thing they requested was their julep. It was a dram of liquor mixed with sugary syrup and that is how they got their day started.  It’s been glamorized by the Kentucky Derby, but it’s something that happened many years before.”

Best, who is a mixologist in Atlanta, says the resurgence of classic cocktails and colonial drinks can also be due in part to the economy and television shows like “Mad Men.”

“The Aviation, Negroni and Old Fashioned are now very popular,” Best says. “Five years ago you would walk into a bar and ask for an Aviation and they would have to open a book to make it. Now, you’re more apt to see the ingredients behind the bar; it’s more common.

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Best says drinks are essential to any get together, but with costs on the rise, it’s smart to learn how to plan a party on a budget. Best made a pantry punch for guests during AF& WF preview party and says drinks like punch can be easier on the purse strings when hosting a get together. He say’s this year it’s about keeping things simple, exciting and user friendly.

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“It about how you can make a cocktail party happen on the fly with things you have at home,” Best explains.  “Punch was the very first way we drank communally. There’s an economical and social component there. People are saying I don’t have a million dollars to spend and don’t have the knowledge of mixologists. We want to give festival goers something they can use, take home and share with their family.”

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Love says the processes used in the past are becoming instrumental in the future of cooking. She says chefs are finding the techniques that were once considered antiquated actually work, and sometimes work better than new more innovative approaches to cooking.

“There have been this really impressive movement over the past several years where people are reaching back and sometimes reaching back is reaching back to old cookbooks, or in this case Colonial times, or to the international immigrant influences that have come in, The African-American influences, and the Agrarian influences,” Love explains. “So I think it’s a constant evolution for these folks and how do they make their craft even better and it’s really intriguing.”

Southern Food, Southern History

Love is also excited to introduce the historical cuisine of the Florida Crackers to attendees of the festival.  The planning committee organized an entire class based on the cuisine of the Florida Crackers, a term applied to English and Irish immigrant groups who inhabited the Florida marshes and Southern back country.

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“There is a woman who grew up as a Cracker and hated and shunned that piece of her life. She ended up creating a documentary about being a Cracker and moved back to Florida and traced her family’s lineage. In some schools it’s a derogatory term and for others it’s very much who we are and our culture,” Love says. “The Cracker name came from mainly Irish immigrants in the Florida area and a lot of them drove oxen and they cracked their whips to drive oxen through the everglades and other areas. They also cracked whips to communicate across the bayous and marshes. So, it’s really fascinating about people generation after generation how they have stayed very true to who they are on the food front “

Remaining authentic to Southern culture is at the pulse of the AF&WF. Elizabeth Fiechter, COO, and founder, says the beauty of the festival is sharing southern culture, hospitality and charm with guests for the weekend.  Born and raised in Waynesville N.C, a small town outside of Asheville, Feichter is most passionate about indulging in Southern traditions. She believes food rooted in the familiarity and simplicity of comfort is central to the southern way of life.

“It’s a spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. It’s people coming together because they totally believe in eating good food, drinking good beverages and sharing that with people,” Feichter says. “It’s about hospitality and sharing your family table with people. I think that’s at the heart of being Southern.”


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