This year the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is bringing the diversity of The South to Midtown May 31 through June 3.
Organizers have gathered some of the best talent from across the region to offer programming that’s as fresh as the ingredients. Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, founders of AF&WF, decided to switch things up and appoint an all-female advisory board to prepare for the festival. The board consists of female chefs, who with the criteria used to appoint the past advisory board members, would have otherwise gone overlooked, Love says.
“We’ve included women and focused on chefs of color and tried to be as inclusive and diverse as we could be,” she says. “We realized we weren’t capturing as many voices as we wanted. This year we cast aside our criteria and said we’re going to look for people doing really interesting things, primarily women, and then we said we’re going to make our advisory council all female”
‘At The Table’
The advisory board includes chefs from Washington D.C. to Texas that gave their input on how AF&WF should engage it’s guests.
They wanted the diversity of talent to feel organic, so Love and Feichter took months researching women and chefs of color. It wasn’t an easy task, because many have not had the kind of exposure that has been traditionally reserved for men in the industry, Love says.
“The goal was two-fold: to give women a chance to really have the spotlight and to be able to tell their story. It’s often overlooked in the media, award ceremonies, and at festivals.” Love says. “But if we’re going to adhere to our mission and tell the world what the South’s about, women chefs and chefs of color have to be at the table.”
Stephanie Tyson and Vivian Joyner, owners of Sweet Potatoes and Miss Ora’s Kitchen in Winston-Salem, N.C., were both appointed to the AF&WF 2018 advisory board. They’ve run Sweet Potatoes for 15 years and recently opened Miss Ora’s Kitchen, a restaurant focused on the art of frying chicken. The duo thought their work went unnoticed until they received the invitation to join the advisory board.
“We’re here in Winston-Salem and in our bubble working everyday, sometimes we don’t realize people outside of our immediate area are aware of what we do,” Joyner said.
Joyner and Tyson will be hosting a wine class titled “Southern Fried Fizz” where they will pair fried chicken with various champagnes. It’s right up their alley since opening Miss Ora’s Kitchen. American cuisine like fried chicken is rooted in the work of women and African-Americans, and Joyner said she is humbled by the recognition.
“Women in the industry overall don’t get recognized and there’s so many feelings about it, even though we’ve been around a long time. The recognition always seems to go to our male counterparts,” Joyner said. “Also, to be included at the table as an African-American woman is a powerful statement to the industry and that what we’re do is being respected more and we are being acknowledged for what we do.”
‘African- American Contributions’
AF&WF has always made an effort to include African-Americans in the programming. In fact, Chef Todd Richards, owner of Richards Southern Fried at Krog Street Market, presented a class at the inaugural festival titled “Where are all the Blacks chefs?” This year, he’s presenting a class titled “Soul: America’s Cuisine” where, he says, he’ll take the limitations off of soul food.
“This class will be on soul food and the many unlimited boundaries of soul food. There’s always this question of where did soulfood originate from,” Richards says. “It’s attributed to the 1950’s and 1960’s, but however the legacy of African- American contributions to foodways have been here for hundreds of years.”
The legacy continues to unfold as more chefs of color take the helm of kitchens in the South. Richards says he’s always excited to meet the up and coming talent and to learn the new techniques they’re using.
One such new comer is Femi Oyediran, the sommelier and co-owner of Graft Wine Shop in Charleston, S.C., Oyediran is presenting a Connoisseurs Dinner titled “Plate Sessions” with Asha Gomez, Miles White, Erik Bruner-Yang and Todd Thrasher. The dinner features chefs presenting dishes inspired by their playlist or soundtracks.
Oyediran, who is Nigerian, said at Graft music is a part of the unique experience they offer patrons. Graft carries more than 200 wine selections that can be taken home or corked in house. Oyediran encourages his guests to stay and soak in the ambiance which includes music that puts a contemporary spin on an old tradition.
“Eating and dancing is integral to our Nigerian culture, so you always want to put on exciting music when you’re eating or drinking or anything along those lines,” Oyediran said. “I tend to pick out things my patrons, will ask who is that. I play Fela Kuti, West African stuff, Sunny Ade, D’ Angelo, Cody Chestnut, Tribe Called Quest, and rock music. At night we try to switch to live albums, full albums if possible, and live albums at night are just fantastic.”
For attendees looking for more music and food pairings there is also a Master Studio presented by Southern Living titled “Taste and Tempo.” The class focuses on music and cocktail pairings such as Ella Fitzgerald and the French 75 and classic rock and The Tequila Sunrise among others.
Little complements music and food better than cultural diversity and, this year, AF&FW has something for everyone. From the Connoisseur Dinner “The Hibachi Phenomenon” presented by Maneet Chauhan and Ferrell Alvarez to a Master Studio series titled “Southern Ingredients and Their International Counterparts,” the three classes take guests around the world to Europe, Southern Asia and Latin America.
Justin Anthony, owner of Yebo, 10 Degrees South, Beach Haus and Cape Dutch, is also hosting a Backyard Brii Connoisseur Dinner featuring South African fare and presenting a wine class titled “South by South Africa.” He’s an expert at bridging the gap between Southern food traditions and South African foodways which Anthony says have a lot in common.
“The class is on South African wine and food that will go through the tasting of select wines,” Anthony said. “We’ll talk about the history of South African food and wine and what we do in Atlanta how we tie it all together.”
Other notable Connoisseur Dinners include “Dine by Sign,” a dinner focused on the 12 zodiac signs presented by Brittanny Anderson and Justin Burdett and “Edible Ends,” inspired by the Lyan Cub in London where they use every part of each ingredient, the class is a lesson on sustainability in the kitchen presented by Miles Macquarrie.