It's hard to believe the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is just in its second year (May 10-13). The name already feels like a household staple in the world of food festivals, and the lineup of chefs and events go way beyond what you'd expect to find on a sophomore's schedule. The focus at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is entirely Southern—it's all about honoring the region’s roots and its recent rise as a food mecca.
You'll leave each day happily stuffed from the tastings, nibbling parties, and full-on sit-down dinners, but what makes the festival stand out (and what draws top chefs like John Besh, Chris Hastings, and Hugh Acheson to want to be integral parts of the festivities as part of the Advisory Council) is the emphasis on learning. "It's that focus on enriching life through food," Hot and Hot Fish Club chef Chris Hastings said at a preview event in Birmingham today. (See chef Chris Hastings making chicken & dumplings in our Test Kitchen!)
Chefs will team up to host 88 seminars ranging from cooking with cast iron (David Guas of Dam Good Swet and Marie Nygren of Serenbe Style and Soul), and using nearly extinct ingredients like heirloom seeds (Sean Brock of Husk Restaurant in Charleston), previously discarded trash fish like Gulf Hake and Almaco jack (Bryan Caswell of Reef in Houston), and mixing chemistry with classic Southern recipes (a panel moderated by The Lee Bros. and including Sean Brock, bartender Greg Best of Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta, and Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner in Raleigh).
On Saturday, Southern Living Features Editor, Jennifer Cole, moderates the "Hog Heaven" panel with Nick Pihakis and Drew Robinson of Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q sharing tricks to perfect barbecue and talking about the importance of working with local farmers.
Each day there will be a three-hour Festival Tasting Tent set up as culinary trails. Make your way through the fried chicken and Blackberry Farm's cheese trails before drinking your way through the bourbon and craft beer trails. More than 100 food and drink purveyors fill the tents (the lineup changes each day), and your $100 ticket gets you unlimited samplings of the homegrown goodness.
The days end with dinner and events at venues throughout town. We'd fight for a ticket to "Pig Out: Southern Style," ($65) the ultimate backyard Southern bash filled with barbecue, beer, and live music. Barbecue master Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson BBQ and the festival Advisory Council (aka 70 Southern chefs, sommeliers, and mixologists) host the event at JCT Kitchen in Atlanta's Westside on Friday.
For a more upscale affair, get a table at "Blackberry Farm: An Inaugural Tribute Dinner to Southern Farmers," ($250) held Saturday night at a six-acre estate in Buckhead. The festival's pop-up restaurant in Midtown on Saturday will show off "International Influences of New Orleans" ($150) with John Besh, John Currence, Brian Landry, and Alon Shaya serving up Crescent City fare with Spanish, French, German, and African origins.
Those who want an insider scoop on what's next for the Southern culinary scene should add the "Rathbun Watch List" ($75) to the schedule — 10 up-and-coming chefs from across the region will show off their chops at Rathbun's in Inman Park Saturday.
New this year is a strengthened focus on cocktails. Bar chefs will get their own kitchen to work up their creations, which will be shown off at drink seminars and during the Southern Cocktail Hour on Saturday. Four bar chefs from Atlanta, DC, New Orleans, and Houston will showcase their city's unique drink scene; and sommelier Stephen Satterfield (founder of the International Society of Africans in Wine) will share his wine wisdom on the terrace. The wine scene is one area not restricted to being homegrown — although you will see some Southern wines—most will come from international southern regions like the South of France and South America. Laura Catena from Argentina's Catena Zapata wine family will talk about Argentina's wines beyond the Malbec.
Atlanta Food & Wine Festival culminates on Sunday with "The Parting Bite: A Chorus of Greens," ($125) hosted by Atlanta food-scene pioneers Anne Quatrano and Lipton Hopkins. The menu will be greens driven to help you cleanse from your weekend of f&w decadence and end with a performance of Leaves of Greens, a Southern Foodways Alliance opera about collard greens composed by 20-year-old Price Walden. Price was also one of the runner-ups for our inaugural Heroes of the New South awards in March.
Tickets start at $100 for individual day tickets to the Tasting Tents to $2,000 for the Connoisseur 3-Day Pass. We wouldn't wait to get tickets at the door, they're being snatched up fast. Get yours at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival's website.