11 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival Events You Don’t Want to Miss

Your go-to guide for navigating the 2014 festival
Chris Hastings prepares food at the 2013 AFWF

Arguably one of the biggest culinary events of the year, the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival (AFWF) will be held in Midtown next Thursday (May 29) through June 1. Founded in 2010 by Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, the festival is intended to showcase the food and beverage traditions of the South through classes, dinners, and events led by acclaimed chefs and mixologists.

“The classes are created by those teaching them,” Love explains. “We encourage them to take risks, to be dangerously creative, and to have fun. One of our mottos is that we want our guests to walk away from the weekend and say ‘I heard it first, I tasted it first, and I experienced it first at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.’”

With so much to see and taste, you can’t do it all, but we’ve studied the schedules and spoken to the experts to help you out. Here are the eleven events you won’t want to miss at this year’s festival.

Friday, noon—1 p.m.

Florida Cracker Cuisine
“Florida had a food culture that wasn’t ‘Floribbean’ or Cuban-influenced long before anyone thought that it might be a good idea to go to the beach on vacation,” says Greg Baker, executive chef and owner at the Refinery in Tampa, Fla.

In an effort to explain this unique cuisine, Baker will be cooking mullet and Seminole fry bread while examining the “cultural influences, environmental challenges, and the fact that Florida was frontier land well past the settlement of the rest of the Southeast.”

Friday, 1:30 p.m.—2:30 p.m.

Drink Like a Colonial
“It’s a fun and lively history lesson in what our ancestors drank during Colonial times, from the rough and ready to the surprisingly delicious, with liquid examples,” says mixology writer and James Beard award winner Dave Wondrich. “The most popular drink in America wasn’t domestic whiskey, but rather Caribbean rum, and the Colonials really knew how to mix it.” Expect Punch Royal, Rum Flip and more.

Saturday, 10 a.m.—11 a.m.

International BBQ
This class is led by Scott Drewno, a James Beard-nominated chef at Wolfgang Puck’s the Source in Washington, D.C.; and Chris Lilly, executive chef at Big Bob Gibson BBQ in Alabama and an eight-time Memphis in May World Champion. “It’s going to be really fantastic because it will broaden our take on traditional Southern barbecue,” Love says. “During the class, guests will learn to apply international techniques and ingredients to more traditional Southern-style barbecue to really expand the flavors.”

Southern Food & Great Literature
“When we think of Southern literature, our minds often go to the great works of William Faulkner or Harper Lee,” Love says. “Chef Frank Stitt of Alabama, like many other Southern chefs, believes great Southern cookbooks are great literature and the best way for us to really learn our food history and culture.”

Stitt leads this class along with Anne Quatrano of Baccchanalia and Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner in North Carolina.

Saturday, 11:30 a.m.—12:30 p.m.

Ark of Taste
“Every day, many of our region’s foods are on the verge of extinction, which means a piece of our history will go with them,” Love says. Maintained by Slow Foods International, the Ark of Taste is a catalog of distinctive foods facing extinction. Linton Hopkins, executive chef and founder of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch, strives to raise awareness of these foods and introduce them to broader audiences, as he will do in this class.

Saturday, 1 p.m.–2 p.m.

Forage Two Ways
Referring to foraging both in the city and in the woods, Forage Two Ways will be led by Miller Union executive chef Steven Satterfield, along with Robby Astrove (a park ranger who works with Concrete Jungle, an Atlanta-based foraging society) and Michael Hendricks (who works on the Indian Ridge property in North Carolina and sells foraged foods at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market).

Satterfield will be cooking with Juneberries (or serviceberries), Nan king cherries, and possibly wild raspberries, ramps, and morels, while Astrove and Hendricks speak about their craft. “Food is everywhere—you just need to know how to look for it,” he says.

Nourishing Community
“In the midst of a weekend of a lot of excess—a lot of learning and important things, too—it is exciting to stop and celebrate what it really means to nourish our friends, family and neighbors,” Love says. “Chef Ashley Christensen of North Carolina will lead this class and explore a few social enterprises, like Atlanta’s Giving Kitchen, and really get to the heart of the industry and what drives food and beverage professionals to care as passionately about their neighbors as they do their work.”

Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Rathbun’s Watch List 
Three years ago, Kevin Rathbun and his brother Kent (based in Texas), decided they wanted to recognize young talent in the industry and came up with Rathbun’s Watch List, a taste-around event with food and drink samples from newly appointed chefs, sous chefs and mixologists poised to take the reigns in their perspective kitchens and bars. “We thought that passing the torch was a way to not only inspire us but showcase their dream and be recognized early on in their game,” Rathbun says. The event has grown continually and will be held in ADAC this year.

Sunday, 11 a.m.—noon

Hillbilly Cuisine
Kevin Gillespie will be cooking old school Southern dishes like rabbit, dumplings, and apple stack cake—the “food of my kinfolk,” he calls it, in the Hillbilly Cuisine session.

“A lot of people in the South grew up with a newer form of ‘Southern’ cuisine and don’t know about this part of the history at all,” he says. “This is a chance to see old school dishes that may seem current but actually our great grandmothers made them.”

He’ll also be talking about seasonal and local cooking of years past and how it has its roots in rural environments. “This is not new. This is what our ancestors had to do to get by,” he explains.

Three Cuisines of Carolina
“Southern food so often gets lumped up together as one thing—a mishmash of collard greens, fried chicken and barbecue,” laments Vivian Howard of Chef and the Farmer in North Carolina. “Instead, it’s more like the distinct regional cuisines of Italy, France, or China. Showing the various shades of Carolina cuisine is just a small portion of the bigger picture, and is a great way to show how our history, terrain and resourcefulness shape what’s on our table.

“When people talk about distinctions among the foods of the Carolinas, I imagine they focus on barbecue. [But] barbecue was not a staple of our diet. Rather, barbecue was celebration or special occasion food. On the everyday table, people treated meat as a condiment, rather than a center- of-the-plate item.”

In Three Cuisines of Carolina, Howard, along with Michael Kramer of South Carolina and Jacob Sessoms of North Carolina, will create a composed dish that is representative of the low country, the agricultural plain, and the Appalachian tables of both North and South Carolina.

Sunday, 12:30 p.m.—1:30 p.m.

Food & Sports
Three chefs and three sports writers sound off in this panel about two culturally interwoven topics. “Think about tailgating and college football, baseball and a hot dog, NFL football and, well, beer,” says Kelly English, chef at Restaurant Iris and the Second Line in Tennesee. “I think you will find some very familiar things and some unexpected things, just like being a guest at a tailgate as a visiting fan, you will get to really see the region and it’s personality.”

“Nothing gets me fired up like these two subjects. No telling what will come out of any of our mouths,” says English, who will be presenting alongside Eli Kirstein of Krog Street Market’s the Luminary.