This Friday on September 12, the James Beard Foundation will come to Atlanta as part of its ten-city tour promoting culinary diversity. Called Taste America: Local Flavor From Coast to Coast, the James Beard tour includes a tasting event with bites prepared by local chefs, followed by a multi-course collaborative dinner. A portion of the proceeds raised will be donated to the Taste America Scholarship Fund for culinary students. Tickets are available here.
Held at King Plow, the Atlanta event is themed “A Night of Culinary Stars.” Kevin Rathbun, Asha Gomez, Ford Fry, Linton Hopkins, and Billy Allin will all cook for the tasting. After, Anne Quatrano (of Bacchanalia) will work with Barbara Lynch (of Barbara Lynch Gruppo in Boston) to prepare a four-course meal for attendees.
We spoke with Quatrano and Lynch about the menu, the Foundation, and more.
Were you surprised Atlanta was chosen as one of the cities featured on this tour?
Quatrano: I’m always surprised when we’re not. It’s a vibrant food scene and a great representation of the South. Part of the reason we weren’t chosen last year is we always do a big fundraiser in October for the James Beard Foundation.
Why do you think events like the one on September 12 are important?
Lynch: At its heart, cooking is about love, people and connections. Events such as this one brings together chefs to share their life experiences through their dishes, then we collaborate on menus, and hopefully create new and memorable experiences with each other, and with the greater dining community.
Why do you think the Foundation is important and how has it influenced your career?
Quatrano: I’ve been on the board of trustees for the Foundation for many years. It gave me a network of contemporaries to sound off where I was in my career and where I was going as a young chef. Now, I look at the Foundation as being a very important player in sustainable food and the food scene at large, not just in our country but also internationally. [Plus], over $4 million in scholarships is pretty significant, too. There’s a lot of talent out there who may not have the money to go to culinary school. It’s produced a lot of great young chefs.
Lynch: It reinforces for me that hard work and being driven is a good thing. It’s a huge, huge honor and while I wouldn’t say it’s the awards that motivate me, it is really nice to be recognized—especially by peers. James Beard was such a fantastic mentor to many careers, a true lover of food, and a supporter of education. Having a foundation that recognizes talent, raises funds to educate aspiring chefs, and both celebrates and preserves our country’s culinary heritage is huge.
How well do you know Barbara Lynch? Have you worked together before?
Quatrano: I’ve known her for many years. We cooked together in other cities several times. She’s a friend and a respected colleague. My staff is really looking forward to cooking with her.
How did you develop your menu?
Quatrano: It was super easy. She’s easy to work with. We started by me sending her what we will have available on the farm at that time, then talked and emailed back and forth. We’re trading off cooking; I’m doing the first and fourth courses, she’s doing the second and third courses.
Lynch: It was very natural and extremely straightforward.
What’s on the menu?
Quatrano: Cured duck with edamame beans radishes and fermented egg; ricotta gnuddi with spicy tomatoes and black olive croutons; tuna confit Nicoise with late summer vegetables from our farm; and iced cucumber and melon dessert with almond milk. We tried to make it a really light meal.
How you think diners’ expectations are different in the South, and how do you tweak your menu plans accordingly?
Lynch: I’ve cooked all over the country and the world, and I have found that diners are generally curious and excited to taste new dishes. Great cooking is great cooking; I don’t alter dishes for the audience. I simply cook what I think will be beautiful and delicious. Whenever I am traveling, I usually pick up inspiration from chefs, farmers, and artisans that I meet along the way, and bring that home with me to Boston.