Our favorite events at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival 2015

Bourbon, world-class cheese dip, and cocktail legends
Atlanta Food & Wine Festival
Photograph courtesy of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

In 2009, Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter were drinking bourbon with Shaun Doty, now chef at Bantam & Biddy, and began to wonder why Atlanta—a festival-obsessed city with an exploding foodie scene—didn’t have a banner event to celebrate culture, history, and talent from across the South. Three weeks later, after prodding from Doty, Love and Feichter announced dates for the first Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. This month (May 28-31) will mark the fifth year that thousands descend upon Midtown for a weekend of lectures, drinking, and eating. Below are a few of our favorite events on this year’s lineup.

Friday, noon – 1 p.m.

Bourbon, Barrels & Beyond: Repurposing the Container that Built America

Led by Andy Nelson and Charlie Nelson, co-owners of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, this session takes attendees back to the origin of barrel-aged spirits.

“Back in the day of the early distillers, whiskey was transported long distances via barrel. When it was sent from Kentucky to New Orleans, they noticed that when it got to port, it tasted better than when it left due to the flavor infused from the wood,” Charlie Nelson says. “It became apparent that the whiskey from these charred containers were preferred, and the longer it remained in the barrel the better.”

Attendees will sample whiskeys and bourbons aged for different lengths of time and in various barrels, along with “culinary consumables that have come to fruition by the effect the barrel has had on its tasting components.”

International Language of Rice

More than just a side item, rice has a storied history with roots all over the world. Here, Frank Lee of Slightly North of Broad in Charleston and Vishwesh Bhatt of City Grocery in Mississippi will explore the international influences behind classic Southern rice dishes and learn about the role of rice in regional cuisine.

“I love this because it makes us look at rice in such a different way. Who knew this single commodity in the South could represent so much–economics, affluence, slavery, nutrition,” AFWF co-founder Dominique Love says.

Friday, 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Malicious But Delicious (Connoisseur)

When you eat tiger prawns, you’re actually helping protect other species of seafood. That’s the kind of information attendees will learn with hosts David Guas of Bayou Bakery and Scott Drewno of the Source in Washington, D.C., who will discuss how Southern chefs are fighting invasive species. Tastings will include Catfish Couvillion, tapping into Guas’s New Orleans roots.

World Class Cheese Dip

Little known fact: Little Rock, Ark., is the birthplace of cheese dip and home to something called the World Cheese Dip Championship. Cheese dip remains an important part of the region’s culinary history, as Mark Abernathy, executive chef at Red Door Restaurant in Arkansas, will explain in this tasting seminar.

“He is hilarious, a great teacher, and entertainer and always comes up with really creative classes,” Love says.

Participants will learn how to make the perfect dip (and taste along the way).

“This is not Velveeta and Rotel; we’ll make serious, award-winning Rolls Royce Cheese Dip, plus variations with ingredients like lobster and crawfish,” Abernathy says.

Saturday 10 a.m. -11 a.m.

African-American Cocktail Legends

You may know what goes into your drink, but do you know why? Led by Tiffanie Barriere of One Flew South, Chuck Reece of the Bitter Southerner, and Dave Wondrich of Esquire, African-American Cocktail Legends will tell stories of African-American bartenders in 19th and early 20th centuries.

“African Americans aided a lot in the service industry pre and post prohibition,” Barriere says. “From etiquette to presentation down to ingredients there was someone of service who helped with these incredible creations. The word ‘mixology’ came from an African American.”

“We’ll talk about how race affects the conversation over the bar in modern times,” Reece adds. “Should be a happening session.”

Expect to taste Barriere’s version of Quoit Club Punch from African-American bartending pioneer Jasper Crouch.

Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

The Clean Journey

North Carolina’s Standard Foods owner Scott Crawford was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes early on in his career. Today, he focuses on making healthy food that can still be described as Southern. Together with Jennifer Cole of Southern Living, he’ll lead this cooking demonstration and discussion about Southern-style clean eating. “I’m really excited to hear what Jennifer Cole has to say,” he says. “She’s so knowledgeable about what’s happening in Southern food today . . . and because she grew up in the South and her family worked with grocers, she’s bringing a totally different perspective to the table.”

Eats include a summer salad, a chilled soup, smoked fish, and a dessert with strawberries.

Saturday 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.

White Table Cloth BBQ

When most people think of barbecue, they imagine a roadside shack with plastic, red checkered tablecloths, but Tory McPhail is changing all of that. At Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, he’s bringing this Southern tradition into a more formal environment. McPhail will demonstrate how his team works with tender cuts of meat, such as belly, and show how they are transitioning Southern barbecue from rural, farm food into their formal environment. “I love that barbecue is making its way to formal dining menus across the South,” Love says. “That is one of the beauties of barbecue—its flavors are perfect for any setting.”

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. 

Rathbun’s Watch List

An annual event, Rathbun’s Watch List highlights up-and-coming Southern chefs and bartenders selected by brother chefs Kent Rathbun from Texas and Kevin Rathbun from Atlanta. Through a partnership with ADAC, they now showcase Southern design professionals as well.

“Delicious. Gorgeous. The Rathbun Brothers know how to throw a great party!” Love says. “This event is so awesome because it showcases designers, chefs, and mixologists who already have a strong following in their fields but are definitely people we should all know.”

Sunday 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. 

Oh Nuts!

Nuts have grown in popularity in recent years, but in Kentucky, their history runs deep. Led by Ouita Michel (Holly Hill Inn) and Jim Nance (also from Kentucky), Oh Nuts! focuses on the use of hickory nuts in both sweet and savory dishes.

“Jim Nance is a hickory nut adicionado,” Love says. “[And] chef Ouita Michel is like a human Wiki page when it comes to Kentucky foodways. This class will give a really cool look at hickory nuts and how to use them in crazy ways like making syrups from the shells.”

Nance will be bringing his large collection of antique nut crackers for the demonstration.

An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared in our May 2015 issue as part of  “Foodstuffs.”