The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival: Why It’s Important

The inaugural Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is this weekend, kicking off in earnest on Friday morning and concluding on Sunday afternoon. If you’ve heard about this event and perused the lineup (which you can find in the “Schedule At A Glance” link on this page), you’re probably excited or at least curious. But, to echo other local writers like Kessler and Rodell, you might also have heard about this thing without it really registering. It is, granted, a fairly innocuous name. And the metro area power-loads its weekends with festivals and “Taste Of” events. What makes this one different from all the other foodie schmooze and booze gatherings?

In a word: ambition. This isn’t just an afternoon of nibbles and sips from Atlanta celebrity chefs under a tent, although they’ll be plenty of that. You could think of this juggernaut (which continues to evolve even this week) as an interactive seminar equally designed to engage the mind and the palate. Beyond the tasting tents and the demos featuring famous chefs from all over the South, two full days of programming explore every aspect of Southern food and Southern artisans: A bean-to-bar chocolate lecture (with samples, of course) from Cacao Atlanta’s Kristen Hard. A tour of Buford Highway. Panels with bloggers and locals who run supper clubs. Classes on cocktails. Lectures and samplings from other cultures (Greece, Asia, Italy) that have influenced Southern cuisine or become recent additions to our culinary landscape.

The amount of programming is a little overwhelming, frankly, but it’s also incredible. Atlanta spent a lot of years ignoring its Southern culinary heritage, and this event solidifies the reclamation that so many local chefs have embraced in the last several years. I can’t wait to jump in.

Some details of highlights that have emerged recently:

The food and wine tasting tents—which will be set up in Midtown around 11th Street and Peachtree Walk—are broken into categories, such as Barbecue, Bourbon, Imports and Inspiration (i.e., global spirits), and Craft Beer. Fried Chicken has seven different vendors, including JCT Kitchen, Rosebud, and Indian-style fried chicken over rice waffles from Spice Route Supper Club.

One major attraction for me is a “Southern 101” series of discussions, certainly inspired by the Southern Foodways Alliance’s annual symposiums. These are being held at the Margaret Mitchell House. Topics include “It Started With Women,” moderated by Southern Living features editor Jennifer Cole and including TV and book legend Nathalie Dupree; “From Domestics to Chefs,” a look at the African-American role in developing Southern food culture; “All Roads Lead to the Farm;” and “The Street Cart Desire,” a hot bed topic in Atlanta these days. Just this morning, AF&WF co-founders Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter decided to offer solo tickets to these events at $10 apiece. You’ll be able to buy tickets (for the ones that aren’t sold out, anyway) even on the day of the event online—enter SOUTHERN as the sponsor code—or at the festival’s welcome center on 10th and Peachtree.

Speaking of tickets, the possibilities for sampling individual elements of the festival have increasingly broadened as the event nears. If you don’t want to fork over $500 for a three-day pass, you can attend one of the tasting tents for $75, for example, or wander the late night street cart fair on Friday or Saturday for $65 (that price includes alcohol).

Or attend a festival-sponsored dinner on Friday night. A few seats still remain for some primo options: Matt Lee and Ted Lee (aka the Lee Bros.) with Steven Satterfield at Miller Union; Kevin Gillespie cooking an Indian-South-meets-the-American-South menu at Woodfire Grill; and Charleston’s rock star chef Sean Brock with local chef Joe Schafer at Parish.

The bottom line: There are numerous ways to experience this event, so get out there and support it! And feel free to report back on this blog. I’ll be tweeting and posting all weekend. I’m hoping this shindig will develop into a defining annual celebration of our food culture.