Music City Food + Wine 2014 was the most intimate and fun food fest I have been to in years…
Great out-of-town chefs, amazing local restaurateurs and food talent, superb food entrepreneurs and the most carefully-curated Grand Tasting Tent I have ever walked through. You gotta get there next year.
Here are a few observations:
• The Avett Brothers concert on the river Friday night was the best non-festival event all weekend. Love these guys. Next time I am planning better to spend more time in the Music City. There is great music EVERYWHERE.
• City House was a hotbed of attention all weekend long, as was Rolf and Daughters and Husk. It seemed everyone ate at all three. I love R&D and Husk, but I only had time for one meal, so I joined some friends at City House and ate one of the best meals in recent memory. Frank Stitt and John T. Edge did the ordering. Apparently they know a thing or two about great food in the South. Eating field pea salad, green beans in bacon fat and chiles, herb-kissed okra with roasted eggplant, corn bread gnocchi, delicata squash pizza and farmhouse-style meats, while listening to a living history lesson, was a food geek’s wet dream. What Tandy has created at City House is beyond fun…super simple, seminal Southern cooking.
• Pat Martin had a corner of the festival grounds all to himself. He invited 10 chefs, all all-stars, to join him in cooking whole animals. I hung there a lot, watched football, snitched crispy little bits at every opportunity and chatted football with Steve Hutchinson. Hutch is a great dude, I wish he was still a Viking. Whole lambs, whole hogs, ribs, tri-tips, everything over live fire on an improvised mega pit…only Pat can pull that off.
• Switters Iced Coffee was my food find of the weekend. They have the best bottled iced coffee I can ever remember tasting and their Viet-inspired sweet coffee is beyond delicious.
• Trevor Moran and his team from The Catbird Seat had a sweet kartoffel stand on Saturday serving what looked like roasted taters in soil. Instead, they were potato sweet pastries. A trompe l’oeil masterpiece to be sure, but like everything Trevor does, brilliant and smart food…with a story!! This place hasn’t missed a step since seeing Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson move on to other projects.
• Speaking of Josh, Pinewood Social was the after party scene on Saturday. Insane music, swimming pool, ping pong tables, bowling alley, Petanque court, bar, restaurant, food truck, all under one roof. It’s simply the coolest clubhouse. It’s like Soho House on steroids for hip cool kids. And what a great place to unwind. I played Petanque with Nathan and Caleb Followill for hours, Jeni’s Ice Cream had a cart in the back and the DJ ripped. Lots of memories listening to 1997’s “Remember Me”. I got a chance to hang and chat a bit with Alex Thomopoulos, someone who I could talk to all week. Smart, funny and talented, she’s one of the next big things.
• Speaking of which, I got to meet my current favorite alt-country singer songwriter Holly Williams. I totally gushed like a fanboy. Worth every moment. If you are in Nashville check out her store White’s Mercantile, a great shop with something for everyone.
• Before the after party, 16 of us cooked for 3,000 people at the Harvest Dinner. The best bites of the night were Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman’s porchetta, Sean Brock’s ribs, Levon Wallace’s pickled watermelon with quail legs and Tyler Florence’s trembling poached shrimp and corn ‘grits.’
• Best behind-the-scenes moment of the weekend: Before the affair began, several of us were listening to Michael McDonald do a soundcheck (pinch me). Symon, Waxman, Brock, and myself just standing around and enjoying a mellow moment before the doors opened. Tyler walks in and we all start talking, simultaneously sniffing the sandalwood and citrus awesomeness of T-Flo’s new cologne. The consensus was we would all do him. Just saying.
• The Kings: The Kings of Leon are co-hosts of this Fest, and Caleb and Nathan Followill and Caleb’s wife Lily Aldridge were at every event, rooting for their hometown, spreading the gospel of Nashville and exhorting the crowds to treasure and promote this creative community at large. You don’t have to be a fan to admire their civic pride and real steps to make it bigger. That’s leadership.
• Sean Brock is soft spoken. He’s not an attention whore, he’s a great a guy as you will ever meet. Lisa Donovan and Brock represented Husk everywhere they went. The restaurant was a hub of activity for chefs and food nerds all weekend long. The bourbon scene there was gorgeously out of hand. And I’m talking very old, very hard to find, very serious bourbon.
• Jonathan Waxman, Charlie Jones and C3, Baltz Co, Food & Wine magazine, The Followills and Tim Love created this festival to be different, to be about quality, about sharing food and music, and as JW told me sitting backstage during the all-star concert after the Harvest Dinner, “I just want to make this community all that it can be.” There weren’t any reporters present, no one around, just two friends sitting in the dark on a bench listening to great music and catching up. That genuine desire to do great things because it’s fun and the right thing to do is what makes these people and this event special.
• Hampton Creek Food’s Just Mayo was the hit of the event. I used that mayo in my vitello tonnato sandwich recipe for the Harvest Dinner and the chefs who tasted the mayo straight up went bonkers for it. Just Mayo is the most important food creation of the last 50 years for about 1,000 reasons. Its implications are epic. Plant-based eggs. Boom.
• Charleston’s Mike Lata did an oyster demo called Aw Shucks. He told me the original title was Bi-valve Curious but it was deemed too risqué by someone somewhere. Not anymore risqué than my demo, where Nathan Followill and Tim Love and I gave a masterclass in the 400 best ways to use the word F*CK in a sentence.
• The folks at The Sutler served chorizo and Yazoo beer-boiled peanuts in the tent on Saturday and I wept eating them. Phenomenal.
Photographs by Jen van Kaam.