The Memphis Food Gospel

The Association of Food Journalist's annual conference will be held in Memphis in September 2014.

January 1997

Author and food writer Susan Puckett visited Memphis before Christmas to promote her new book, a traveler’s ode to Southern food titled Eat, Drink, Delta. She also shared exciting news. In mid-September, writers and editors from across the country will gather at The Peabody for the Association of Food Journalists’ annual conference. In town to do some preliminary planning, Puckett was exuberant about Memphis and the opportunity to entertain journalists in the city of barbecue and blues.

“We were going back and forth about where to have the conference,” Puckett said, before ordering a fried green tomato Napoleon at Booksellers Bistro. “I threw out Memphis, and everyone jumped on the idea. People can’t wait to come here.”

Already, the conference agenda promises culinary education and fun. From September 10th through 12th, participants will attend workshops, explore restaurants, and recognize top writers from magazines, newspapers, and blogs. Local chefs, farmers, artisan purveyors, and policy makers also will participate, to show how their cultural and agrarian roots are reshaping the city’s future.

For those of us who celebrate local food, spreading the gospel about Memphis couldn’t come at a better time. Our chefs and our cooking are riding a crescendo of national publicity, and our community of food advocates grows stronger every day. Consider, for instance, these accomplishments: 15 area farmers markets; a Memphis Urban Farm School for aspiring entrepreneurs; an annual farm-to-table conference sponsored by Rhodes College; and an impressive cache of cookbook authors, including Justin Fox Burks, whose photographs in this issue capture the hard work of students attending the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management at the University of Memphis.

Equally important to our collective voice is a grassroots push to change food policy and to help the chronically underfed in Memphis with community gardens, cooking programs for young people, and the aptly named Green Machine Mobile Food Market, a converted bus distributing fresh fruits and vegetables to struggling urban neighborhoods.

Core to these encouraging developments are the city’s independent restaurants, which we showcase every February with our annual readers’ restaurant poll. For more than two decades, readers have voted for their favorite restaurants in dozens of different categories, and this year, well over a thousand people participated. Some winners are perennial favorites (kudos to Kelly English for four first-place wins, including best chef), while other restaurants won new categories for the first time, including Flight for best wine list, Hog & Hominy for best new American, and Café Eclectic for best coffeehouse. From a diverse list of new restaurants, readers also named Midtown’s industrial chic Chiwawa the best new restaurant of the year. The win confirms readers’ appreciation for a great American hotdog and for Overton Square’s impressive comeback as a popular entertainment hub for lunch, dinner, and drinks.

While the hotdogs and tacos at Chiwawa are excellent, don’t miss the menu’s small surprises. In our restaurant poll cover story, staff writer Shara Clark discovers elote, a delicious Mexican street food reinterpreted at Chiwawa with corn on the cob, crema, cotija, and chili lime salt. Clark is one of a team of magazine writers who parlayed 10 of the poll’s first-place winners into a scrumptious day of dining, starting with an early “best breakfast” at Brother Juniper’s and winding down with late-night drinks at the city’s “best dive bar,” Ernestine and Hazel’s on South Main. (Hint: Don’t worry about calories; just roll with the list.)

Elsewhere in our dining issue, Memphis Flyer writer Toby Sells turns his attention to a national trend taking off in Memphis: craft beer. During the past year, three local breweries have opened in the Bluff City, along with two growler shops, where enthusiasts fill 64-ounce jugs to-go from an assortment of beers on tap. Look for a third growler shop to open in East Memphis soon, a promising sign that craft beer, much like snout-to-tail cooking and seasonal menus, will continue to impact our city’s evolving food culture.

We hope you enjoy this issue!

- Pamela Denney, dining editor


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