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Alabama Food And Hospitality Enhance Global Conference

Post by Susan Swagler from Alabama NewsCenter

Days before Mayor Randall Woodfin welcomed more than 550 guests to Birmingham for the 43rd annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), several notable visitors to the Magic City already had made themselves at home here.

Mashama Bailey, the James Beard-winning executive chef and partner of The Grey in Savannah, showed up at The Essential, owned by chefs Kristen Hall and Victor King, for a sold-out, four-course dinner celebrating her book, “Black, White, and The Grey.” Samantha Fore, a Sri Lankan-American chef from Lexington, Kentucky, and a 2020 Southern Living Cook of the Year, took her Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites pop-up action to the kitchen at Frank and Pardis Stitt’s Bottega. (You’ll want to get some of Spicewalla’s Tuk Tuk Fried Chicken Spice for your own kitchen.) Ashley McMakin welcomed Carrie Morey, of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, to her Homewood Ashley Mac’s location with a tasty Callie’s-biscuit-Andy-Mac-burger collaboration. Morey signed copies of “Hot Little Suppers” and talked about starting an online biscuit company – using her mom’s prized recipe – way before online everything even became a thing.

Mayor Woodfin spoke highly about the local culinary scene at the Sweet Home Street Party on Friday night (Oct. 22), and during an Alabama NewsCenter Facebook live stream. He talked about how Birmingham’s restaurants have struggled but also how food professionals in the city are coming together to address food scarcity and make Birmingham better.

And so began a weekend-long look at how food is a conduit to important conversations – and meaningful action – regarding race, culture, human rights, food inequality and more.

On Saturday, at the Casting Shed at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, culinary stars from across the state talked about their own Alabama food stories. Established names such as Chef Clayton Sherrod, Dean Robb of Blueprint on 3rd, pit master Rodney Scott and Sol y Luna’s Jorge Castro gathered alongside relative newcomers like Reggie Torbor, former Auburn linebacker and NFL Super Bowl champion and owner of Taproot Café in Hoover. Crystal Peterson of Yo’ Mama’s was there, so was John Hall of Post Office Pies; Nepalese chef Abhishek “Abhi” Sainju of Abhi Eatery & Bar in Mountain Brook and mo:mo at The Pizitz Food Hall; and pastry chef Kelsey Barnard Clark, the first Southerner to win “Top Chef” and the owner of KBC in Dothan. They mingled with makers like Justin Hill of Eastaboga Bee Company and civil rights leader Odessa Woolfolk; president & CEO of Sloss Real Estate and Harvard Loeb Fellow Cathy Sloss Jones, whose work has been integral to Birmingham’s revitalization; Magic City Enthusiast Valerie Thomas of The Val Group; and Dr. Martin O’Neill, head of Auburn University’s Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management.

Ashley McMakin welcomed Carrie Morey, of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, to her Homewood Ashley Mac’s location with a tasty Callie’s-biscuit-Andy-Mac-burger collab. (Susan Swagler / Alabama NewsCenter)

Innovators like Jennifer Ryan, the founder of BLUEROOT, were there, too. Ryan, in partnership with chef and culinary specialist for Sysco of Central Alabama Lindsey Noto, were both winners of the 2021 Techstars Award. Ryan described developing an app to quickly and easily link available staffers to restaurants who need them – effectively addressing the worker shortage that most all restaurants are experiencing.

Saturday night was a celebration at the 2021 IACP Media & Cookbook Awards ceremony. Comedian and actor Roy Wood Jr., the evening’s emcee, alongside R&B, pop and gospel singer Ruben Studdard, welcomed the crowd: “As a Birmingham native, it’s always an awesome opportunity to be able to present the best of the city and do something dope in the city with something that connects us all – food.” The two reminisced about growing up in Birmingham; Studdard sang; and they both talked about their favorite foods.

Hot dogs (“in a city known for its hot dog game”) were a recurring theme – especially those that were sold at Legion Field. “My first job,” Studdard said, “was walking up and down the steps of one fair, Old Gray Lady (selling hot dogs).”

“They made them at 5:30 in the morning for a football game that don’t kick off until 3:30 in the afternoon,” Wood said. “It was the most damn-delicious, eight-hour hot dog you ever had in your life.”

That led to a discussion of JAPADOG from Vancouver (food made world-famous during the 2010 Winter Olympics), and then, unscripted but politely on cue, a Canadian visitor took a moment to invite the conference attendees to go try one. It was a perfect lead-in to an awards ceremony that was truly global in reach – especially with so many cookbooks featuring recipes from nearly every continent.

The IACP awards are among the most prestigious and coveted in the international food industry, and several 2021 winners and honorees were from sweet home Alabama.

The state was in the spotlight for the 2021 Trailblazer Awards, which recognize people who are making a real impact in their food communities and shaping the wider culinary world, too. Davena and Nick Jernigan, of Montgomery Super Suppers, were honored. (If you haven’t yet had their small-batch pimento cheese at Pepper Place Market, do that.) Birmingham’s own Amanda Storey, executive director of Jones Valley Teaching Farm, was recognized as a Trailblazer. Greg and Subrina Collier of BayHaven Food & Wine Festival were honored, too. This couple behind the “modern juke joint” Leah & Louise, in Charlotte, North Carolina, thought there were not enough Black food festivals. So, they started their own.

Makers of food products used the IACP conference to showcase their products. (Susan Swagler / Alabama NewsCenter)

Storey, in accepting her award, said she was looking forward to breakfast the next morning at the Farm when visitors could see “what we do in Birmingham, Alabama, really just using food as a foundation for learning and growing and cooking and sharing with one another. Taking care of our community; taking care of each other and using food as the source of that. We like to say the powerful act of growing, cooking and sharing food is what’s going to change this world. And we’re starting with young people in Birmingham, Alabama, and we believe that that is life-changing work. I can’t wait to show you.”

Some of the night’s big cookbook winners included:

  • Cookbook of The Year – “Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou” by Melissa Martin. (This also was the best American cookbook.)
  • Culinary Travel – “Chaat: Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India” by Maneet Chauhan and Jody Eddy.
  • International – “Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand” by Nuit Regular.
  • Children, Youth and Family – “How to Cook: Building Blocks and 100 Simple Recipes for a Lifetime of Meals” by Hugh Acheson.

The IACP Julia Child First Book Award, presented by the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts (a $5,000 prize), went to Claire Saffitz, author of “Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence.”

Top prize for Culinary Recipe Website went to the recipe team at The King Arthur Baking Company, and Anna Voloshyna was on hand to accept her award as winner of the Individual Instagram Account @annavoloshynacooks. There was a tie for best Individual Food Blog. Sean Bromilow’s Diversivore and Jennifer Fergesen’s The Global Carinderia were both winners.

Best Food Styling in an Editorial/Personal Food Photograph went to “Epic Mashed Potatoes,” styled by Kelsey Bulat for Allrecipes magazine published by Meredith Corp., which has its own presence in Birmingham.

The 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award, given to an individual who has spent their career in service to enrich the culinary world, went to Grace Young. Known as the “poet laureate of the wok,” Young’s video series “Coronavirus:  Chinatown Stories” documented the outsize toll the pandemic has taken on New York City’s Chinese community.

See the list of winners and honorees at https://www.iacp.com.

On Sunday, conference-goers went to church.

One of the highlights of the IACP conference was the panel discussing the relationship of food and civil rights. (Susan Swagler / Alabama NewsCenter)

That’s what it felt like back at the Casting Shed during a discussion about the relationship between food and civil rights – historically and still today. Bryant Terry, author of “Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora,” said he always knew when his grandmother (known for her chow-chow) was cooking, because she would sing in her kitchen; then he, too, sang “Glory, Glory (When I Lay My Burden Down).” Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth, former teacher, charter school leader and widow of civil rights icon Fred Shuttlesworth, shared stories of Rev. Shuttlesworth and her own food memories and ended up singing, too: “Down by the Riverside (Ain’t Gonna Study War No More)” and the crowd joined in. Former Alabama Senator Doug Jones, who as a U.S. Attorney brought to justice perpetrators of the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, was part of a far-reaching conversation; so was Alabama’s Poet Laureate, Ashley M. Jones, the state’s first Black poet laureate and the youngest. She brought the crowd to its feet with her words.

At one point, Terry pivoted from civil rights to human rights. “Working in food, we can often get stuck in our silos. When we think about this issue of food injustice in many communities, the lack of access to healthy, fresh, affordable and culturally appropriate food is simply one indicator of material deprivation in these communities,” he said, citing underfunded infrastructure, too little green space, segregated schools and environmental hazards. “So, I want to encourage us all to keep one eye on food issues while thinking about all the other issues we need to address.” His call to action: “Think about how we can get involved in communities – supporting organizations doing the good work. … How can we be ‘activist citizens’? … In what way can you give back?”

Activism also was one of the topics when Southern Living editor-in-chief Sid Evans talked to Samantha Fore (while the audience enjoyed a Sunday dinner of fried chicken and extraordinarily delicious lima beans). Fore spoke about her background growing up in the American South as a child of Sri Lankan immigrants. She talked about the sometimes-surprising intersections of Sri Lankan and Southern foods. Fore described how her business grew out of sharing food with friends during brunches at her home. (Today, the founder of Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites http://www.tuktuklex.com travels around the country doing pop-up dinners that showcase her unique background.) And Fore talked about her work with the LEE Initiative – the acronym stands for Let’s Empower Employment – and how the organization works toward diversity and equality in the restaurant industry while giving back to local communities.

You should never have a Sunday get-together in the South without some fried chicken. (Susan Swagler / Alabama NewsCenter)

Cathy Sloss Jones, who was one of the conference organizers, said hosting IACP visitors from around the world was inspiring, and she already has plans to harness the momentum created by the conference. Birmingham Restaurant Week, she said, will build upon the infrastructure, ideas and logistics that worked during the national conference to make the homegrown celebration of Birmingham food bigger and better than ever. “I figured since we’ve got this team together, we might as well tee it up for next year.”

She described Sunday’s important, informative and engaging Food and Civil Rights discussion as “magical.”

“That was something that brought everybody together,” Sloss Jones said.

She said she was thrilled to share Birmingham with the IACP conference attendees and would like for them to come away from their time in the Magic City knowing “how special this place is.” But she also recognizes the realities of the city.

“We are so special. We are deep-rooted, authentic, and food is a big part of it. We are united as a community now and divided at the same time,” Sloss Jones said. “Birmingham has always been the ‘best-of’ and the ‘worst-of’ the world to me. But I think we’re moving into the ‘best-of.’ And I think we can help other places move forward.”

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