By RL Reeves Jr
The third annual Appalachian Food Summit is coming to Berea, the weekend of Sept. 16. I spent a fair amount of time in Berea when I was a kid growing up in the Cumberland Highlands of southeastern Kentucky. In the region, Berea is viewed somewhat suspiciously as a liberal outpost where men grow their hair long and VW Micro-buses are common modes of transport.
If you don’t fit in in your rural Kentucky hamlet and don’t have the money to migrate to San Francisco or New Orleans, then Berea might be a tolerant place for you to rest your head at night.
Earlier today, I put a pair of big hog jowls that I bought from the Berea College Farm Store in a cure of pink salt in the bottom of my fridge. I then made a breakfast of grits that I bought from the same market. I visited Berea twice last month and was fortunate to spend a morning hanging out with Sean Clark, the farm director at Berea College. That Farm Store is a sight to behold, stocked to the rafters with fresh produce, grains grown and milled on the farm and coolers filled with sustainably grown and humanely slaughtered meats.
I nearly spent my entire July grocery budget in there.
Later this month, a group of farmers, writers, food historians, chefs and plain old mountain folks will descend on Berea for the 3rd annual Appalachian Food Summit the weekend of Sept. 16. There’ll be a soup beans and cornbread supper by Chef Edward Lee and Louisville’s Smoke & Soul Pop Up on that Friday.
The next morning beginning, at 9:30 a.m., the summit will swing back into motion with talks by Gurney Norman, Toni Tipton Martin, and Steven Alvarez.
I took a series of classes called A Taste Of African Heritage from Ms. Martin in Austin, Texas and she is a compelling presence on the dais. Steven Alvarez is a UK professor famed for teaching taco literacy to college students.
Gurney Norman, a Hazard native penned the counterculture classic “Divine Right’s Trip” which appeared in the 1971 “Last Whole Earth Catalog.” It’s required reading for folks who dig Herbert Huncke or other drugged-up, adventure-seeking scribes.
Saturday’s activities conclude with a grand feast produced by chef Travis Milton (who’s standing on the edge of the big time with his large-scale Bristol, Tennessee project slated to open in 2017) as well as Ouita Michel (Holly Hill Inn), Wayne Riley (Grow Appalachia) and Ashley Capps (formerly at Eleven Madison Park).
I have a distinct feeling that salt-cured ham, greasy beans and sour cornbread could be coming out of that dream team kitchen. And if the stars align perfectly then perhaps Ms Capps will make her world-beating butterscotch pie as a grace note to the summit.
A note to attendees. Berea now allows the sale of alcohol in restaurants and cafes.