Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ch-ch-changes




image courtesy of www.michellehodkin.com

Great Bowie tune . As I grow and change a little more each year with my writing, I think the blog should reflect that.

It's time for a change.

Since I started this blog back in 2010, there have been so many technological and aesthetic changes in the way blogs look and feel, it's hard not to notice and even harder to not want to spice up your own personal space.

And although A hungry man has been wearing the same face for years (and I love it), it's ok to want to try a new style. I'm giving myself permission. I know what they say, don't fix what ain't broke, but I'd really like to see this blog evolve. The words will stay the same, I promise.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A hungry man leaves Memphis: The food finale




I left the city with some reluctance. Clearly the Association of Food Journalist's (AFJ) conference in Memphis has left an indelible mark on me. I've been babbling about it for days now because it really was an amazing conference. But, like everything in life, it had to come to an end sometime, but not without a few final thoughts about my visit. This is the conclusion to "Put some South in your Mouth Part One", which can be reviewed here.

Although I became hyper-aware of the gulf and tension between the races in Memphis, I also found out that the city has made incredible gains when it comes to cultural influences on the local food scene. You can find just about any cuisine you can think of - Creole, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Vietnamese, and Ethiopian, just to name a few. And the residents of Memphis are very proud about that. Lucky for me and my fellow colleagues, we all had the chance to see and taste some of it for ourselves.

And speaking of my colleagues, as food writers and/or journalists, we know we're completely in the business of food. That means not only plenty of writing, but plenty of tastings. You're checking out local talent, places to eat, the latest in wine and liquor - all of it. This is a very good thing when you love food, and also not so great if you love food. We're eating. A lot. It's all we do, it's what we do. The food could be light, or it could be heavy, salty, and/or fried. Ether way, it sometimes results in health issues of our own let alone health issues for the general public.

As writers we are mostly mindful that we have to watch what we eat for the sake of our own professional lives, but it can also pose an interesting dilemma professionally. How do we recommend a local fried chicken place, when we also know that obesity is becoming a very serious problem? How can we write that a certain iced tea is delicious, all the while knowing that same drink had so much sugar it might as well have been straight sugar and water poured down your throat. We know that you cannot expect to eat all that fried chicken and thick gravies, or "vegetables" like macaroni and cheese (it is seriously called a vegetable in the South) without paying for it in some way. Yet, we still have a job to do.

Thankfully, it's been pointed out at the conference that some changes are at least beginning to be made to traditional Southern cuisine, that will hopefully achieve some dietary balance, and make it a little easier to have that fried chicken without guilt.

There are Southern Chefs who are very serious about addressing the obesity and diabetes epidemic in the South - and possibly the rest of North America, because lets face it, it's not just a Southern problem. Memphis Chefs Felicia Willett and Miles McMath are leading the charge for change by cooking food that retains it's Southern flavour without having to resort to only frying food or providing overly generous portions.

Chefs Willett and McMath are creating outstanding vegetarian dishes. They know there are plenty of great Southern recipes that can include healthy options. Ingredients like okra, collard greens and sweet potato are not only delicious, but nutritious, and they are working hard to make vegetarianism more than just a dirty word in the South's culinary language. They also understand that they face an uphill battle to change the local food culture.



The AFJ conference was an enormous opportunity for learning, and I was privileged to be invited to join and experience it for myself. The people that I've met - AFJ members, Memphis Chefs, cooks and even the residents who had nothing to do with food, conference panelists I had a chance to talk with after they presented - they have all inspired me to strive and improve my working knowledge of food culture, not to mention my own writing abilities. It was an honour and pleasure to be a part of such an incredible group of passionate writers, and I actively look forward to next years conference.

Southern cuisine - the fun, the fantastic and the not so great, has now become a part of my growing culinary language. Watch this space to see where the next adventure in food will take me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Put some South in your Mouth! Talking Southern Cuisine




image courtesy of www.salvationsisters.com

Put some South in your mouth. What a great slogan by the fabulous Salvation Sisters and a pretty accurate description of my culinary adventures in Memphis. I was more than willing and very happy to put plenty of South in Mouth thank you very much.

On the flight home to Toronto, I was thinking, smiling and even frowning, about my time in Memphis. My experiences with the city, the cuisine, the people - all events had a healthy dose of yin and yang moments. Now that I really think about it, that may have been the only 'healthy' moment I had while at the conference.

Wait, that's not true. I did have a lightly seasoned baked salmon dish, with asparagus and wild rice as my goodbye, so long, auf Wiedersehen, see ya later dinner at McEwens with Boris, a fellow conference attendee and friend. I'd say that was pretty healthy. Very nice restaurant too. I was even asked for ID when I ordered a martini. The waitress thought I was under 21! Do you have any idea what that does to the mind and body of a 40 year old? You'd better believe that made the meal so much tastier.

Back to the point of this post. I can write this next paragraph with conviction. I do not believe I could, nor ever will, get tired of Southern cuisine now that I've been firmly introduced to it. I do, however, believe that there would definitely be moments where I'm sure I'd rather be inhaling a bag of raw spinach instead of eating another piece of fried chicken, just to keep my body from turning into a play dough.

Speaking of fried chicken, my mouth waters just thinking about it. Now I'm very aware, that just like BBQ and Football, fried chicken is a deeply serious issue in the South. What restaurant, chain, independent food hut, or person makes the best version of it? Who has the best recipe? Yes, this is a serious enough topic to actually start arguments and possibly fistfights.

I was told to check out Gus's in downtown Memphis for a taste of good, Southern fried chicken. What's interesting is that it's a chain, but apparently that's ok when it comes to Gus's. My order came with sides of dark molasses baked beans and zingy cole slow. God the chicken was so crispy good. There is absolutely no point eating that chicken with a knife and fork. You grab that crackling seasoned chicken skin and meat with your hands and shove it your mouth. This is not the time to be dainty.



images courtesy of Stephen Wilson

But the best thing I found about Gus's wasn't the chicken, but instead it was all about the most flavourful, delicious, buttery-warm, coconut pie I've ever had. My awesome dining partner Jen found the recipe, and I fully intend to see if I can recreate it Canadian-style. Or maybe I'll just leave it in the style it was meant to be made in.

The culinary tour continued with a visit to Stax Soul Music Musuem, where I also got a good glimpse of the neighbourhoods outside the downtown core of Memphis. There is such a defiant mixture of extremes in this city. From beautiful, to an absolute shambles, it was all there for the naked eye to see. But once we arrived at the museum, breathed in the soul music blaring from the sound system, and watched Isaac Hayes epic, tricked out cadillac spin around in its display booth (Check it out here!!), it was all about 'A Taste of Memphis'.

Local Memphis Chefs including Erling Jensen, Patrick and Deni Reilly, Felicia Willet, Jose Gutierrez, Ryan Trimm and Frank and Eric Vernon provided samples of braised quail; open shrimp sandwiches, BBQ pulled pork, ribs and spaghetti (with BBQ sauce instead of Tomato); sweet potato pie and pecan bread pudding, and; tasty Southern rum with watermelon juice to name just a few of the goodies we ate. Seriously, the sample list was just what I could remember, I lost count of how many vendors and food there was. I didn't sleep well that night, my stomach was not happy I overstuffed myself at the event.

I also had the most beautifully designed, incredibly tasty chocolate from self-taught Memphis chocolatier, Chef Philip Ashley Rix. Remember that name - he is going to blow up! I've received cookbooks and recipes (Big thanks and hugs to Miss Cheryl Malik and Miss Regina Charboneau - whose personal stories are as good as her recipes!) that I can't wait start now that I'm back in my own kitchen.

I swear I've never been to such an incredible conference in my life. Food, writing about food, talking about it with people who love food every bit as much as you do? Sampling a range of outstanding (and also a few cases of middling to not-so- great) cuisine? A dream come true and there's more to come. Think your stomach can handle it?

The conclusion will be posted tomorrow.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A hungry man visits Graceland




picture courtesy of Stephen Wilson

No food, but plenty of filler.

I didn't actually go inside the mansion. Please. Elvis may have been "the greatest", but his decorating taste was not. Plus the line-ups were huge and I'm sorry, I'm not about to pay forty-something dollars to see 'tacky' on full display. I'd rather stay home and pay myself!

With that said, I did get the cab driver to stop outside the house so I can take pictures on my way to the airport. I got a crappy shot of the 'Lisa Marie' airplane (wow, the things people with money do to amuse themselves).

I also took pictures of the Chapel beside the mansion. I was told by my cab driver that it was an important place. Ok.

I also made sure to visit one of many Graceland tourist shops, which you can sort of see right beside that Graceland parking lot sign. I managed to find what I really wanted to highlight my short, but memorable trip to Graceland. You'll see it as you scroll down.

Check it out:



pictures courtesy of Stephen Wilson

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The National Civil Rights Museum: Strength through tears, pain and perserverance




picture courtesy of civilrightsmuseum.org

As you scroll down through this post, there is a picture gallery of my visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. I know that pictures can speak louder than anything you could ever say or write, but God I wish I took better pictures to give you a much better idea of the overwhelming atmosphere of the museum.

I was incredibly shakey and tried to take the best pictures I could, but I did not do the place justice at all. To say I could barely handle it is an understatement. It's very difficult to see and aim accurately with a camera through tears.

There were so many things that just assaulted the mind and the senses. I couldn't and still can't take in the sheer brutality, the horrific violence, the pain and death of the most magnetic leader of that era - Martin Luther King Jr., all of it on display.

So many African American men, women and children, not to mention many white supporters of the civil rights movement, all who had to endure mind-numbing abuse just to a have a seat at a goddamn restaurant. Just to be thought of and treated as a human being.

The name calling, the bullying, the bombs, the hangings, the hoses, the deaths, the brutality of the police - again, all of it is on display.

The brutality of the slave trade in pictures, sculptures, and audio noises highlighting the pain of being cramped and stuck in the slave ships crossing the Atlantic. Audio recordings of what was said to black men and women who chose to sit at the front of the bus instead of the back. All there. All of it on display. All of it was so awful, so powerful. I will never, ever forget it.

I promise if I return to Memphis, I will go back and give it the proper picture gallery it deserves.

And to the brave, incredible soldiers who fought with dignity and grace, who pushed so hard and lost their lives and family members for equality, expressions of gratitude will never, ever be enough. But for future generations, we will learn from the past and move forward to continue to break barriers and make them proud. That is the ultimate goal and reward.

Memphis memories: The Peabody Hotel *Update*




pics courtesy of Stephen Wilson

This was my room at The Peabody Hotel. Top floor, two levels, winding staircase - very grand n'est-ce pas? To say I was spoiled is an understatement, but I do want to say a special thank you to Rachel, Miss Tenicia and all the staff at the hotel who took very good care of me.

Now as I've previously stated, it is indeed a very grand, very traditional hotel. You can feel it the minute you step foot into the incredible lobby. People call it "The Savoy of the South" (after the famous London Savoy Hotel) - one of many comparisons to other grand hotels found around the world. The original was built in 1869 and closed in the early 1920's. It was re-built in it's current location in 1925.

I've mentioned in a previous post about a tradition at the hotel that must be seen to be believed. It involves live ducks that waddle their way from from their penthouse (they live in a penthouse!) on the top floor of the hotel, to the lobby fountain. Yes, that really happens. Every day. With grand announcements and huge lines of people waiting to take pictures.

I marvelled and marvel at the tradition. Then I thought "Mmm, these water fowl - who live better than I do, would make very tasty dishes." C'mon, who doesn't love the French classic Duck à l'orange, or even Peking duck? It is absolutely sworn by the hotel that the fate of the ducks do not end up on the menu at the hotel restaurants. Shame, I say!

I loved the the grandeur of The Peabody, but I'm always of two minds whenever I stay in places like this, particularly since I was in the American South. I keep in mind that there was a time not so long ago, these grand hotels were only welcoming to people of colour if you worked the elevators or as the cleaning staff. So when I visit I enjoy my stay, but I'm always aware of the history - good and bad.

We've thankfully reached a time where someone like me can stay in a fabulous room like the pictures shown above, in complete comfort and without fear. I also know that the very comfort I've enjoyed, was just one result of the sweat, tears, death and pain of the many African-American men and women who worked so hard to ensure I could get access to the very best.

And even though I'm referring to a hotel room in this instance, it applies to every facet of my life. Words will never be enough to express my gratitude, but always striving to be the best I can be is the action that replaces the words.

*UPDATE* My good friend Jen sent me a news article on Facebook that stated someone jumped from the roof of the Peabody a week before we came down for the conference! Hotels are fascinating places. The secrets it carries. If stories were ever to leak out - real, behind closed doors stories, it'd probably make The Shining look like a Disney movie!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A hungry man in Memphis Day 2: BBQ, Cadillacs and The Peabody Duck Dynasty




pictures courtesy of Stephen Wilson

It's been busy. I've been busy. No complaints, I promise. Well, maybe just one, and that's a personal battle I'm currently waging with an overly full stomach. It's 12 am and I'm trying to hash out what's been happening so far at the conference, but there is so much to say/write I know I won't be able to cover it in one post.

I swear I haven't talked to this many people for this short a period in, well, I cant even remember when. I'm kind of surprised that I'm not exhausted, but then I think why would I be? This conference is all about food. This is talking about food. This is listening to stories, anecdotes, personal and cultural journeys about food. And the best part? Meeting and becoming friends with people who love food every bit as much as I do, and it's been incredible.

And the people who have come to the conference? Well, you're in a room with some of the most incredible, diverse food writing talent, not to mention the vast knowledge and expertise. To say it's been educational is not descriptive enough, yet I haven't found the right words to describe it. I know I'll need a few more days after the conference is over to really gather my thoughts and post something more significant than babbling about what it's doing to my head at 12am in the morning.

I've browsed through a cookbook that features fifty different ways to use pimento cheese (it's a Southern cooking thang y'all). I've seen ducks make a grand entrance into the lobby of the Peabody Hotel - a tradition that's been going on for over 80 years (the ducks actually live in the penthouse of the hotel - I know, I'm thinking it too). I've seen the late, great Issac Hayes' tricked out, gold-platted cadillac at Stax soul music museum (a video of that to come - it is a magnificent mess). I've eaten enough BBQ and bread pudding, and sweet potato pie to swim in it.

A serious discussion unfolded about race, cultural food reparations(!) and the significant, yet undermined role African-Americans have played in the creation of southern cuisine. And I will quote panelist, and just all-around amazing guy Michael Twitty, that could sum up the strength and weight of the discussion with the statement "from Mammy to Mommy." See what I mean? It was thought-provoking, uncomfortable and emotional. Trust me when I say it was an eye-opening topic and I have plenty to say about it. That will be tackled in a separate post.

Oh, and I've learned I will never discuss BBQ on this blog - ever. Ok, maybe not ever, but I know before I even attempt to tackle BBQ, it's going to involve a few ( A LOT) more trips to various places in the South to at least get a significant enough background knowledge to write about it.

I am in a region of the United States that takes its BBQ very, very seriously. Fellow Canadians listen up. We aren't just talking about slapping a few chicken breasts on a charcoal grill or maybe some maple syrup covered salmon fillets on a plank here (not that there is anything wrong with that). This is B.B.Q. people. We're talking whole pigs either dry-rubbed or with a wet sauce, and more tips, stories, techniques than you could ever imagine. I was told nothing is taken more seriously and treated like a religion than BBQ in the South. And I believe it.

Tomorrow is the final day of the conference. There is still plenty of activities and discussions to come including a trip to the National Civil Rights Museum, and of course, much more food to sample. But now, it's time to get to sleep and let the days events - and stomach, digest.