The biscuit portion of my weekend started a bit earlier than I’d expected. I attended a reception for authors from the Children’s Festival of Reading Friday night (more on that tomorrow) and planned to make an early night of it. At the reception I ran into a friend who offered a free ticket to the Biscuit Bash which followed my author reception. The tickets were $75, so it was a very gracious offer that I could not decline.
The culminating event for the Food Writer’s Conference, the Biscuit Bash really had little to do with biscuits, per se. Held at the Southern Depot, the event included a screening of the film Pride and Joy by the Southern Foodways Alliance. A true survey of treasures, the movie included segments showcasing various farmers, restaurant owners and other people extolling their passion for food of one type or another. The filmmakers chose to focus on small out-of-the-way barbecue joints, purveyors of unusual foods and hole-in-the-wall establishments.
By doing so, they really cut to what always matters: the people behind the food. A great character-driven piece, I hope it finds a wide audience. My favorite portions included a man whose father perfected the pig ear sandwiches he continues to sell after his father’s death, as well as footage I’ve seen before of Earl Cruze extolling the virtues of buttermilk. “No need for viagra” is his memorable phrase.
Food samples were offered by a number of chefs and books by the visiting authors to the food conference were displayed and the authors autographed any purchases. I enjoyed a bite of Regina Charboneau’s shrimp and grits and I also enjoyed some mutton (I think) that didn’t appear on the menu. I hope it wasn’t from a previous event.
As the event ended a deluge reminded us of the forecast for the weekend. As always, I was on foot and had my camera, so I was not keen on walking more and a half mile through the rain – or spending the night in the depot. Fortunately, Bill Alexander was there with his nice car and agreed to give me a lift. Thanks to him for that – and to Gay Lyons for slipping me in. What a great community!
The next morning I only had time to breeze through the actual event. I’d agreed to volunteer through the day at the World’s Fair Park, but I wanted to see what was happening in the biscuit world. After a steady rain most of the night Friday night, I wondered how many people would venture out for the festival. If the rain reduced the crowd, we could’ve used a little more because the crowd was, as always, massive. Both Locust Street and Market Square garages were closed by late morning.
The Biscuit Festival stretches from the south end of Market Square up Market Street to Church Avenue. Hardly a spot could be found where one might move freely. The lines to obtain tickets and samples stretched through the crowds and around corners. A happy buzz hovered over the event and no one seemed perturbed by the waits.
Vendors lined Market as well as Clinch Avenue in either direction. One of the nice things about this event is that food is the theme that unifies most vendors and that makes for a more focused event, to me. Whether you want cook books, iron cookware, olive oil, jams and jellies or any of a variety of other food-related items, this is your place.
Of course, biscuits abounded. Biscuits of every variety, some pretty unusual and others pretty much like grandma’s. It’s a crazy kind of fun event that plays off our southern food heritage while offering a few twists along the way. With the addition of the Food Writer’s Conference and the sponsorship from Southern Living Magazine, the event has truly elevated itself beyond its beginnings.
I’m not sure if naming it “International” in the beginning helped build the perception that this isn’t just local, but it seems to have worked. Vendors applied from across the country and twenty thousand people came to testify to the joys of a simple food.