The tenth annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival is fast approaching, but there's a new food event on the horizon: the first annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. It kicks off in five months (May 19-22) — the brainchild of charming Southern entrepreneurs, Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, two women passionate about fried chicken, pot likker and the best food in the South. Love and Feichter expect 10,000 people to attend the festival in May.
In this interview, the co-founders explain their inspiration (Aspen), what went into creating the festival, its headlining chefs, and the ultimate Atlanta Food & Wine Festival experience (the $2,500 Connoisseur Ticket). Read on for the inside scoop on the festival's don't-miss events, their picks for three must-visit restaurants while you're in Atlanta, and where to go for the city's best fried chicken.
A big food festival in the South? It’s about time, no?
DL: That’s what we’re saying.
Both Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure are presenting sponsors, but this festival is your baby, right?
EF: It is our baby! We created the Grow for Good campaign for Food & Wine to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Classic in Aspen. As part of our work, we attended the Classic for a few years to run the campaign and left each year in love with the experience.
DL: After each visit to the Classic, we would ask ourselves, “Why don’t we have something like this in Atlanta? Why can’t we create the Aspen experience in Atlanta? Why don’t we create a celebration of Southern food and the South? Finally, our friend Chef Shaun Doty said, “Stop talking about it and just do something.” And so was born the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.
EF: That was eight months ago.
Dominique, you’re from Colorado? And Elizabeth where are you from?
DL: My family is from the South — from Mississippi. When we were little we moved to Colorado but spent many summers in Mississippi and I went to college in Alabama. I moved to Atlanta in 1995.
EF: And I’ve been in the south the whole time, North Carolina. I moved to Atlanta 15 years ago, and my husband likes to tease me, he says my accent changes depending on what road we’re on.
DL: Some of my more Southern friends think that I’m only half Southern because I grew up in the West. But, the Southern traditions are never too far away. Growing up, when we had to bring in a dish for a class party, I always brought in sweet potato pies. And we were the only kids in the neighborhood who had to call our parents, ‘Sir, and ‘Ma’am.’
Time for some tough questions about food and Atlanta. Who makes the best fried chicken?
EF: Well, Linton Hopkins just got voted best fried chicken by CNN. But I’ll tell you who really has the best fried chicken, Marie Nygren at Serenbe. It’s just bursting with juice. There’s a magic that happens between the crispiness on the outside and the juicy meat inside. That is good fried chicken.
What’s your favorite Southern dish?
EF: Mac ‘n cheese. Wait, can I do this by season? Because in the summer there’s nothing better than sliced tomato and corn.
DL: I love 'pot likker.' That sounds so naughty. It’s made from the braising water from the greens and it's delicious. But right now I’m truly obsessed with bacon caramel corn. I’ve been buying Holeman & Finch’s bacon caramel corn trying to recreate it. I haven’t been successful, but I’m thinking the success depends on when you put the bacon grease into the caramel.
EF: What I want to learn is how to make bacon-infused rye whiskey.
Which three Atlanta restaurants must a first-time visitor to Atlanta visit?
EF: Miller Union is one. They’re doing amazing things with vegetables and fresh farm ingredients.
DL: I’d say Miller Union and Empire State South have great Southern comforts. Abattoir is a good representation of whole animal cuisine. But 'Southern' is also about new flavors and Atlanta’s Buford Highway has a lot of great international — Latin and Asian — to explore.
EF: I’m a big craft beer fan; The Brick Store is great for that. The owner is helping us with finding the best craft brews to feature at the Festival. Many people don’t know but craft beer is one of the fastest growing alcoholic beverage segments in the South because it’s only been in the past five years that many Southern states have allowed distribution and sale of these beers. There are some amazing things being done with fresh ingredients from the farms going straight to these beers.