Off the Beaten Path: Dispatch From the 2015 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

This year, the festival celebrated women who are breaking ground in the culinary world, but arrived via unconventional paths

Creatively presented food was one of the many amazing things at the Atlanta Food and Wine festival.

Nestled on 39 acres of mature hardwood forest, Cator Woolford Gardens at the Frazer Center is located on a historic estate just a few miles from the heart of downtown Atlanta. It is here, in the gorgeous indoor atrium, where 110 hip, well-dressed, and fun-loving women gathered for an evening of food, libations, and celebration of the female culinary superstars of the South.  Atlanta businesswomen Genevieve Bos and Kat Cole joined forces with Atlanta Food & Wine Festival cofounder Dominique Love to create this event, Poweful and Delicious: A Celebration of the South's Culinary Superstars, after an evening of discussing the Festival’s Advisory Council, which, not unlike most commercial kitchens, is male dominated.  Uplifting and showcasing Southern talent is a key goal of the Festival, so the trio thought it only fitting to create an event where female culinary superstars could tell their stories to female corporate and community leaders.

Since its start, the event has taken on various themes — the first year focused on James Beard award-winning chefs like Atlanta’s own Anne Quatrano. Year two was about international influences and featured chefs who were cooking outside of the boundaries of so-called traditional Southern food, including Andrea Reusing, whose Asian dishes wow diners at her Chapel Hill restaurant. This year’s sold-out event was hosted by chef Georgia Pellegrini of Austin, wines were poured by April Wright Collins of Vintage Wine Marketing in Austin, and a delicious blood orange old fashioned, featuring Maker's Mark Cask Strength Bourbon, was an added surprise. The focus was on untraditional paths into the culinary industry, and highlighted chefs like Sarah Gavigan, who left the music industry in Los Angeles to cook delicious ramen in Nashville, Tennessee, and Chrysta Poulos, a former Air Force fighter pilot who is now a pastry chef for the celebrated Rocket Farms restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia.  Chef Vivian Howard began her professional career as a chef, but had a compelling — and surprising — story to tell about running to New York City to escape her small town heritage, only to find herself back in Kinston, North Carolina, where she embraces the very foodways and culture she swore she wouldn’t come back to.  Rounding out the evening was Victoria MacRae-Samuels, VP of operations for Maker’s Mark, who began her career as a chemist and is now the only woman in the bourbon industry who runs operations.

This is a signature event of the festival, and the energy and talent in the room was awe-inspiring! During each course, the chef who prepared the dish approached the microphone and talked about her career and how found success in the culinary world — not as a woman, but as a talented individual who is helping to shape the region’s food and drink culture.  

Here are some of the dishes served by these talented speakers. Sarah Gavigan of Nashville, Tennessee, served pecan miso rolled in ship leaf; eggplant with sesame sauce; and spinach with dashi. Vivian Howard of Kinston, North Carolina prepared barrelfish sashimi with marinated cucumber and spring onion; shrimp and grits; and Noumi chang sausage (white sausage stuffed with rice). Chrysta Poulos of Atlanta, Georgia, sweetened things up with Pearson Farm peaches with bourbon caramel pound cake.

Save the date for next year and get your tickets ASAP.

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