Before I fly off to Tasmania at the end of January to cook pop-up dinners themed around the American South, I concluded that an epic road trip was in order.
Winter weather permitting, I’ll spend nearly two weeks visiting distilleries in Kentucky, BBQ shacks in Memphis, indulge in “meat and three” in Mississippi and, down on the bayou in Louisiana, roll around in my mouth the differences between Creole and Cajun cuisine.
Tasmania has spectacular seafood, and I’ll be talking with Gulf Coast chefs about recipes and techniques that showcase oysters, shrimp and fish. Watch this space for culinary dispatches south of the Mason Dixon.
My Southern Cooking Experience
My late daddy, Bob Miller, was from Memphis so I grew up on grits, which were pretty far out of place in my hometown of Kansas City, Kansas. I have also both traveled through and lived in the South. I spent a decade in Gainesville, Florida, which is in the north central part of the state, not far from the Georgia border. (It is said that in Florida, the further north you go, the further South you are, and to that I can attest.) But even though I feel completely at home cooking southern food, I am certain there are loads more ideas, recipes and stories I can stuff into my pockets to take with me when I go.
I want to say a special thanks to the Southern Foodways Alliance, based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Their website and their handy travel app have helped me plan this trip in record time by curating purveyors and restaurants and in general doing a big part of the legwork I thought I was going to have to do myself.
The Southern Foodways Alliance is an academic university-affiliated institution that, according to its website, “documents, studies, and explores the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. Our work sets a welcome table where all may consider our history and our future in a spirit of respect and reconciliation.”
And it’s a spirit of reconciliation that made this expatriating cook choose the American South to feature first as a regional cuisine. The campaign and election of Donald Trump have emboldened racists and bigots of all manner in this country, and while some of those people do live in the South, many more people live there who are tolerant, and forward-thinking and just as gracious and welcoming as their well-deserved reputation for hospitality would imply. I will be asking them to help me export what’s truly Greatest about America: its food.