Festivals celebrate Southern food, culture

When Southern boys go north, one of two things can happen. Either a bit of northeastern melancholy attaches itself to them like a tick, or else they come home almost defiantly enamored of their homeland.

Garden & Gun editor in chief David DiBenedetto was born and raised in Savannah, went to college in Vermont and launched his magazine career in New York. But he’s back down South now, and he talks with a soft glow about the region, beaming like candlelight bouncing off old polished silver.

“I want to slow the world down,” he said, discussing plans for the magazine’s upcoming Jubilee festival. The celebration of all things Southern is Dec. 6-8 at the historic state park Charles Towne Landing in Charleston, S.C., where the magazine is based.

One of a number of regional food festivals within driving distance to Atlanta this fall, Jubilee will highlight Southern cuisine, apparel, artistry and sporting life in partnership with the Charleston Area Convention & Visitor’s Bureau.

“It’s amazing to see how hip fried chicken and biscuits have become,” DiBenedetto chuckled. “People have discovered what we’ve always known. They’re pretty damn good!”

Events include an oyster roast, a Southern Pantry food tent featuring unique food and drink items and a trunk show offering men’s and women’s apparel and sporting gear from Southern designers.

“I really want people to see the traditions that are here, the craftsmanship, whether it’s someone making a beautiful turkey call or an unbelievable plate of food,” said DiBenedetto, who with some of his colleagues will be on hand for events including the Breakfast With the Editors.

In addition to the festival, there are separately ticketed events including the Garden & Gun Club dinner with designer Billy Reid, featuring James Beard Award–winning chef Mike Lata and music from Junior Brown; a workshop with designer Natalie Chanin; and a finale pig roast with Southern Foodways Alliance’s John T. Edge and pitmaster Rodney Scott,.

To get ready for the event, pick up a copy of the magazine’s new book, “The Southerner’s Handbook: A Guide To Living the Good Life,” which comes out Tuesday. The compilation of essays starts off, naturally, with a section on food.

Other chapters deal with Southern arts and culture, attire, gardens, drinks and manners. One of our favorite pieces, titled simply, “How to Behave,” offers a handy primer for making small talk: run through the “ABCs” of topics. “Atlanta? Baseball? Or better yet: Cocktail, and then excuse yourself to the bar.”

Savannah Food & Wine Festival

Speaking of excusing yourself to the bar, Southerners are no doubt familiar with the first question they ask you in Savannah, Charleston’s friendly rival to the South: “What would you like to drink?” Decide for yourself during the Savannah Food & Wine Festival, Nov. 11-17.

The festival’s signature event is Taste of Savannah, noon-4 p.m. Nov. 16 on Ellis Square. Atlanta’s Shaun Doty of Yeah! Burger, Bantam + Biddy and Chick-a-Biddy is scheduled to be among the notable personalities making an appearance. He’ll be popping by the VIP Vintner’s Lounge, the Sysco Learning Experiences Tent and the Local Palate Celebrity Chef Kitchen.

“I’m doing a cooking demo on gluten-free cooking, a talk on local sourcing,” Doty said. “This is Georgia’s Charleston. It needs to shine a light on what it’s got.”

Others putting in appearances include Anthony Lamas, a past Food Network “Extreme Chef” winner; “Food Network Star” alumna Linkie Marais; winemaker Rob Mondavi Jr.; and Master Sommelier Michael McNeill.

A series of wine dinners, cooking classes, seminars and tastings planned at numerous locations throughout the city precede the Taste of Savannah. The Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner Nov. 13 at 700 Drayton Restaurant has a prominent Atlanta connection. The collaborative feast featuring several award-winning James Beard Foundation chefs will showcase the talents of Miller Union’s Steven Satterfield and Empire State South’s Hugh Acheson, who expands his restaurant realm with a Savannah spot called The Florence next March.

“There are food festivals everywhere these days,” said Acheson, who will prepare the main course. “The big ones are fun and interesting. I find the small ones in cities like Charleston and Savannah are really poised to be great. It kind of parallels what’s happening in food, period. It’s an exciting time.”

On the more casual end of things, a River Street Wine Stroll is planned for Nov. 15.

“It’s a perfect getaway for Atlantans,” said festival director Jan Gourley. “You could make it a real foodie weekend.”

Music to Your Mouth

Palmetto Bluff, S.C., a community and nature preserve between Savannah and Hilton Head, is home to the Music to Your Mouth festival, which might be almost too popular. Many of the events taking place Nov. 19-24 are already sold out, including the James Beard Chefs Dinner featuring Atlanta’s Linton Hopkins and Anne Quatrano, the Smoke & Barrel Cruise and the Potlikker Block Party featuring a screening of a short documentary about Georgia cattleman Will Harris.

The festival folks make tickets available first to the locals, who have already snapped them up.

“We have to play favorites,” quipped Ellen Shumaker, who works in marketing for the festival.

Hustle if you’re interested in the festival’s other events, including a “Georgia on My Mind” cooking class with Miller Union’s Steven Satterfield and Southern Foodways Alliance’s John T. Edge. Work up an appetite with the Hair of the Dog 5K, billed as a “friendly competition set amid Palmetto Bluff’s spectacular neighborhoods and nature trails.” Organizers will greet runners with a T-shirt and a Bloody Mary at the finish line.

“The lowcountry lifestyle is about community,” Shumaker said. “Sitting back, relaxing and chatting with folks. Good music and good food.”

The festival’s timing allows folks one last breather before holiday craziness hits.

“It’s just before Thanksgiving,” Shumaker said. “Folks are getting excited about fall. We never know what the weather’s going to be. Sometimes it’s 80 and sometimes it’s 50 and everything in between. That makes it interesting.”

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