The Dish on #SouthernFoodNow with Southern Living’s Hunter Lewis
Southern Living, the home of the South’s most trusted kitchen, has long since been the gospel on the recipes and tastemakers that define our culture. Southern Living staffers sent us a resounding reminder of their breadth of understanding of our region’s traditions and trends in their epic A to Z guide to Southern Food on newsstands now.
We recently raved about the Guide to SL Executive Food Editor and Producer of the section, Hunter Lewis. Hunter is a friend in The Southern Coterie that led a discussion with a panel of Georgia food trendsetters last year at Cocktails & Conversation at our Summit in Athens.
You can’t help but have a crush on a fellow foodie who can wax on about the value of sorghum with such sincere appreciation. Hunter did this and more on the stage of the Georgia Theatre with mixologist Greg Best and chefs Peter Dale and Whitney Otawka.
C is for Condiments
CHERI: Name five condiments in YOUR fridge.
HUNTER: Bourbon Barrel Foods Worcestershire Sauce. Way too many bottles of half empty hot sauce, including SL’s Chunky Hot Sauce, Dijon, yellow, and whole grain mustards. Anchovies. Duke’s Mayo.
J is for Jones Valley Teaching Farm
CHERI: I love the concept of the Jones Valley Teaching Farm partnered with Birmingham elementary schools. We need to know where our food comes from and care and to instill this young is wonderful. Tell us more about the Southern Living cooking classes and what that entails. Describe the student run farmers market more —if you have been tell me your experience.
HUNTER: Jones Valley Teaching Farm is my favorite place in Birmingham. I was just there visiting yesterday, actually, and volunteers were pulling the last of the late spring vegetables out of the ground and the summer tomatoes and peppers are already shooting skyward. The farm is this oasis, a square city block of green, in downtown Birmingham. If you’re driving south on Highway 31 you’ll see it below you from the underpass.
Urban farms are valuable because they provide access to healthy produce. But the reason why Jones Valley really matters is because the smart folks there like Grant Brigham and Sara Williamson have created a 2.0 model of what an urban farm should be. They’re in the business of teaching kids to connect the dots, and they’ve developed a curriculum built to empower city schools students to grow, cook, and eat healthy produce. The kids learn by doing, so the curriculum is very hands on in the classroom and on the farm. The kids run their own farmers’ markets where they learn small business skills. Some of the city schools have their own farm labs on site so they can watch and tend the vegetables right outside of the classroom.
Southern Living and now our sister magazine Cooking Light got involved with the farm through a program called Family Kitchen. Every spring and fall, our test kitchen teams host local elementary school students and their families in the Southern Living and Cooking Light Test Kitchens. The families cook healthy weeknight recipes from the magazines with produce from Jones Valley. It’s magic. You should see the light bulb moments when the kids are chopping vegetables or sauteeing greens. They’re connecting the dots from the farm to the stove to the table. And they’re cooking and sitting down to eat with their families, no small feat in this age of busy-ness and cheap fast food. Here’s a link to the Jones Valley in the guide. Click and watch the video about Family Kitchen here.
If the farm does what it’s programmed to do, then you’re going to see kids graduation from Birmingham high schools in next 5 to 10 years who are armed with practical life skills and empowered to go out and make their communities better.
Q is for the Culture of Smoke and Fire
CHERI: Why do you think “Q” which is a longtime roadside favorite in the South has exploded in popularity and BBQ has become its own cuisine? A good pitmaster is as esteemed as a good chef now- when and why did this happen?
HUNTER: We’ve always been enamored with our barbecue. It’s the highlight of a road trip, it’s the fuel for a picnic, it’s a regional mark of distinction, it’s fighting words. Pitmasters are now up on the pedestal with chefs and farmers because people are clamoring for authenticity and roots, and the men and women cooking barbecue the right way are authentic to the core. You can’t embellish good barbecue. It’s smoke, meat, and time, and these pitmasters go about their craft daily to make one thing and make it great. It’s a craft that speaks to a particular region and a particular place and a particular history.
CHERI: Talk about Georgia’s BBQ that you have experienced and why you enjoy it and why Southern Living dubbed it the up and comer. (I know you went to my fave local St. Simons joint Southern Soul Barbeque)
HUNTER: You know I love Southern Soul’s ribs. When deputy editor Jennifer Cole and I started talking about the letter Q, we thought a lot about Georgia’s place in barbecue lore and the fact that it’s hard to pin down Georgia’s true barbecue identity beyond Brunswick Stew. There’s a lot of freedom in cooking when you’re not burdened by history or a history that’s maybe been lost, and I think pitmasters in the state are embracing that sense of freedom and riffing on their own highly personal notions of what Georgia barbecue should be.
V is for Vegetable Plates of the South
CHERI: Describe YOUR perfect veggie plate.
HUNTER: Sliced homegrown tomatoes sprinkled with plenty of flaky sea salt. Green Beans charred on the grill and tossed with a fish sauce vinaigrette (a few tbsp. each of fish sauce and fresh lime juice then stir in sugar and minced chiles to taste). Maybe some fried buttermilk onion rings or okra for crunch. A mountain of fresh field peas with butter. And a wedge of warm cornbread drizzled with honey.
CHERI: This section was a huge undertaking. It accomplished your tall task of appealing to three generations of readers. How do you approach that?
HUNTER: By not taking ourselves too serious. We just wanted to write about all of the great things going on in the South right now and to put a mirror up to reflect how the South is eating now. I learned a good lesson when I arrived here in late 2012 and tried way too hard to appeal to multiple generations of readers. It drove me nuts. Then one day, one of our former editors, the great Mary Allen Perry, pulled me aside and said, “You know what, these generations of Southerners are really not all that different from one another. They want a lot of the same things.” Everyone wants delicious recipes and photos and great stories. If we’re doing our job right, then we’re serving up plenty of all three every month.
Co-Founder of The Southern Coterie