Following several weeks of debate, I bit the bullet last Wednesday and registered for the first ever Southern Food Writing Conference here in Knoxville.

The 2-day conference preceded Biscuit Fest, resulting in a very prominent ‘biscuit theme’ amid the presentations, discussions, and meals. These two days flew past in a humbling, beautiful blur (hence my guest post on Friday) and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the experience.

I was greeted Thursday morning with a deceptively heavy gift tote that was gussied up with a great big, buttery biscuit.

Following a breakfast involving, amongst other fare, pimento cheese and turkey biscuits, we took a seat for our first speaker. All of the speakers, in some way, have significantly contributed to the culinary world. I had the honor of sitting with and listening to writers, publishers, chefs, TV & magazine personalities, and local artisans as they discussed their thoughts and experiences amid their trade.

I would love nothing more than to show you mediocre pictures taken with my phone of all our speakers – delving into great detail regarding their discussions, but I’m no fool – that would result in some pretty bored readers more than likely scrolling down until something more relevant stuck their attention. So I’ll save you the effort, put all aforementioned pictures in a collage, label them accordingly and move on.

From top going clockwise…Jennifer Cole from Southern Living, Tyler Brown, Cole Ellis, & John Egerton making some beaten biscuits, Barbara Swell – author of , Jack Rentfro & the Apocalypto Quartet, Elizabeth Simms, Sheri Castle & Ronnie Lundy discuss the art of writing cookbooks, Fred Thompson author of Barbeque Nation and Edible Peidmont Magazine, my first beaten biscuit – smothered in pimento cheese, Jennifer Justus, food culture writer for The Tennessean interviews John Egerton author of Southern Food, Jack Neely – writer for the Metro Pulse.

You’re welcome.

One of my favorite things about the conference was it had us relocating quite often. Provided lunches lead us to delightful venues around downtown such as The Emporium Center & Krutch Park. The Emporium Center lunch consisted of Southern staples from The Coop Cafe – chicken salad and pimento cheese sandwiches, broccoli slaw, turkey & brie biscuits (but of course) and sweet tea served from Mason jars. I can’t be for sure, but I’m almost certain that my palate is developing a delightful preference for beverages that are served from these glasses. Either way, baked goods from my favorite local bakery, Magpies, were also involved so brace yourself, the below picture involves maple and bacon in cupcake form.

Oh yeah…

Afternoon sessions involved more speakers, an invigorating nip of bourbon, a lesson in the art of beaten biscuit making (another post, another time), and a short break to prepare for what I felt to be the pinnacle of the conference – cocktail hour and dinner at Blackberry Farm.

Blackberry farm has been somewhat of a mythical entity of my life in East Tennessee. This place is an institution – a hidden gateway to all things luxurious and perfect. Or at least that’s how I had made it out to be in my mind. Most things of this caliber often result in disappointment when presenting themselves, like meeting your idol only to be disappointing upon discovering that he or she is a dud. In this case, however, it was better than I imagined – in every possible way. Beginning with Pimms cocktails on the way to the farm and ending with the last scrumptious bite of our 2 course desert – every single thing was exactly as I imagined – luxurious and perfect.

*Food Porn Alert*

Wine accompaniments, Blackberry Farm beet and clue cheese salad, North Carolina Mountain Sunburst Trout with smoked buttermilk consommé, Guinea and Dumplings with poached egg, potato gnocchi and wild mushrooms, Grilled & braised Painted Hill Beef with biscuit, carrots, and fava beans. Biscuit Ice cream with strawberry jame, and Biscuit Cuillerre with chocolate mousse and raspberries.

Upon our return, I immediately collapsed into bed, seeking a rejuvenating sleep for tomorrow continued activities.

Friday morning served up a breakfast of eggs in tomato gravy and beaten biscuits with sock sausage (again, another time) made by Tyler Brown, head chef at The Capitol Grille in Nashville, (Read about him in Southern Living here – and yes his mustache is as magnificent in person). Again, I will not bore you with details, but our speakers were pretty freakin’ great:

Brett Anderson, editor for Cornbread Nation, John Egerton talks Sock Sausage, Nathalie Dupree & Cynthia Graubart – TV personalities and authors of Southern Biscuits & Shrimp & Grits, Shaun Chavis & Jason Horn discuss food blogs, and Mark & Sherry Guenther talk about their life making Sorghum.

Lunch was a local BBQ joint, Sweet P’s, enjoyed under a tent in the warm weather in Krutch Park. A few more speakers and our conference concluded with a visit to local Cruze Dairy Farm, where we were spoiled with fried cornbread with fresh honey, piping hot buttermilk biscuits (these were amazing) topped with buttermilk butter, fresh chocolate milk (best I’ve ever had, hands down) and delicious fresh ice cream.

You’ll notice a theme here – fresh, fresh, fresh. I’m not even ashamed to admit that I chugged two glasses of chocolate milk, slurped down two cups of ice cream (that salty caramel is my new favorite thing), and demolished my biscuit. No judging – it was all worth it. We even got some pretty awesome shirts to take home:

“Biscuits rise better with Cruze Farm Buttermilk!”

When I say my experiences were unforgettable – they truly were. Aside from the knowledge I gained, I also managed to meet some wonderfully awesome people. People that share my passionate love for food and all that a great meal entails. Because food is always more than just a meal – it’s an experience. And when you add in a nice sprinkling of good ol’ Southern charm, it becomes a lifestyle.

Happy Monday, friends!

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