Sunday, October 18, 2015


"When I think of sour corn, I think of Dean Martin." What a cryptic sentence! Well, there's a paragraph that explains it but I like it better by itself. That's from yesterday's menu at the Southern Foodways Symposium, an indescribable annual summit concerned with global politics, economics, history, art, activism, race, space, place, family, gender, science, agriculture, industry, philosophy, and so many other subjects, and I know I'm leaving out food, but as one of the organization's oral historians described her mission yesterday, "It's about the people, not the food." That being said, superstar chef Sean Brock and his mother made us a 20-course lunch. A 20-course lunch! That will really make you take a nap. Sean Brock and his mother made this 20-course lunch for more than 400 people (as seen above). He said the most people his mom had cooked for until yesterday was about ten. Earlier that morning I gave an unnecessarily blistering talk about the TV chef and humorist Justin Wilson, a relatively harmless entertainer who is long dead. I put on some sunglasses and just went full "insult comic" mode. I'm not even sure why! The talk as given wildly diverged from what I had so carefully researched and printed out. Maybe I was possessed! Actually, Gustavo Arellano spoke right before me and he was ON FIRE and I was like, "Uh-oh, I'm gonna have to DO something to follow that." And nature took its course.
As you can see, I wielded my Emmy as a comedy prop and the whole thing went very well despite my inexplicable viciousness, which I believe worried JoAnn Clevenger, the astonishing doyenne of New Orleans's iconic Upperline restaurant (at the Symposium to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award), who stood up in the Q&A section to nobly defend Mr. Wilson, a frequent customer of hers. I saw her later in the evening and she told me some complicated things from Justin Wilson's personal life. "I always like the underdog," she said. We had a nice talk about it. I also saw Sean Brock and he said the 20-course lunch was "the most important meal" he had ever made and "the meal I was born to make." He was referring to its transcendent emotional content for one thing. All I could think with extreme gratitude was, "We got to eat the meal Sean Brock was born to make!" I also told him that his mother's statement - "When I think of sour corn, I think of Dean Martin" - could be the first sentence of a novel. It's my favorite sentence right now.
I guess the other thing I need to tell you is that John Currence got dressed up in a shrimp costume and was positioned above a dunk tank filled with grits. He told me he studied Gary Busey in the movie CARNY (pictured) to perfect his aggressive dunk-tank patter. "Were those really grits in there?" I asked Blair Hobbs about the dunk tank. "It looked like brown water," said Blair, which for whatever reason sounded like the worst thing to get dunked into. I honestly doubt that the Southern Foodways Symposium, with its deeply concerned soul,
would waste grits, or anything else that could help someone. For example, another lunch, this one made for us by Mashama Bailey (pictured here with Joe York, whose pinpoint accuracy as a pitcher dropped shrimp-Currence in the tank; "Your Emmy won't save you now!" yelled Joe as I walked into the danger zone between him and his target), was ingenuously based on ingredients that usually get thrown away: Chef Bailey's salad was made with the stems of the collard.