Here’s a recounting of Sunday night’s incredible Bling Pig dinner, which also served as a fundraising event for Southern Foodways Alliance. This wonderful recounting of the meal is by Asheville foodie (and loyal reader) Jennifer Saylor aka BlogAsheville. Enjoy.
It was a bittersweet evening last night at Claxton Farms, as underground supper club Blind Pig hosted a season-ending farm-to-table fundraiser for the Mississippi-based Southern Foodways Alliance on the same night that SFA leading light John Egerton (1935-2013) was memorialized in Nashville.
Egerton, a native son of the South, prolific author and one of the founders of the SFA, died last month. As his friends and community gathered in Nashville for a memorial service, top Asheville chefs gathered in Weaverville for a supper club event that was rooted in the food traditions Egerton spent a lifetime supporting.
Shaved, 14-month aged Benton’s country ham with redeye gravy
All Blind Pig dinners include an address from founder Michael Moore, but the Foxfire dinner – whose name echoes the classic magazine of rural Appalachian culture – also included brief keynotes from John Fleer (a top southern chef with a new venture downtown, Rhubarb) and Rick McDaniel, the food historian behind Asheville Food: A History of High Country Cuisine.
The appearances deepened a sense of community and connectedness to an event already rich in Southern tradition, as both Fleer and McDaniel had intensely personal relationships with Egerton. Fleer shared a story of an Egerton well-lubricated by event sponsor Jack Daniels at a rural food fair, talking from the heart about Southern food for 25 minutes. Fleer said he could attribute 50 percent of the menu at his Blackberry Farm restaurant in Tennessee directly to Egerton.
McDaniel told the crowd that the one man able to convince him it was still worthwhile to write a book about Asheville food – after Egerton had already written his classic Southern Food – was Egerton himself. The vote of confidence came during a 60-minute pep talk over the phone.
Egerton embodied the celebration of Southern food, Fleer said in a respectful and affectionate remembrance: people coming together, talking, listening, and eating.
Moore told the story of leaving Wilson, N.C., and his former life as a police officer to head to San Francisco to learn to cook. His grandfather had two pieces of wisdom to share – a question and a reminder. The question was, “Why would anyone leave the South to learn how to cook?” The statement was, “Don’t forget where you come from, son.”
Warm tubers and roots salad with grilled Hickory Nut Gap sirloin and fried buttermilk ranch
“When you pass a plate, you’re passing a prayer to your neighbor,” said “Jimihatt,” a Charleston chef who runs his own supper club, Guerilla Cuisine.
McDaniel talked about Asheville’s own unique food history, from A-B Tech’s strong culinary program supplying the mountains with skilled French chefs, to Mountain BizWorks offering know-how to new restaurateurs, to ASAP helping manage a local agricultural transition from tobacco to fresh, local vegetables meant for restaurant tables. Asheville, said McDaniel, is the “greatest place to eat on earth.”
So of course, there was also food. Blind Pig dinners so often follow an esoteric theme, asking diners to try frozen foie gras push-up pops, and on the more extreme nights, ant larvae, duck penis and pig anus. So there was something wonderful about seeing the Blind Pig regulars – local rock star chef Elliott Moss, stalwart Brian Canipelli of Cucina 24 – set aside ambition and just pull off a classic Southern meal of hot grits, cornbread, collards and pork roast.
Elliott Moss’ Heritage Farms Cheshire Crown Roast with maple pecan barbecue sauce; N.C. sweet potatoes and fermented farro
Highlights included Troy & Sons moonshine (served neat, in eggnog, or as a smooth margarita), Denny Trantham’s creamy grits for 170, Canipelli’s roasted root vegetables with Hickory Nut Gap Farms sirloin, Moss’ Heritage Farms Cheshire crown roast with maple pecan barbecue sauce, Denny Tranthams’ divine collards with Foothills Farms smoked pork jowl, and Canipelli’s Cruze Farms buttermilk pie.
Cruze Farms buttermilk pie with local persimmons and pecans
Portions (served family-style, with up the three plates coming out at once) were generous to the point of providing nearly a third more than even a tableful of hungry, salivating diners could deal with, starting with a deep dish of what seemed to be a gallon of hot grits so stout they barely spread out when spooned onto a plate. As I told my tablemates, at Blind Pig, you’ve got to pace yourself.
Each of the night’s three platings could have stood alone as dinner, so it’s a good thing this event took nearly four hours, packed with food, drink, community, story and tradition. John Egerton, you were remembered well.
Foxfire: An Appalachian-inspired benefit dinner for the Southern Foodways Alliance
Dec. 8, 2013
Claxton Farms Foxfire video
Brian Canipelli of Cucina 24
Nate Allen of Knife & Fork
Denny Trantham and Elliott Moss
Live bluegrass music from the Stuart Brothers
Keynotes: Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider, Jimihatt of Guerilla Cuisine, John Fleer of Rhubarb, and food historian Rick McDaniel
*** Blind Pig’s next dinner is Habitat, with chef Steve Goff of the King James Public House, set to open in Asheville this month. Jan. 19, 6-9:30, $65.