If you’ve never been able to attend the famous Southern Foodways Symposium, an intensive focus on Southern food culture that’s held every fall in Oxford, Miss., a little taste of the Southern Foodways Symposium is coming to you.
Southern Foodways Alliance, the organizer that runs the symposium as well as other things, such as the Gravy publication and podcast, will hold its annual summer symposium in Charlotte on June 23-24, an event that may bring the kind of national attention that local chefs have craved.
“When SFA goes to a city, what I’ve seen over my 13 years with the organization, it matters to the place,” said Melissa Hall, the managing director of SFA. “It particularly matters to the restaurant scene.”
This year’s theme is “El Sur Latino,” looking at Latin American influences in the South. So Charlotte’s event will focus on that, Hall says.
At the same time, the two-day events typically include six meals and numerous snacks and beverages – and at all Southern Foodways events, you travel on your stomach. So Hall expects a lot of restaurants and food businesses, not just Latin American ones, will get attention. Part of SFA’s summer events always includes a close exploration of the host place.
“Charlotte is itself kind of the city center coming into its own in the region,” Hall says. That’s part of the organization’s interest: To understand what’s happening here beyond the stereotypes of banking and commerce.
“It’s going to be a city of layers,” she said. “For a city to work and be an interesting place, you’re going to have this new-energy population.”
The summer trips are a part of SFA’s efforts to expand the fall symposium, which typically sells out in minutes and packs more than 300 eager food people into Oxford’s small downtown. To spread out the opportunity to attend, they started adding summer events that focus attention on the places they visit, while also exploring on the fall symposium’s theme.
Hall said many details of the event won’t be available until late January or early February, when she and SFA founder John T. Edge will come to Charlotte to work on their plans. But she expects it to be very similar to other summer events, such as previous summer trips to Nashville, Atlanta, Richmond and Eastern N.C.
For instance, in Atlanta, they did a bus-based restaurant tour along internationally diverse Buford Highway, led by local food experts like writers John Kessler and Bill Addison. Then they ended up at a restaurant where well-known chef Anne Quatrano prepared a dinner based on her intepretations of those international influences.
In Charlotte, Hall expects a similar event that will travel the Central Avenue corridor and may end with a dinner by Joe and Katie Kindred of Kindred in Davidson.
Hall said the idea to visit Charlotte started with Tom Hanchett, the retired historian with the Levine Museum of the New South and an enthusiastic supporter of Charlotte’s global food scene who writes occasional columns for The Observer. A few years ago, Hanchett proposed a talk for this year’s symposium, which focused on corn, called “Charlotte In Five Tamales.” The SFA was interested, Hall said, but wanted to hold that idea for the year when they were planning to focus on Latin American influences in the South.
“It was that hook that planted in our heads a different way to look at Charlotte.”
While Hall couldn’t provide details on the cost of the summer event, she said most of the other cities have been able to accomodate about 200 people with a registration cost of $400 to $500. And while the fall symposium usually sells out in a few minutes, summer events tend to sell out in a few weeks.