The Bourbon Social is an annual celebration of Kentucky’s native spirit that just had its inaugural edition in Lexington, with a weekend of parties, seminars, distillery brunches, celebrity guests, a cocktail competition, and plenty more. WCN! was a media partner of the event. This is the first in a series of blog posts recapping what Jonathan and Tamara can remember about the weekend. All photos by me.
The WCN! Interview is a new occasional feature here on the blog, in which we chat with interesting people in the food world.
Jonathan talked with chef, restaurateur, author, and Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson about bourbon, Southern food, and kohlrabi, among other things. Acheson will be a Celebrity Guest Chef at The Bourbon Social, Oct. 10-12 in Lexington.
On the popularity of bourbon: “I think as we get back to being more of artisanal culture and revering some of our foodways, I think we’re laying claim again to the fact that we’ve got this indigenous spirit in the South that’s so interesting and nuanced. And it’s our own. So whether you call it a locavore movement, or artisan movement, or farm-to-table type of thing or distillery-to-glass type of thing, it’s something that we can lay claim to, and feel really comfortable that it’s in our own backyard, and the heritage and history is there.”
On pairing food with bourbon: “I think you want something with a little bit of smoke to it…it works really well with grilled meat, it’s got a particular affinity to bacon and pork and that sort of thing…collard greens with pot liquor go really well with bourbon. Some fruits go really well with bourbon, particularly plums…caramelized apples…there are a lot of ways you can go with it.”
On his plans for the Bourbon Social: “We’re going to do a nice rice and beans dish with a bunch of tasso and bacon and country ham in it, and topped with a little quail egg and pickled collard green stem on it. It should be good.”
On Southern food, and how he connects it with the Mexican and Italian cuisine at his two new restaurants: “We want to make sure that our definition of Southern food includes the great panoply of different cultures who find their way to living in the South now, whether that be Korean culture, or Mexican cultures, Hispanic cultures…they’re still influencing and using our foodstuffs to sort of further their own cuisines. So in a lot of ways it’s still Southern food.
I think there’s a great affinity between Italian food, and the sensibility and reaction to the agrarian ways that they have in Italy to the way that we’ve historically done Southern food. Southern food is a reaction to the market, and the farms around us, and how we use that splendor in a really simple way…I think that the most glorious part of Southern food is truly pointing out the beautiful ingredients, and making sure people don’t define it as salty fried chicken and not very good biscuits…the Southern meal is eight different vegetables, a little bit of fried chicken, and beautiful biscuits.”
On using great ingredients: “We’re re-connecting with great food by realizing again that we have seasons…it’s feeling that revolving, beautiful cadence of the season in how we approach food, and how we cook in our homes, and how we show our kids, the next generation, how to cook…
“The popularity of specific varietals of vegetables is exploding again, and that’s good…to me it’s just re-tracing the steps. Somewhere around fifty years ago America just forgot how to cook. So we’re really glad to be in a generation that’s taking pause and trying to reclaim some of those foodways.”
Fall has always been my favorite time of year. For those of us who have been on the academic calendar our entire lives it’s just as much a season of rebirth and new beginnings as the spring. Keeneland, funnel cakes, football–there’s a lot to love in the few days between the first time you need a jacket and the first Christmas commercial.
Part of it is that the traditional fall flavors are some of my favorites. Ovens get turned back on and roast things to a golden brown, baking spices show up everywhere, and the summer fling with clear liquors comes to an end and bourbon makes us wonder why we ever strayed. As a beer lover it brings two of my favorite seasonal beer traditions–ludicrously large mugs of malty Oktoberfest lagers, and the onslaught of pumpkin beers.
I know what you’re saying–“Jonathan, you magnificent stallion, you’re a beer snob, right? Doesn’t that mean you scoff at pumpkin beers as gimmicky distractions from worthwhile beers, which are all hop-bomb IPAs?” Yeah, I know, and I really don’t get it. Pumpkin beers are tasty, dammit. And it’s not like pumpkin beers are some kind of new fad; pumpkin was a common addition to beers in the American colonial days when quality malt wasn’t always available.
Since there is a dizzying array of pumpkin beers out there, we at What’s Cookin’ Now! have decided to do a public service and try as many pumpkin beers as we can so you don’t have to waste your time with the losers.
How has it taken us this long to do a whole show about bourbon? We’ve definitely talked bourbon, and we’ve done shows about cocktails in general, but we’ve never just devoted a whole show to the brownest of the brown liquors. And with fall right in front of us, it’s definitely bourbon’s time to shine–nipped from flasks at football games, splashed into the mix for a pumpkin pie, or just working its way back into our glasses now that our summer fling with the clear liquors is behind us.
So this week on The World’s Only LIVE Radio Cooking Show (That We Know Of), we’ll be cooking with bourbon in both sweet and savory applications, and of course we’ll have a couple of original cocktails to offer up. We’ll have a preview of the Bourbon Social, going down October 10-12 in Lexington. And you’ll hear an interview Jonathan did with chef, restaurateur, and Top Chef judge (and also Bourbon Social guest chef) Hugh Acheson about bourbon, Southern food, and kohlrabi, among other things.
That’s Wednesday, October 1, 6-7PM on 88.7 WMMT-FM in Whitesburg, KY. You can stream it online here. And if you’re nearby, come join us for the Tasting/Dishwashing Panel!
Don’t miss it!
Coming up Wednesday, September 3 on an all-new episode of What’s Cookin’ Now!: The duo returns! After a brief summer hiatus, we’re back and in full effect with one of our favorite shows of the year: the Fall Mystery Basket! Our friends at Clay County’s Old Homeplace Farm will be there with a big pile of beautiful and seasonal produce for us to go nuts on. It’s cooking by the seat of our pants! It’s marginally less planning than we usually put into the show! It’s the tastiest show on the radio!
That’s Wednesday, September 3 , 6-7PM on 88.7 WMMT-FM in Whitesburg! You can stream it online here. And if you’re nearby, come join our Tasting/Dishwashing Panel!
Don’t miss it!
When it comes to local food in Appalachia, we are at a moment in time. When a local farmer stood up on a Saturday night in Hazard front of a dining room full of hungry diners and told us this, it was very easy to believe it.
Of course, we at WCN! have always been supporters of fresh local ingredients, with our collaborations with Old Homeplace Farm and Grow Appalachia and our inability to pass up a farmer’s market. But over the past year or so a huge burst of energy has built up around the people trying to figure out what’s next for the region, and local agriculture seems to have a place in our future.
Jason Brashear is one of the leading lights of this movement; his Community Farm Alliance seeks to bring local farmers together to get their products into local restaurants, school lunchrooms, and the hands of people who care. Looking to seize this moment in time he put together Face 2 Food–a Saturday night food crawl with three locally-owned Hazard restaurants taking on locally-farmed ingredients.
The night started with an appetizer platter at Jabo’s Coal River Grill with fried banana peppers, fried green tomatoes, and potato skins, all from local farms. The banana peppers at Jabo’s rank as one of the best dishes available in Hazard, IMO, and I was glad to see them here. The green tomatoes kept that green tomato crunch with a nice flavorful crispy coating. It was a great way to get the night started.
Next we moved on to the Big Blue Smokehouse for the main dish. Salads were punched up with some local tomato and cucumber; we thought it was a missed opportunity to go with their standard panel of dressings instead of a Kentucky-inspired offering like a bourbon vinaigrette or a sorghum mustard.
The main attraction was a sirloin from Wolfe County’s Chop Shop, cooked in the BBS smoker. This treatment makes a cut like a sirloin get a little bit dry, but the smoke gave it an almost tangy flavor that went really well with the peppery coating. (They had planned to do this with ribeyes but couldn’t get hold of enough of them to make it work; I think the fattier cut would have both taken up more smoke and stayed more moist in the smoker, but the sirloin made me very happy.) It was paired with some fried local corn on the cob; the high heat of the fryer punches up the natural sweetness you get from good fresh corn, and it was a perfect side for the steak.
The night closed out at the Treehouse with their always stunning cupcakes. Local mint and blackberries found their way into the icings, and a delicious blackberry lemonade was very welcome on a hot night.
Are we at a moment in time? I certainly hope so. Places survive and thrive when people feel connected to them, and eating local food helps connect people to a place. Huge thanks to Jason and to all the farmers who made this dinner possible.
We guys like to think that the ability to operate the grill rides on the Y chromosome, held over from the primal days when we rubbed sticks together and used the ensuing blaze to roast a freshly-killed sabre-tooth. But a little experience with summertime backyard gatherings will tell you that some people have a better grasp of cooking over the fire than others. Is it just magic, a touch that some people have and other don’t? Or can you learn to be a master of the flame?
This week on The World’s Only LIVE Radio Cooking Show (That We Know Of), we’ll find out with Grilling 101! Jonathan will be joined by our friends Other Jonathan and Kristin, and he’ll teach them to up their grill game with some simple but show-stopping recipes. They’ll talk proper burger technique, easy grilled sides, glazing, and a stunning but foolproof grilled dessert.
We’ll also have a review of the Ale Share fest that happened last weekend at Highland Brewing in Asheville!
That’s Wednesday, August 5, 6-7PM on 88.7 WMMT-FM! If you have the misfortune of not being near Whitesburg you can stream it live here. And if you’re in town, come on by and join the Tasting/Dishwashing Panel.
Don’t miss it!
(Note: this is the last show of our summer semi-hiatus, as Jenny will be sitting this one out and Jonathan will be doing it solo. The Dynamic Duo and their witty banter will return in September!)
The Farmer’s Market. It’s one of the best parts of summer. The produce! The music! The exciting changes in policy and practice that are turning Eastern Kentucky from a USDA designated Food Desert to a mecca of fresh, local, sustainable, delicious meals! Join us Wednesday, July 2, from 6-7 pm as we explore the wonders of the Letcher County Farmers’ Market. Learn how you can create a pantry that leave you poised to make the most of the summer’s bounty. Hilary Neff and Valerie Ison Horn, the amazing women of The Appal-TREE Project and Grow Appalachia, will join us and share the exciting things going on to bring good food to every body in our region. Tune in!!
Saturday marked this year’s first trip to the Perry County Farmer’s Market, and unfortunately by 8:30 all that remained were some spring onions. But when life gives you tasty green things, as it so often does in the springtime, make pesto.
Take a bunch of spring onions, toss them in a little olive oil, and grill them on a medium-hot grill until the bulbs are soft and the outer greens are blistered.
Once they’re cooled, put them in the blender or food processor with a handful of toasted almonds, some parmesan, one clove of garlic (don’t go overboard–let the onions be the star), salt, pepper, and olive oil. Blend until mostly smooth. Definitely include the charred bits of the onions.
Toss with hot pasta (plain old spaghetti is perfect for this) and top with bread crumbs and more parmesan.
Serve with a sauvingon blanc or a Vinho Verde.
You can do pretty much the same thing with anything green and tasty–especially garlic scapes, if you can get your hands on some.
Have you seen the May 2014 of Kentucky Monthly? Who is that on page 16 in their sexy Iron Chef poses?
The story, criminally, is not online, but get a copy while it’s still on the newsstands, and go check out all the other cool stuff at the Kentucky Monthly website.
WCN! on Twitter