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VOL. 7 | NO. 37 | Saturday, September 06, 2014

Music City Food + Wine More Than Another Festival

JENNIFER JUSTUS | The Ledger

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A wallop of good food and music can leave a mark. It’s why a year later, I can still conjure that trickle of butter on my chin from a bite of Chef John Besh’s crab and caviar toast at the inaugural Music City Food + Wine festival.

I can remember wincing after a swig of Jameson (as whiskey sponsor of the event, I couldn’t help but oblige). Then I remember when Trisha Yearwood and Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum stepped on stage at the music portion of the festival to crush a cover of “Stop Draggin My Heart Around.”

The sensory rush of Music City Food + Wine returns this month to Public Square Park and Walk of Fame Park. It will bring another collection of chefs from out of town for a one-stop, multi-state food tour – as well as many local personalities – for sampling our city’s thriving food scene.

The two-day event aims to educate with cooking demos and smart panel talks while also entertaining us, of course, with food, drinks and a musical lineup on Saturday night curated by festival co-founders the Kings of Leon.

More than just a party, festivals like this one can help elevate a city’s food scene.

Chef Tim Love of CNBC’s Restaurant Startup and several Texas restaurants of his own, is a co-founder of the Austin Food and Wine festival, which will celebrate its fourth year in April. He says festivals like Austin’s – and now Nashville’s – can help a city go beyond just the talk about the scene.

“When you bring a food and wine festival – especially with the backing of Food & Wine (magazine), you’re legitimizing it,” he says.

Giada DeLaurentiis jokes with festival co-founder Nathan Followill during her “You Had Me at Lobster” presentation at last year’s festival.

(Photo courtesy of Cambria Harkey and Jen Creed/Music City Food + Wine Festival)

Love, who grew up spending summers in Cookeville before attending University of Tennessee-Knoxville, says he remembers participating in a gig with Tim McGraw at the Union Station Hotel just about five years ago.

Since then, the “caliber of restaurants has just exploded,” he says. He also gives props to the foundation of good eats in Nashville laid with pureness at establishments like Loveless Cafe, another festival participant.

“You don’t want to discount that either,” he adds. “But it’s great to see a new movement of people pushing it forward ... It’s refreshing to see that happen, especially in a town I really like.”

Since last year’s food festival, whispers of nationally recognized chef Jonathan Waxman opening a spot here solidified into a brick-and-mortar space.

Named Adele’s after his mother, the restaurant opened this past summer. Waxman has helped produce the Music City Food + Wine festival with Ken Levitan and Andy Mendelsohn of Vector Management and the Kings of Leon who got to know Waxman as customers of his Barbuto restaurant in Manhattan.

Chef Tim Love at last year’s festival addresses the topic “Rub, Marinade or Season.”

(Photo courtesy of Chris Creed/Music City Food + Wine Festival)

“To me it was a no-brainer,” Waxman says of Adele’s. “Who doesn’t love Nashville? No. 2, the people of Nashville are just amazing. There’s an incredible creative spirit. They really embrace all things cultural and food and wine. People like to have fun and get together and enjoy music and food.”

Restaurateur and chef Donald Link of New Orleans also participated in last year’s festival and has since announced an expansion to the our city with Cochon Butcher opening in Germantown.

“Part of our purpose in doing it is we really wanted to turn some of these great chefs on to Nashville,” explains Levitan of Vector Management, a company that manages artists as well as chefs such as Waxman, John Besh and Aaron Sanchez.

“Every one of them fell in love with the city. That was the moment for me.”

Waxman also notes the variety in restaurants that have been opening in town over the last year such as Epice in 12thSouth, while giving a hat tip to those who have “fought the good fight” for a long time, such as Margot McCormack of Margot Cafe and Bar.

And while the festival might not have directly influenced all the recent openings, it’s hardly been anything but slow for new restaurants this year with such places as Treehouse to The Farm House, Sinema, Josephine, Acme Feed and Seed, Pinewood Social, The Flipside, POP, Union Common, just to name a few.

Festival Chef Aarón Sánchez stops for a photo op at last year's Festival.

(Photo courtesy of Chris Creed/Music City Food + Wine Festival)

While several favorites will return to the festival roster this year, including Tandy Wilson of City House, new participants include chefs such as Matt Bolus of The 404 Kitchen.

[Full disclosure: I work part-time at the hotel by the same name, though the two operate as separate businesses. But you don’t need my word on this restaurant anyway. Southern Living recently ranked it No. 3 in the magazine’s list of 100 best restaurants in the South].

“It’s a great time to meet new people, see friends and learn new things,” Bolus says. “It’s a chance for the locals to try places they may not try regularly, and for visitors to not only see what our food scene’s like, but also what Nashville has to offer.”

In the food business, being “in the weeds” means being super busy. And that’s also how we would describe Nashville’s booming restaurant scene. In this column, Jennifer Justus, journalist, author and food culture writer, keeps us up to date on food, dining out and trends with bi-weekly reports from the table.

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