We're more than just barbecue: Foodways Texas hosts its second symposium, "TexasPreserved," and discusses upholding Southern culinary traditions
In 1999, 50 visionaries founded the Southern Foodways Alliance to honor the culinary histories and traditions firmly rooted in the American South. A decade later, a group of bold revolutionaries did what most food-savvy Texans would do: They seceded and formed their own alliance — Foodways Texas — to appropriately document the culinary distinctions of the Lone Star State.
On March 23 through 25, Foodways Texas hosts its second-ever symposium with a range of topics, panels, and speakers at the Blanton Museum Auditorium in Austin. The theme, “Texas Preserved,” symbolizes the ways in which Texans uphold their culinary traditions, both past and present, in home kitchens, fine-dining establishments, cultivated farmlands and community dialogues.
“You can’t discuss Texas culinary traditions and only mention barbecue. We’re more than that,” Marvin Bendele, executive director of Foodways Texas, says. “We want to talk about Texas across different cuisines, different ethnicities, different food cultures, and preserve them through our oral histories.”
In addition to a number of panels and informative speakers, Tom Perini of Perini Ranch Steakhouse, Justin Yu of Oxheart Restaurant in Houston, Matt McCallister of CampO Modern Bistro in Dallas, Sonya Coté of East Side Showroom and Hillside Farmacy in Austin, and John Mueller of JMueller BBQ in Austin will prepare five creative, symposium-inspired menus. The meals will be served outside of the museum in various culinary hotspots, such as Boggy Creek Farm and Springdale Farm.
“You can’t discuss Texas culinary traditions and only mention barbecue. We’re more than that. . .We want to talk about Texas across different cuisines, different ethnicities, different food cultures, and preserve them through our oral histories.” - Marvin Bendele
Coté confessed that she has been contemplating her 1840’s farm-themed dinner for over a year and just recently finalized all the ingredient details. In composing her roasted red wattle hog, corn grits, oyster cornbread, and other farm dishes, she envisioned what Sam Houston might have devoured at his historic Boggy Creek Farm dinner, which led him to later brag that “the ‘eating doings’ were first rate" at the Austin farm. “History makes it clear that we're revitalizing a lot of what they were eating [back] then," Coté says.
The symposium topics are reflective of individual interests and expertise of the symposium's board of directors and members, including famed chefs, successful restaurateurs, Texas microbrewers, cattle ranchers, university professors, astute historians, food writers, and numerous other personalities, both culinary and non. The board includes several Austinites, such as Hoover Alexander of Hoover’s Cooking and Lou Lambert of Lamberts Downtown Barbecue.
“Foodways is about inspiring people to look at food in a different way, beyond taste,” explains Bendele. “How food tastes is so subjective to everyone. We are interested in the movements around food. This is a diverse board of individuals who have come together that share an interest in cuisine and its culture.”
Last year’s symposium, "Gulf Coast Gathering," paid homage to Gulf Coast seafood cuisine, in light of the devastating BP oil spill. This year’s symposium, however, draws upon a wider spectrum of topics, including the endangered livelihood of soul food, Texas’ prosperous drinking culture, produce canning and preservation, the effects of drought, rural food’s movement into urban centers, culinary photography, the interesting history behind Texas sugar, the Gulf Coast labor force, heritage breeds, sustainable framing, craft breweries and other principal topics.
During the two-and-a-half days of events, six culinary oral history projects will also be introduced. One of the studies documents iconic Texas restaurants through interviews, imagery, and multimedia. Elizabeth Engelhardt, associate professor in the department of American studies at The University of Texas at Austin and leader of the study, said the most amusing discovery in her group's research and interviews is the varied interpretations of the term “iconic” to Texas eaters. “We’ve let the definition be as complicated as it needs to be,” says Engelhardt. “It’s been interesting to discover why these restaurants mean so much to people.”
A series of moderated panels will also be included in the symposium. CultureMap’s Jessica Dupuy will moderate the “Feast or Famine: The Effect of Drought on the Texas Food Supply” panel and expects the issue is already at the forefront of many Texas minds. “The drought has had a domino effect on different elements in the states and we’re losing billions of dollars because of it,” Dupuy says. “We’re going to talk about whether or not this is something we may have to adapt to in the future and what that means exactly.”
Rebecca Sharpless, associate professor in the department of history at Texas Christian University, is one of the featured speakers at “Texas Preserved.” She has tailored her discussion to cover the influx of country cuisine into urban cities throughout Texas history and emphasizes that much of what Texans think of as up-and-coming, edgy trends are commonly culinary inclinations of yester-year.
“Texas was the first state to become majority urban, and years ago rural women came to sell [products] in cities like Houston,” says Sharpless. “People tried to buy things from the country back then because they thought it tasted better, much like how we think today. Knowing the history gives everything context and helps us understand where we come from and where we’re headed.”
Foodways Texas' sovereign mission is to establish a thoroughly documented archive of culinary trends we’ve seen in years past and ones arriving on the scene today, Engelhardt said. The symposium is one way Foodways Texas engages the rest of society in that mission and dialogue. “We want to create scholarly research that people will use 75 or 100 years from now."