Gearing up for its fourth year, the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival will take over Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Loews Atlanta Hotel in Midtown from May 29 through June 1. Gourmands can attend cooking demonstrations such as mastering the art of Southern pastries and sample the savory fare of more than 100 chefs in the tasting tents, but we’re looking forward to one fabulous feast in particular: Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Blackberry Farm’s third annual tribute dinner dedicated to Southern farmers.
In between picking the perfect kitchen to prepare a momentous meal at the AFWF on May 31 and traveling to the West Coast for an appearance at Pebble Beach Food & Wine, Joseph Lenn, the James Beard Award-winning chef who runs Four-Star The Barn at Blackberry Farm, fills us in on everything from his favorite ingredients to the reason why he hasn’t solidified a menu as of yet for this dinner honoring Allan Benton of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, Jennifer Perkins of Looking Glass Creamery and Jason Shaw of Georgia Olive Farms.
Why is it important for you to continue the Blackberry Farm tradition of hosting a dinner at the 2014 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival?
It is a great city and audience for us. It also gives us the opportunity to cook for people that might not have been to [The Barn at] Blackberry yet. The Blackberry Farm experience is driven by the season with the focus being on vegetables and proteins coming from our farm and other farmers from the region.
In what capacity have you worked with honorees Allan Benton, Jennifer Perkins and Jason Shaw?
I have been using and cooking with Allan’s products for 14 years. He and I also go ramp hunting each spring. We have been using Jason’s olive oil for almost two years now. It is something really special, and it’s really cool to share it with chefs from the West Coast and the Northeast that haven’t heard of it or tried it yet. Jennifer once worked at Blackberry and now is making wonderful cheese in North Carolina. We use her Ellington cheese in various places on the menu.
What are your go-to local spring/summer items that you enjoy using in your dishes?
I enjoy working with the artisans and farmers that produce products such as ramps, morels and peas the most. You simply can taste the quality and passion that these folks put into their product. You cannot really find that in mass-produced products.
We heard that you don’t choose menu items for the tribute dinner until you have chosen a kitchen space to work in. How does the space relate to the food?
We want to give the guest the best possible experience and sometimes equipment can change what you plan on doing. Sometimes the host has something really cool, like a wood-burning oven or garden that we can use and incorporate that into the menu.
What is your signature style?
I have learned to keep things simple. We try to create dishes with familiar flavors like guinea and dumplings — a take on chicken and dumplings — or shrimp and grits. Or maybe something unexpected, like the fermented items that pop up on our menu such as garlic, ramps and collard greens.
For more information on this tribute dinner, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. May 31, visit atlfoodandwinefestival.com.
Photos Courtesy of Atlanta Food and Wine Festival and beall+thomas photography