The states of the American South brought their unique culinary tastes and recipe twists to London last week, in the biggest-ever initiative of its kind for the region.
The Barbican Conservatory was the venue for an evening of bourbon tasting and sampling regional dishes curated by chefs flown over by Travel South, the marketing organisation that represents Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
On the evening’s menu were homespun stories of how food is an essential ingredient of life when growing up in the South along with delicacies that showcased the region’s gastronomic creativity.
These included Oysters Pamlico from North Carolina, West Indies salad with crab from Alabama, fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy from Missouri, collard greens with hoe cake, pickled onions and hot sauce from Mississippi, cast-iron skillet fried yellow cornmeal cakes garnished with Arkansas caviar and green tomato pickle, chicken and dumplings, and peanut brittle from Arkansas, and pecan pie infused with Jack Daniels from Tennessee.
Mixologists from the Bardstown Bourbon Company in Kentucky were on hand to offer shots of a sprit that is now available in the UK.
The chefs – many of whom are TV personalities and multi-award winners in their home states –then spent the weekend showcasing their creations at the National Geographic Traveller Food Festival at the London Design Centre in Islingwood, which was attended by over 7,000 consumers eager to try some of the tastes of the South.
Liz Bittner, Travel South’s CEO and President, said the UK visit and being title sponsor of the food festival, in partnership with Brand USA, provided a great opportunity to showcase Southern hospitality and its food and drink.
She added: “This event took six months of planning and saw us bring over seven chefs and two drink experts from across the American South. That involved over 30,000 food items from nine of our states, with our team executing and delivering 12,000 items in total, each to different specs, recipes and techniques.
“Our goal as a region is to grow to $10b in international visitation spending and to do that we know we must have consumer-facing inspirational content across many media channels and in-person activities.
“Then working through the trade, we will support trip plans to the authentic destinations of the American South,” she added.
Arkansas was one destination that viewed the UK visit as an opportunity to “increase tourism’s economic impact in the Natural State”.
Shea Lewis, Interim Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said “The UK is a key international audience for us and our participation (in London) will help broaden our marketing reach and drive visitation to Arkansas.
“As Arkansans already know, our state’s natural beauty, outdoors adventure opportunities, rich arts culture and diverse heritage make it a premier travel destination for visitors from across the globe.”
The last word to Travel South’s Bittner, who added: “The biggest takeaway I have from this whole experience is the reaffirmation of two things – that there is really nothing like Southern hospitality – and being able to be a custodian of this incredible cuisine, all the way across the pond, makes so proud”.