By Andria Lisle
On September 3, Southern Foodways Alliance director John T. Edge addressed the capacity crowd assembled at Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman’s Hog & Hominy with a short speech that included these words: “The totem of this culture is our food.” His hungry audience roared back with the vigor usually reserved for sports, and just like that, the Collards & Carbonara Release Party, a benefit for the SFA, had begun.
Technically, the party started thirty minutes earlier, in the backyard behind Ticer and Hudman’s other restaurant, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, which lays just a stone’s throw from Hog & Hominy.
At dinner, I had the perfect perch at the kitchen counter, flanked by Edge, Lockeland Table chef Nathan Wells from East Nashville, and Memphis food writer Paul Knipple. Working on the other side of the counter, just a few feet away: Charleston-based chef Mike Lata of Fig and The Ordinary; Oxford, Mississippi culinary savior John Currence (City Grocery, Snackbar, BBB, Boure, Lamar Lounge); Tien Ho of New York’s Montmartre; Memphis’ own Kelly English (Restaurant Iris and the soon-to-be-open Second Line); and Hudman and Ticer, plus a slew of eager sous chefs and assistants.
Courses, mostly served family style, flew out of the kitchen. Lata started off dinner with a tangy smoked Wallace Bay oyster topped with a coriander crème fraiche and albino paddlefish caviar. Ticer and Hudman responded with a plate of fried green tomatoes topped with barbecued pork belly and refried hominy. Up next was Currence’s herb butter poached shrimp, served with pickled celery, butter bean puree, and heirloom cherry tomatoes that burst with brightness. Hudman and Ticer countered with their Shishito Peppers, a must-have spicy and salty combination that, luckily for you, is on the regular menu at Hog & Hominy. Chef Ho’s charred broccoli and tofu more than held its own against the meat courses, and served as a pulmonary break before we ladled Hudman and Ticer’s short ribs onto our plates. The volley continued with English’s Mennonite Lamb Belly, made even richer with a Tennessee onion fondue, Arkansas tomato marmalade, and a radish gremolata, all of which was served alongside Hudman and Ticer’s collard greens, which were peppered with belly ends, pepper vinegar, and hominy.
Experiencing the Collards & Carbonara Release Party—trust me, no one merely “attended” it—magnified other counter-balances that ring true in modern Memphis. This new crop of Southern chefs were honoring timeworn traditions, be it the work of ladies like Helen Turner, or the Italian ancestors Ticer and Hudman pay tribute to in their new book. The ingredients used to create the four-course meal included vegetables and herbs that could be grown in any backyard garden, yet each item was elevated to ambrosial status. Dinner guests were young, old, black, white, and, to a person, savvy to the value of a gastronomic event they’d never forget. This, we all knew, is what southern culture is all about.