Despite unhealthy reputation, influence of Southern cuisine expands

Despite unhealthy reputation, influence of Southern cuisine expands

CHARLOTTE N.C. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Southern fare is one of the most popular regional cuisines in the United States, said Bret Thorn, Nation’s Restaurant News’ food editor and moderator for the panel. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

“The good news is that Southern food and all of its tradition is [seen as] comforting,” he said. “But the bad news is that it might not be so good for you.” —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Frying, in all its forms–deep-frying, pan-frying, griddling–still outpaces grilling, he noted. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Among the leading “Southern comfort” main courses at the nation’s top 200 chains, including chains not based in the South, are fried-chicken products as No. 1, followed by biscuits, sausage and gravy; chicken- or country-fried steak; fried breaded shrimp; and fried catfish. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Chick-fil-A’s fried-chicken sandwich long has led the pack, though McDonald’s [3] and Arby’s [4] also now are “whistling Dixie” with Southern-style chicken sandwiches of their own, Thorn said. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Other notable Southern flavors and items with popular followings include hush puppies, bourbon, grits, cornbread, pork and smoke flavor. At the Mimi’s Cafe chain, fried pickles are a popular menu item at its units east of the Rockies, Thorn said. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

In the beverage category, sweetened iced tea still is growing in popularity, as evidenced by strong sales of Southern-style sweet tea at the McAlister’s Deli [5] and Dunkin’ Donuts [6] chains. Pecan pie is the leading Southern dessert. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Consumers also favor the flavor of barbecue, though it is highly regional, with sauce contents and smoking methods differing from state to state. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

“Still, it is the most successful crossover item from the South,” Thorn said. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Panelist and Southern-food expert Frederick Opie, an associate professor of history at Marist College, said his studies of soul food and other research have shown that the roots of Southern food come from three sources. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

The first root was Native American foods, where corn was a staple and the people were known for soups seasoned with meats, said Opie, author of “Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America.” Native Americans also were experts at barbecuing and roasting venison, turkey and fish, he said. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

The second root source was Europe, where the elites ate meats and considered fruits and plants “commoners” foods, Opie explained. Europeans of old often ate meat pies and porridges, and when they did cook vegetables they were often overcooked and mushy. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

The third important Southern cooking influence came from Africa, Opie said. Major influences from Africa included such things as rice, millet and okra, which were used to thicken soups and stews. West and Central African people were known for their one-pot meals, and the Friday night fish fry may stem from dishes prepared in Africa, Opie said. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

“I think the Africans introduced the fish fry to the European slave traders, and African cookery was transformed due to the African slave trade,” he said. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Other panelists were chef Robert Stehling of the Hominy Grill in Charleston, S.C.; Charleston-based chef Donald Barickman of Hospitality Management Group; food scientist and author Shirley Corriher; and Kathleen Purvis, food editor for the Charlotte Observer. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Thorn said that when chefs were polled to name the seven most popular Southern items, greens were No. 1, though they are the least likely to be on a menu. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Asked what other items are underutilized regional dishes, Stehling’s pick was hominy, though he said it is resurgent in stone-ground cornmeal. He saide hominy might be riper for growth in places like New York City than in Southern cities. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

He noted that in local dialect, “hominy” and “grits” are used interchangeably, and most people refer to grits as hominy. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

The panelists were asked to give some examples of Southern dishes or techniques they currently use or espouse. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Purvis said smoke, salt and vinegar are big in the South, and after studying the art of curing pork at a traditional hog house in North Carolina, she is touting the flavor of a true salt-cured country ham. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

“Salt is so valuable,” Corriher said. “It has an amazing ability to suppress bitterness.” —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

Stehling recently created a tomato pudding that fast became a best seller at his restaurant, he said. It consists of leftover brioche from French toast, corn-bread, butter, sugar and canned tomatoes. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

In conclusion, Thorn observed that Southern foods constitute comfort classics that transcend time and place, and he sees them continuing to grow in popularity. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

“Southern foods probably have the broadest appeal today,” he said. —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.

R&D conference uncovers a host of menu trends [7] —Southern food is jumping geographical boundaries as it grows in popularity, and a panel discussion here during the 2008 Culinary R&D conference focused on the region’s cuisine and its influence on food trends nationwide.