Category Archives: Erin Murray

A First-Timer’s Look at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium

ErinAbout a week ago, I sat in on the 16th Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, which is organized and attended by (in my opinion) some of the most fascinating people in the South. It was my first time attending the Oxford, Mississippi-event and I was hooked from the get go: As a first-timer, I was invited for bloody Marys and biscuits at director John T. Edge’s home to kick off the weekend.

I was introduced to a dozen new faces, all of whom were as excited and anxious to start the weekend as I was. The high-octane beverage helped, especially since it was packed with spices, pickled okra, and a hefty pour of Cathead vodka. There were biscuits and souvenir Tabasco go-cups, to boot. That sense of hospitality was carried through the entire weekend. One evening, we were handed a flask filled with a potent bourbon cocktail (to be consumed on a school bus as we rode to fried catfish dinner); the next afternoon, we received illustrated tea towels.

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Hospitality and event organization aside (the entire weekend of lectures, meals, and entertainment were executed flawlessly and to the minute), the weekend was packed with informative conversations, both formal and casual. The theme of this year’s conference was “Women At Work” so everything revolved around women and food. It started with the car ride down; I was joined by food writer Jennifer Justus and author Alice Randall (Jennifer summed it up nicely in a recent wrap-up post) and continued once we arrived, just in time to watch the Thacker Mountain Radio program. There was an interview with fashion designer Natalie Chanin followed by a performance from The Gee’s Bend Singers, who are both fine quilters and choral singers. Friday, Alice and her daughter Caroline Randall Williams, presented their newest project, a cookbook, due out next fall. We were entertained with stories about Caroline’s grandmother, Alberta Johnson Bontemps, who left Caroline her massive cookbook collection, which includes a full range of Junior League cookbooks that were once housed in her grandmother’s guest toilet. The speech made me laugh out loud and also crave a cookbook collection like hers.

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Alice Randall presents a talk with her daughter, Caroline Randall Williams

There was a clever lecture on Eugenia Duke, creator of Duke’s Mayonnaise and a moving documentary by filmmaker Joe York about Alzina Toups, of Alzina’s Restaurant, who also won the SFA’s Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame award this year. Her restaurant will surely be my next food pilgrimage

Between all of this, there were funny and fascinating conversations with people from all over the South as well as other members of the Nashville food world like Karl and Sarah Worley of the Biscuit Love food truck, Kahlil Arnold of Arnold’s Restaurant, and Lisa Donovan, pastry chef at Husk. It was a big Nashville contingent, I was told. I imagine it will only keep growing.

The meals were spectacular, made even more delicious by the conversations happening over them. One lunch by chef Asha Gomez of Cardamom Hill in Atlanta, was the prettiest plate I’ve seen all year.

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As a first-timer, going into it, I didn’t know what to expect—and like many I’ve spoken with, still feel overwhelmed by everything I experienced. But driving home on Sunday, I was struck by how fulfilling and satisfying the weekend turned out to be. The food, drink, friendships, takeaways, and knowledge have all sunken into my bones, held firmly in place by the fact that I now have 375+ reasons to return again next year.

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—Erin Byers Murray, managing editor


Nashville’s Dining Scene: Our Food Writers Weigh In

ErinHopefully by now, you’ve had some time to dig into the April issue and our list of Nashville’s 50 Best Restaurants. We’ve received a fair amount of feedback, both in agreement and opposition to our list—which was exactly what we were hoping for. I love talking food with people, whether it’s dissecting every dish of my last meal or scheming up ideas for the next one. But the conversation I sat in on for our Best Restaurants list was my favorite kind since it got some of the city’s most well-versed food lovers dishing on what they love (and don’t) about Nashville’s food scene.April 2013 Best Restaurants

Because I’m still a Nashville newbie, I was fascinated to hear what the locals think of all this national media we’ve received. As the Tennessean’s Jennifer Justus (JJ) admitted, “I think we have more restaurants, but I don’t think all this praise from outside means that we have anything going on that’s really super amazing and creative.” Beth Sachan (BS) of the blog Eat.Drink.Smile. agreed: “We have all these restaurants opening but I feel like there’s so much that’s the same. It’s like the whole farm-to-table thing: Can we get something that’s a little more interesting?”

So, there’s certainly space for other types of cuisine and more creative influence, it seems. Chris Chamberlain (CC) who writes regularly for Nashville Lifestyles laid it out for me, saying, “We still don’t have a good Chinese restaurant, we still don’t have a great Mexican restaurant. We still don’t have any place to get a paella, there’s no good Jewish food in town.” Long-time food writer Kay West (KW) chimed in, adding, “No good Cuban food, no Spanish food, I still don’t think there’s any good Italian. Where would the mob go? That’s what I want to know.”

Well, then what are we doing right? I wondered. Turns out, plenty. Here’s just a taste of our conversation:

CC: We are attracting folks like Phil Krajeck [of Rolf & Daughters] coming in from out of town, Sean [Brock] coming in and bringing his new chef. We are becoming a destination for chefs to go. We don’t have that advantage of a big cooking school here. We don’t have a Johnson & Wales, but we’ve got the Art Institute and Nashville State. That’s burgeoning. And that leads to developing younger talent.

KW: I also wonder, what incentive is there for someone to come along and be daring and exciting and innovative? I’m not saying that restaurants need to dumb down but I think if you’re a chef who’s investing your own money or trying to get investors and it’s such a hard business, you don’t have big bucks behind you, then you’re going to have to make something that’s going to have a return. Your investors want to see a return. So you’ve got to find that balance between what’s going to be successful and what’s going to be creatively exciting to that small group of diners.

Food Writers

Nashville food writers: Kay West, Chris Chamberlain, Beth Sachan and Jennifer Justus

JJ: I will say that when City House first opened, I would recommend it to people, but I would say, “don’t expect meatballs.” I don’t have to do that anymore. I can just be like, “go to City House.” I do think the level of sophistication is growing.

BS: I think people are more open minded. Another positive thing is [that restaurants are] sourcing locally. Because in the last couple years, a lot more restaurants are naming all the different farms they’re sourcing from and I love that.

JJ: When I interviewed Jeremy [Barlow of Sloco] recently, he was like, ‘I remember it used to be five farmers I could call, and now it’s over 60.’

KW: And a lot of restaurants are doing their own farms, too. That was a pipe dream ten years ago.

Nashville Food Writers

CC: And we’ve got purveyors like Porter Road that we didn’t use to have. There wasn’t access to a butcher that could provide you with locally sourced meat that could be processed the way you wanted it processed. If you didn’t have a local butcher, which we really didn’t, there was no option even if you wanted it. I mean chefs don’t have time to drive to a farm in Millington to bring back a cow.

JJ: That’s another thing, I don’t think they make me describe CSA anymore in a story. It used to be like, what is that?

CC: And we do have a great community of chefs. It may not be one big community, but there are small groups, and they work in each others’ kitchens. I remember when Kahlil [Arnold] told me—he used to work at the Loveless for Tom Morales—and when he left the Loveless to go back and work at his family business, Tom wasn’t mad, he said, ‘how many of my guys do you need to take with you to help run that place because you need to take care of your family business.’”

Nashville Food Writers

KW: I think there’s a huge amount of support among the chefs.

JJ: You know years ago I remember, I think it was in this magazine that I read it, one of the Goldbergs [of Strategic Hospitality] said that if you start something here, people don’t instantly want to drag you down, they want you to succeed. And I think that spirit is definitely going on here.

So, reader: What say you? What is Nashville doing right? And what would you like to see more of? Give us your two cents—and while you’re at it, make sure you have a copy of the April issue. (Comment here or email us at


— Erin B. Murray, Managing Editor

An Afternoon with the Wagner Family of Wines

ErinI never get tired of the perks of this job, especially because it allows me to meet people like Joe Wagner. The fifth generation winemaker is in town this week for Savor Nashvillethe Wagner Family of Wines is sponsoring Saturday’s Celebrity Chef Dinner at The Hutton Hotel—and set up a special tasting for the staff of Nashville Lifestyles at the Hermitage Hotel yesterday afternoon.

Belle Glos

After introducing us to his family through a video, Joe gave us a comprehensive tasting of the wines. And while most of us were already familiar with his most popular labels (bottles of the Caymus, Conundrum White and Meiomi pinot noir are currently sitting in several of our home wine fridges), tasting through them with the winemaker himself is one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that will forever shape my personal enjoyment of his wines going forward (especially his stories about discovering and guzzling a bottle of sauvignon blanc at the age of five).

Joe is a farmer, first and foremost. Like his grandfather, Charlie Wagner, he was raised in the vineyards. And that farmer comes through when he talks about sugar content, ripeness, harvest times, structure, and cryo-extraction. But when it comes to what’s in the bottle, he puts it plainly, saying, “I just love those rich pinots.” His father and a few of his siblings are also part of the business: brother Charlie II is the winemaker of Mer Soleil and Mer Soleil Silver (Joe says they rib each other constantly about the virtues of red versus white wine); both sisters Erin and Jenny are coming up as winemakers; his father Chuck is the winemaker and viticulturist for Caymus. But the heart of the family today is Joe’s grandmother, Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, the namesake for the family’s fantastic line of pinot noir. Joe says the 97-year-old had her hand in the process from the very beginning, whether it was working on the bottling line or making lunch for the crew. She, her husband, Charlie, and Joe’s father Chuck founded the winery in 1972 and though Charlie passed away over a decade ago, his and Lorna’s legacy will likely keep the winery running for generations to come. In fact, Joe and his wife have five kids of their own—he told us that he’s hoping that at least one (but not all) of them chooses to carry on the family business.

Joe Wagner

Now on to those wines. We tasted through nine, including a bottle that will hit the market in a few weeks, the Belle Glos Dairyman Pinot Noir: It was named for the Portuguese dairy farming family from who Joe purchased the land. Like the other Belle Glos Russian River Valley pinots, this one is affable, well-balanced, berry-heavy, and rich—definitely a staff favorite (you can taste for yourself if you have tickets to Saturday night). I appreciated tasting the Mer Soleil and Mer Soleil Silver side-by-side. Both are Chardonnays with grapes grown and harvested from the same lots but with two different applications: the Silver is kept on the lees in an egg-shaped concrete tank (which inspires the opaque grey bottle) while the regular Mer Soleil is barrel fermented. Meanwhile, the Belle Glos Oeil de Pedrix rose is a lovely presentation of low acidity pinot noir rose and will surely make an appearance this summer on my back deck. The showstopper though had to have been the 2010 Caymus Special Selection, a cream of the crop vintage that produces a beautiful, classic Napa Cabernet.


It’s not everyday that you get up-close with a talent like this—but if you have tickets to Saturday night’s Savor dinner, I recommend introducing yourself to Joe and raising a glass to say thanks.

—Erin B. Murray, Managing Editor

New Book “Rock and Vine” Features A Nashville Wine Group

ErinThis week, our office is buzzing as we prep for our biggest event of the year, Savor Nashville. The event takes place Friday and Saturday this weekend—and while the Friday night Chefs Challenge Cook-off is sold out, you still have time to score tickets to Saturday’s Celebrity Chef  dinner. If I had to choose between the two, this would be my pick namely for the wines: All seven courses at Saturday’s dinner will be paired with wines from the Wagner Family of Wines stellar collection.

Joseph WagnerTasting Wagner’s amazing lineup (Caymus, Mer Soleil, Belle Glos, and my personal fave, Meiomi) is a treat, but so is rubbing elbows with hot-shot winemaker Joseph Wagner himself, who is coming to Nashville for his first-ever visit to be at this event.

Keep an eye here for more details about Joseph and his wines later this week. But in the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about him, as well as a few other rock star vintners, pick up a copy of the book Rock and Vine: Next Generation Changemakers in America’s Wine Country by author Chelsea Prince. This beautiful, easy to read primer takes a look at some of the most innovative young minds in the wine business today, including Joseph Wagner, as well as Nashville-based BNA Wine Group founder Tony Leonardini. Leonardini is a volunteer-firefighter-slash-winemaker who started bottling his Napa Valley Volunteer Cabernet Sauvignon in 2006 and immediately found a following in Tennessee (the name fits!). He then partnered with two TN-based wine pros to create the BNA Wine Group, which according to the book, is on track to sell 1.2 million bottles this year.Rock adn Vine

Enter to WIN a copy of Rock and Vine at

Get to know BNA and Joseph Wagner by grabbing a copy of the book, which you can do during a signing with author Chelsea Prince this Sunday, April 14 at Parnassus Books. What’s more, a portion of the book’s proceeds will benefit the non-profit organization Wine to Water, which provides clean water to people around the world. Great wine supporting great causes? We think it’s a win-win.

Rock and Vine author signing, Sunday April 14 at 2 p.m. For more information go to

— Erin Byers Murray, Managing Editor

Fill Your Weekend With Easter Fun

Here at NL, we all have our own way of celebrating Easter. Account executing Janna Landry gets together with her family for a big crawfish boil (“they’re fat in the spring!” she says) while Taylor Middleton sets up a beautiful homemade brunch spread.

For controller Kimberly Higdon, Easter is a time to spoil her kids with big, gift-filled baskets:Kimberly

“I would always opt for homemade. Instead of a huge candy bunny, I would buy a great Barbie Doll or whatever they were into at the time (beanie babies, cds, etc.)  Under the Easter grass I would always put some new clothes—usually a new bathing suit—and would also have lots of plastic Easter eggs that I would hide outside with money in them instead of candy. I would have one or two special eggs that were metallic in color and in those I would put $10 or $20. You have never seen two girls work so hard for an Easter egg!! I would hide so many eggs that we would always count them first so that we knew if we were missing any. Needless to say they were very disappointed when the Easter bunny stopped coming…”

She’s inspired me to create a fun Easter egg hunt for my own son this year, complete with money filled eggs!

If you’re looking for your own Easter fun, there’s plenty to do this weekend. First, you might want to start by sending a donation to the Nashville Rescue Mission, which will provide traditional Easter meals to hundreds of homeless and hungry, over the course of the holiday weekend. Donations can be made online or in person at the Mission’s Donation Center, at 616 7th Ave. S, Nashville (open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.). It’s a good way to get into the spirit before enjoying the festive Egg Hunts around town.

Nashville Zoo EggstravaganzooE2The Nashville Zoo hosts its 15th annual Eggstravaganzoo One of the Zoo’s highest attendance days, the egg hunt will draw more than 12,000 in search of colorful eggs and a host of other activities. Saturday, March 30; 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Spring Art Hop at CheekwoodE3More than 20,000 eggs will be hidden throughout the gardens of Cheekwood for the 21st Annual Spring Art Hop. Easter egg hunts take place every half hour throughout the day, and there are even hunts for our youngest visitors, those ages two and younger! There are also family friendly musical performances from Eve and Mare, Nashville Jazz Workshop, and Rachel Sumner.  Art and craft activities will be offered throughout the day in Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall as well as face painters, balloon artists and, of course, the Easter Bunny! Saturday, March 30; 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

—Erin B. Murray, Managing Editor

Recap: Pairings, A Celebration of Food and Wine


Last Friday night, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the first ever Pairings event, hosted by the Nashville Wine Auction. This wine auction and dinner event was a prelude to the Nashville Wine Auction’s (NWA) many wine-related events, including the big one, L’Ete du Vin set for Saturday July 20, and offered a more accessible ticket price than the summer event while still raising much-needed funds for organizations that serve cancer patients throughout Middle Tennessee.

Pairings took place at the Noah Liff Opera Center and while the room was packed, it only added to the thrill of the auction events and the fact that the NWA had gathered such an exciting and talented group of wine makers (and chefs) into one room for the night. The silent auction put dozens of small lots out for the taking – including several that had me ready to plunk down the checkbook, like a selection from Au Bon Climat and a group of French Bordeaux. As the minutes ticked by, auction sections would close down, elevating the silent bidding process to a fevered pitch. Meanwhile, a host of winemakers from spots like Ilsley Vineyards and Cliff Lede Vineyards were pouring tastes for guests as they browsed the auction items.

At 7:30, the party moved in to the dining room where NL contributor Chris Chamberlain took the stage as emcee and introduced the many sponsors and beneficiaries who were in attendance. At the table, we were treated to a parade of outstanding courses that were created by a string of James Beard award-winning and nominee chefs who, in the spirit of the evening, were paired together to collaborate on a dish.

The MenuPairing5Photos by Jim Cook

Table 3 chef Will Uhlhorn was paired with chef John Fleer of Canyon Kitchen located inside Jennings Barn (Cashiers, N.C.) to create a brandade dish that was neatly wrapped in prosciutto; chefs Tandy Wilson (City House) and Nate Appleman (former executive chef of A16 in Chicago) put out a plate of unbelievably tender wine-braised octopus over semolina and grit farinata; the smoked and braised short ribs were melt-in-the-mouth delicious thanks to chefs Tyler Brown (Capitol Grille) and Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman (Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and Hog and Hominy in Memphis); and for dessert, chef Tandra Watkins (Ashley’s in Little Rock) finished things off with a wine tart with poached pear. If I’d known there was a vegetarian option, I might have chosen it since it was prepared completely by Roderick Bailey of the beloved Silly Goose.

Side note: Several of these chefs were honored as semi-finalists and nominees for the 2013 James Beard Awards: Tyler Brown, Tandra Watkins, Tandy Wilson, Andrew Ticer, and Michael Hudman were all on the list; this week, Wilson, Ticer, and Hudman found out that they are on the short list of nominees. Congrats to an outstanding team (and to Pairings for pulling together an A-List team in the kitchen)!

Pairing9Pairing8Photos by Jim Cook

As for those pairings, the kitchen was chock-a-block full of kitchen genius, as captured by Chris Chamberlain.Chefs at Work
And in the glass, a selection of Stag’s Leap wineries had poured four lovely pairings that perfectly captured California in the glass. The 2010 Solo Cabernet by Silverado stood on even footing with that octopus, while the 2006 Chimney Rock Tomahawk Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was sturdy finale paired with Watkins’ pear tart.WinesPhoto by Jim Cook

I’ll admit that I didn’t take part in the live auction madness but those who did enjoyed an entertaining display as wine experts Elise Loehr of F. Scott’s and Table 3 stood alongside Brett Davis, MW from Louisville to offer peanut gallery commentary about each auction lot while David Allen of Music City Auctioneers brought the house down with his lightning-fast auction calls. It was hard to tell where the all of the winners landed but hearing a few auction lots fetch well over $2,000 per prize had me hopeful that the event had done it’s duty of raising a pile of money–more than $165,000–for several well-deserving local cancer facilities. It was a job well done and certainly put me in the mood for what will surely be a summer of wine-friendly fun.Pairing7Photo by Jim Cook

A few more Nashville Wine Auction events to look forward to:

Thursday, June 20 – Grand Cru
An elegant cocktail party offering an Auction Preview. ($250 per person).

Wednesday, July 17 – A Year In Burgundy
The Nashville premiere of Martine Saunier’s documentary shows at the Franklin Theater. ($30 per person).

Thursday, July 18 – Vintner’s Tasting
A tasting featuring Taittinger Champagne and the French wines of Martine Saunier at Hillwood Country Club. ($135 per person).

Friday, July 19 – Patrons’ Dinner
A gourmet wine dinner prepared by guest chef Sean Brock of Husk, Charleston with Chef Tyler Brown of The Hermitage Hotel featuring the best of Taittinger Champagne and French wines of Martine Saunier. ($1,000 per person).

Saturday, July 20 – 34th Annual l’Ete du Vin
An evening at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel beginning with a Silent Auction and wine sampling followed by dinner and a spectacular Live Auction. ($275 per person).

For tickets to these events and more information, go to

— Erin Byers Murray, Managing Editor