Let me state my bias upfront: I have strong feelings against Knoxville, for various reasons. First, those people believe east Tennessee ends and begins with it, so does the state government. Thus, we, in the rest of the eastern part of the state, a.k.a. the armpit, receive little to no state funding. Second, all the people who wanted to escape my hometown for the "big city" went to Knoxville, and they think they're living large. Poor things. Third, I have scads of personal animosity against UT both for myself and others who were done dirty by their ugliness and lack of integrity.
Despite all these negative marks against Knoxville, I enjoy trips to their downtown by avoiding all the ugly sprawl that the rest of the city has "developed" into in the last twenty years and pretending the university doesn't exist--I close my eyes, stick my fingers in my ears, and chant "you're not there, you're not there, you're not there." Since roller derby is the only sport I enjoy, the non-existence of UT presents no problems for me.
However, after spending two days in Knoxville during the Southern Food Writer's Conference last week may have redeemed Knoxville's vile reputation--in my mind--, somewhat. Knoxville and its environs offers many lovely attractions for those food-minded persons. I'm slightly ashamed that I'm not more knowledgeable about the Knoxville foodie scene, but since it's 90 miles away, I think it's really out of my immediate scope. Yet, I can appreciate it.
The conference was delightful. The line up of speakers included Brett Anderson, Sherri Castle, Ronni Lundy, Fred Sauceman, Nathalie Dupree, Shaun Chavis, Jason Horn, Jennifer Cole, Cynthia Graubart, John Egerton, Jennifer Justus, Regan Huff, Jack Neely, Elizabeth Sims, Barbara Swell, and Fred Thompson. It was established in conjunction with the International Biscuit Festival, which I didn't attend, unforutnately, though I did eat several scrumptious biscuits while at the conference. Hope to be at the IBF next year though.
The tipping point for me to sign up for the conference was that dinner at Blackberry Farm was included. Staying at Blackberry Farm is on my life list. I likely won't ever mark that off my life list because I married for love and not for money. Dining there was divine, I'll blog about it soon. And the other totally awesome experience was our group field trip to Cruze Farms, my new favorite dairy supplier. Wish they delivered as far afield as the Tri-Cities.
Besides introducing me to new sources of local food artisans like Benton, Cruze Farms, and Muddy Pond Sourghum Mill, the conference was a boon for letting me hob nob with other like-minded individuals. I learned so much from each session and made pages and pages of notes. Immersion around other writers and food industry folks was dreamy. I didn't want to leave, and it firmed my resolve to change my professional circumstances to reflect a reality more in line with my dreams and interests than what I currently do.
So yeah, there is plenty to love about Knoxville. Their farmer's market, their re-developed downtown, their festivals and conferences, their artisianal farmers. Lots to love. Just ignore the other stuff I mentioned at the start and we get along right fine.
I feel so frickin' ridiculous, but just so you know, I paid my way to this food writer's conference, but I don't want there to be any question about it since those new FTC regulations make it clear that food bloggers/writers should be transparent in their relationships or affiliations with anything or anyone they "review," so according to the new FTC regulations, I received no other form of compensation for this endorsement of the conference, etc.