Leaves of Food and Wine

So, two weekends ago, I had the great honor and privilege of attending the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, where members of the Atlanta Opera would be performing excerpts from Leaves of Greens, that crazy collard green opera I wrote. (I was just as amazed typing that sentence as you probably were reading it.)

Holy cow, that was one of the most fun weekends I think I have ever had. This was only the second year for the festival, but you would never have known it from how well everything went.

They were gracious enough to fly me out for the weekend, put me up in a very nice hotel (there was a TV in the bathroom!), and pay for my whole weekend there, including limo rides to and from the hotel. It’s probably the most famous I will ever feel in my life.

The whole thing came about because of one amazing man, Chef Linton Hopkins. Linton owns two restaurants in Atlanta, Restaurant Eugene and Holeman and Finch, plus a bakery, and I think a bottle shop? In addition to being awesome, he also serves on the board of directors for the Southern Foodways Alliance, the crazy people who commissioned the collard green opera last year. Well, he loved it so much that he wanted to bring it to Atlanta, so he somehow convinced the people at the Festival to present it as part of a final dinner featuring greens. Well, the next thing I know, I’m getting phone calls from the festival and the Atlanta Opera is on board and they’re scheduling flights and the rest is history.

Linton was also kind enough to host me as his guest at one of his restaurants, so on Friday night, after our first round of rehearsals, I went to Holeman and Finch. Now, H&F is labelled as a pub, but it’s like a hipster pub. When I walked in, they were playing Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army?” and I was sold. They are famous for their 10:00 burger, which you can read more about here. The long story short is that they only make 24 of them each night, and they serve them right at 10 o’clock, and it is a huge deal to get one of them. Well, when I sat down and ordered my drink at 9:15, my lovely hostess asked me if I wanted one of them reserved for me, and of course I said yes. From my seat in the bar, I could see into the kitchen, so I got to watch them put all the burgers together, and it was awesome.

(As a side note, you will have to forgive the quality of some of these pictures, because they were taken on my iPhone’s camera, which is awful.)

I think I have raved about this burger to everyone I have seen since that night. I can say, without a doubt, it is the best burger I have ever had. Everyone always asks me what is so special about it, but I honestly have no idea, other than it is just a fantastic burger. Just look at this and tell me it doesn’t look amazing! The ketchup, mustard, fries, bread, and pickles, are all house-made.

Just looking at the picture has made me hungry. Linton, call me and let’s talk about you opening an Oxford location.

The next day, I finally got to try the Tasting Tents AKA the best idea of all time. About 2 blocks away from the hotel, they have these huge tents set up, filled with restaurants and companies and vendors, who all want to give you free food. You go through the check-in, they scan your badge, then they hand you a wine glass and a contraption to hold your wine glass around your neck, and set you free. It was surreal. There were rows and areas of food groups, i.e. there was a row of BBQ, a row of tacos, a row of bourbons, a row of desserts, a row of wines, a row of chicken. I’m still in shock of how awesome it was. On Saturday, they also had this delicious looking lamb roasting.

On Saturday night, after a little more rehearsing, I had another amazing dinner. Melany Mullens, in addition to being awesome, is the PR gal for the Southern Foodways Alliance, and she organized this big group of crazy people to go out to eat that night. We ended up, after some reservation mishaps, at this pizza place, Antico Pizza. In the front part, it looks like any other pizza place, but the back is totally different. You walk back there and it is an enormous concrete block room, the back part of which is the kitchen, the front part of which is filled with humongous picnic tables where you sit, watch your pizza get made and then eat it off of trays. It was amazing. Here’s the kitchen:

Words can’t really describe just how awesome this pizza was. Everything from the crust, to the cheeses, to the vegetables, the sausage, everything was just incredible. I wish I would have gotten a picture of one, but we ate them too fast. I was also lucky in that I got to meet tons and tons of cool and hilarious people.

Sunday, the performance day and Mother’s Day, finally came. I was lucky that my mom actually got to come, so we spent the morning having brunch and shopping at Pottery Barn.

I was extremely lucky in that the singers were all fantastic voices, and fantastic people to work with. They also had a wonderful coach, Michael Spassov (who got his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in composition from Juilliard!). Also, because of these performances I arranged a version of Leaves of Greens for just 4 singers (SMezTBar) and piano, so if you’re in the market, give me a call!

The performance was part of a dinner they called “The Parting Bite: A Chorus of Greens.” The dinner part consisted of about 30 or so chefs setting up around the restaurant, each serving small plates of food. This was where I got to eat some of the crazy things for the weekend, including: pig’s ear (which was kind of like very thin bacon), pork belly (so good), alligator boudin (they guy serving it caught the alligator himself), carrot ice cream (delicious), and a fennel ice cream pop (which tasted like licorice and was awesome). It was a very low key event, and I got to meet a lot of the chefs, many of which were members of the SFA, and had gotten to hear the opera at its premiere last year! Here are some pictures:

The wonderful tenor, Tim Miller
Michael Spassov, head coach and asst. conductor for the Atlanta Opera
Tim Miller and I afterwards
Linton and I before the performance
Me with my mother before the performance
Me, with Linton Hopkins, and his son and culinary wizard, the other Linton Hopkins

























Somehow, I only managed to get pictures with Tim, but the other amazing singers were Amy Little, Lara Longsworth (who is 7 months pregnant!), and Ben Polite (who has 3 adorable kids).

I owe huge shoutouts to John T. Edge and the Southern Foodways Alliance for ever dreaming up a collard green opera, Linton Hopkins for this next opportunity and for being a wonderful host, Melany Mullens for being a wonderful date for the weekend, Michael and all the singers from the Atlanta Opera for being so flexible and wonderful to work with, and Dominique Love and the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival for showing me such a wonderful time. All in all, it was an amazing and fun weekend, and I’m now trying to think up ways that I can convince them to invite me back next year.

There is one more blog post to come, featuring a bunch of miscellaneous ramblings by yours truly, so stay tuned.


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