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Global food conference celebrates Alabama cuisine

Famous chefs, food writers, cookbook authors and others from across the country are gathering with some of Birmingham’s own nationally known, yet homegrown, culinary talent for a lively, informative and delicious weekend.

And you’re invited, too.

The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) is holding its annual conference Oct. 22-24 at Sloss Furnaces National Historic LandmarkPepper Place Entertainment District and other locations in and around Birmingham and across the state. It’s called “An Alabama Feast,” and all the events are open to the food-loving public. Most of the weekend’s festivities take place outdoors, with COVID-safe protocols in place at all times.

This conference is a big deal.

IACP is an impactful culinary professional organization founded by Julia Child, Nathalie Dupree, Jacques Pepin and Martin Yan. With more than 3,000 active members in all 50 states and around the world, IACP includes many food greats, such as Ina Garten, Padma Lakshmi, Jessica Harris, Bobby Flay, Martha Stewart, Andrew Zimmern, Ree Drummond, Toni Tipton Martin, Molly Yeh and more.

“We are delighted to host this elite culinary group with its members coming from all over the nation to gather in the heart of downtown Birmingham for their annual conference,” says Pepper Place developer Cathy Sloss Jones. “We have pulled out all the stops to ensure we give them and Birmingham locals an unforgettable culinary weekend.”

Inclusivity is key here. While the IACP has international reach, this conference is inviting local people to participate, too.

If you do, you can expect to see some familiar Alabama faces. “From James Beard winners like Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings to barbecue kings like Rodney Scott, to true food community leaders like Amanda Storey of Jones Valley Teaching Farm and Crystal Peterson of Yo’ Mama’s, folks will be blown away by the amazing people participating,” says Leigh Sloss-Corra, executive director of the Market at Pepper Place and one of the conference organizers.

Alabama Poet Laureate Ashley M. Jones is scheduled to participate, as are former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and award-winning author Rick Bragg. National guests include cookbook author and pastry chef Dorie Greenspan, The New York Times’ Southern-based food and culture correspondent Kim Severson, “L.A. Taco” editor and associate producer of Netflix’s “Taco Chronicles” Javier Cabral, best-selling cookbook author and “Zoë Bakes” host Zoë François, Food52 founder Amanda Hesser, “Black Food” author Bryant Terry, Carrie Morey of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit and more.

It’s no accident that IACP is coming to the Magic City.

“We chose Birmingham for our 43rd Conference because the city is one of the three major food media hubs in the country. That’s important to our 3,000-plus members,” says IACP President Nancy Hopkins. “Birmingham is really on the move as an important culinary city – and that’s not just for Southern food, but for food, period. The food scene in Birmingham is downright magical!”

Foodies likely will find the lineup of events and experiences to be magical, too. These events are designed to introduce visitors to Birmingham and its food culture and history, but there’s plenty planned that locals might not have experienced yet. This is a great opportunity to do so.

It all kicks off Friday, Oct. 22, from 5 to 8 p.m. with the Sweet Home Street Party at Pepper Place. Presented by Sweet Home Alabama, the state’s official travel site, the evening includes live music by the Birmingham All-Stars; in-store events at the locally owned retail spaces; pop-ups from artisan makers and a welcome toast from Birmingham’s mayor, Randall Woodfin. Chefs from Blueprint on 3rdAutomatic Seafood & OystersHot and Hot Fish ClubBettolaBlueroot and others will share signature dishes at sample stations.

There’s more that evening, including incredible views and a tasting experience with chef Tyler Lyne and pastry chef Jennifer Lyne of Tasting TBL at the John Hand Club downtown from 8 to 11 p.m. And, from 9 to 11 p.m., there’s a fun bar crawl, led by the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and showcasing a few of Birmingham’s best female mixologists – Jess Bennett of Aviné and Laura Newman, owner of Queen’s Park and Neon Moon.

Festivities resume early Saturday morning. “I’m super excited to share our beautiful farmers market with food folks from around the country,” Sloss-Corra says. “We are world-class, and they’re going to get to see that in person.”

At a pop-up book shop at the farmers market, hosted by Thank You Books at Yellowhammer Creative, you can pre-shop the cookbooks that will be presented Saturday night at the IACP Media + Cookbook Awards. The nominated cookbook authors will sign their new, gift-ready books.

One of these cookbooks will receive top prize at the IACP Media + Cookbook Awards gala Saturday evening. Held in the iconic, open-air Casting Shed at Sloss Furnaces, this is the premier awards ceremony of the food media and cookbook industry. More than 40 awards will include the IACP Cookbook of the Year Award, the IACP Trailblazer Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“There’ll be a surprise performance by the city’s tippy-top musical theater company,” Sloss-Corra says. “And comedian Roy Wood Jr. will emcee and keep us smiling with help from his good friend, Ruben Studdard.”

Food, as expected, is a huge draw at this conference, and the Alabama Tastemaker Sessions have some of  Birmingham’s top tastemakers sharing tips on entertaining, mixology, brand building and more.

  • Pastry chef Kristen Farmer Hall of Bandit Patisserie and The Essential offers a pate sucree demonstration.
  • Dread River Distilling Co. co-founder John Cubelic shares autumn-perfect craft cocktails using Dread River’s house-made syrups and spirits.
  • Sprouthouse founder Melany Robinson shares her secrets for building a better brand.
  • Designer Cyndy Cantley of Cantley & Co. offers tips on entertaining, with a focus on autumn tablescapes.
  • Chef Tyler Lyne and pastry chef Jennifer Lyne of Tasting TBL will cover both savory and sweet with a fall-themed chefs’ demo.

While food is the focus, other noteworthy aspects of communities and the state are highlighted, too. And here’s where the conference will entertain and inform visitors and locals alike.

You can go on a bike tour of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in the Civil Rights District. There’s a road trip to Montgomery to tour the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum. There’s a different trip to Marion for the Scott Peacock Biscuit Experience. You can tour the Meredith Food Studios, Sloss Furnaces Historic Landmark and local distilleries.

“Sunday’s keynote will focus on food and civil rights with Bryant Terry (the award-winning author of “Black Food”), along with Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth and others who’ve helped articulate our personal story and history,” Sloss-Corra says. And one of the last events, on Monday, is a tasty opportunity to learn more about Birmingham’s vibrant Greek community and tour the Holy Trinity Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Birmingham.

“It’s really the one weekend you don’t want to miss,” Sloss-Corra says. “Just plan to be here and experience the best our city and state have to offer. We are called the Magic City, and everyone is going to know why by the end of the weekend.”

For more information or to view the complete conference agenda, visit iacpculinary.com. For tickets, visit EventBrite. Promotional code IACPxBHAM30 is good for 30% off tickets for the Street Party, Awards Ceremony and Alabama Tastemakers Sessions.

For more details about the culinary weekend, follow @iacppix@pepperplacebham and @marketatpepperplace on Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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