You want to drive where for a dinner? Alabama. You know that is a 9 hour drive. Yea, I know. And why do you want to drive 9 hours for a dinner? Because it is home. I just need to go home! Okay, let’s do it!
And so we drove 9 hours straight for dinner. Call me crazy! Sometimes I wake up and just know in my soul what I need to do. Natalie Chanin is the founder and owner of Alabama Chanin based in Florence, Alabama at a location called “The Factory”. You need to check out her website. Words alone will not do it justice. Being there brings a peace to my soul that no other place can. There is a vibe of creativity, calmness and tranquility. Natatlie’s philosophy of life is evident in her business. Two of her core beliefs are sustainability and giving back. To that mission she has hosted several Cafe dinners that help support the Southern Foodway Alliance. Seeing her post about the previous dinners made me curious enough to want to attend one.
Adam Evans was the guest chef. Born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama he has a love for seafood and farm fresh vegetables. He said he wanted this dinner to “tell his story”. He was nominated for Food and Wine’s “People’s Best New Chef ” in 2015. He worked in New Orleans at Bocca, in New York City at Craft and in Atlanta at Craftbar.
We decide to arrive in Alabama a day early. Usually I am there for a workshop and never have much free time to explore. Florence has some really interesting things to see, especially for a small town. My husband had never eaten at The Cafe. It is located inside The Factory. Everything is made fresh daily with local ingredients. Fabulous food! I ordered a salad along with one of the specialty sandwiches. I start looking at the fresh ingredients on my plate and notice a small berry in my salad that I did not recognize. At the table next to us is an older man sitting and talking with one of the kitchen staff. I had noticed them earlier standing and talking with several people. So, I turned and asked the kitchen employee if he knew what the name of this berry was. He immediately knew and kindly tells me all about this berry. I thanked him and turned my attention back to our lunch. The gentleman and employee end their visit and as the gentleman leaves he stops at our table. He tells my husband he is sorry to interrupt. He proceeds to ask “do I know you from somewhere?” “You look so familiar.” My husband and he begin a nice conversation. He tells us that he was visiting with his son, Adam, who is a Chef. A Chef indeed! He is only the GUEST Chef who we drove 9 hours to eat with! I did not even recognize him! Not one of my finer moments. His father was a true Southern with true southern manners and was delightful! I think he realized we did not know who is son was and wanted to clarify that situation! He was so gracious about it. We ended the conversation assuring each other we would meet again tomorrow. Should have studied his picture more!
My husband and I arrived to the dinner on time. The room was already filling up. This is an event of which it is not fashionable to be late. We knew absolutely no one other than Ms. Chanin and a few of the staff from Alabama Chanin. I quickly scanned the crowd and got a vibe of, sophisticated, young and hip. There were definitely locals attending. In the true Southern spirit of hospitality someone immediately introduced themselves. They are the representative from The Southern Foodway Alliance. We then met another couple who asked us to join them at their table. This made me feel so at home!
The dinner began with a salad. The vegetables were from Adam’s deceased Grandfather’s garden that is maintained by Adam’s Father whom we had met the day before. On top of the salad was a whole green onion. My heart stopped! The memories flooded back. Memories of eating dinner growing up (in Mobile, Ala) and having a glass on the table with whole green onions in it. My Dad loved them. A bite of food, a bite of onion. I hadn’t thought about that in years! The second course was brought out (this was a five course meal). It was seafood gumbo with potato salad on top. Oh my Mother was raising from her grave! She LOVED seafood gumbo. It made me remember the shrimp boils at my Uncle’s house on Dog River. Her potato was well known with my Dad’s coworkers. She would make big batches of it for the annual summer picnic. Apparently, in New Orleans gumbo is served with potato salad on top. The dinner ended with a Muscadine and fig crisp. At this point I almost have tears in my eyes. Mom had made a fig cake and entered it into a contest and won honorable mention.
After the meal I approached Chef Adam and shared how his food had brought back wonderful memories. He could tell I was really sincere and he gave me a big hug and thanked me for telling him. He too is on a journey of determining where his next chapter will take place. I will never be a renowned Chef. But, I do know I have a new found respect for food, mealtime and food preparation. It was a “now I understand” experience for me. I am currently working with a Chef. I can go back now with a knowledge of how food can truly transcend a person. Prepared with the right emotion a meal can communicate in a language all its own. God is moving me along my journey in a very interesting way. The puzzle is coming together piece by piece. Can’t wait to see what is next!