How to Make a Definitively Nashville Party

Nashville: a town of twang, of giant dreams, of newly successful tv shows and old movies starring Lily Tomlin and, most recently, a town with a huge culinary history. For this year’s International Foodservice Editorial Council (IFEC) conference, 179 foodservice editors and publicists headed down to Music City– or NashVegas– to check out the newest products and culinary trends. From November 5-8, 2012, I ate through foodservice trends with other IFECers. Here are my highlights:

1. Learning about classic Nashville specialties: Before the New American Foodie Revolution of the past 10 years, Nashville had already contributed two distinguished regional dishes beyond the basics of Southern cuisine.

Meat-n-Three designates the type of restaurant where you serve a protein (usually fried chicken) and three sides, cafeteria style, with the addition of cornbread. And Meat-n-Threes are common throughout the South, but they hold a particular significance in NashVegas. At many of Nashville’s meat-n-three joints, you can see country stars, aspirational singers, tourists and just about anyone else in town shuffling through the cafeteria lines, selecting their sides. As one of the speakers at IFEC put it, the cafeteria line itself is “the great equalizer.”

Meat-n-three plating

Attendees who were familiar with Nashville said that typically a meat-n-three would be a pretty beige affair– fried chicken with mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and maybe a broccoli salad or collards for color. But the idea could be spiced up and given a bit of color for a Nashville-themed party, especially when the city is the setting of the newest hit tv drama.

Ideas from a Meat n Three dinner event. This is actually from an event in Atlanta at an opening for an exhibition of young southern artists, but I think you get the idea. From SayHolatoTravis.

Hot Chicken is a dish that’s specific to Nashville. It’s basically just spicy fried chicken. It was invented by a Nashville chicken joint, Prince’s, supposedly when Mrs. Prince wanted to teach her husband a lesson after he was out kanoodling and carousing all night, according to The Tennessean’s food culture reporter, Jennifer Justus. I didn’t get to try Hot Chicken, but it’s a great idea, and I can see it working well when upgraded on a short plate, complete with pickle and slaw.

Hot Chicken from Prince’s. Courtesy of ntcrwlr.

2. Amazing local fare from Vanderbilt Catering. At the Chefs of Tomorrow Farm-to-Fork dinner on November 6 sponsored by Olson Communications in Chicago, the team at Vanderbilt Campus Dining took local to a whole new level. It was a rainy, cool night, but that didn’t stop us from drinking in hillbilly wine glasses and hanging out among the heat lamps by the bar outdoors.

The bar at the Chefs of Tomorrow dinner, featuring hillbilly wine glasses and fresh kale.

Then, inside, the team at Vanderbilt turned their offices to a family-style rustic extravaganza, creating a phenomenal tablescape of produce that incorporated kale, artichokes, cabbage, mini pumpkins and more with elegance. Anyone can put tomatoes on a table, but it takes a special designer to really weave the produce and the lighting together to make you forget that flowers even existed.

Tablescape at the Vanderbilt Chefs of Tomorrow Dinner

The menu, served family-style, was abundantly local, and Executive Catering Chef Tom Allen and Executive Chef Bill Claypool talked about the challenges and rewards of getting everything as local as possible. As we all chatted — about the election, mostly — the farm-to-table fare really brought all the guests together.

Menu from the Chefs of Tomorrow Dinner at Vanderbilt University

3. A behind-the-scenes tour of one of the world’s best Conference facilities and hotels. The Gaylord Opryland Hotel is the world’s largest hotel that’s not a casino, and we had an exclusive tour of its extensive commissary and other facility kitchens. Above ground, it reminds me a little bit of the Paris in Las Vegas, but below, the Opryland’s Stars (their term for employees) make their way through a maze of state-of-the-art kitchens and prep facilities. It was so easy to get lost, and there were maps everywhere, but I wondered to myself how long it takes to get used to working in such a labyrinthine place. Do new employees just take much longer to get from one place to the other?

Hotboxes, anyone? This hallway was filled with equipment to keep hot food hot for thousands in the Opryland Conference centers.

A three-story drive-in freezer in the Opryland Commissary was jawdroppingly huge.

Gallons upon gallons of homemade soups sat in the walk-in, waiting to warm the voices of the Grand Ol’ Opry’s performers.

Our tour concluded with a sampling of the Opryland Commissary’s bakery fare, complete with a guitar made completely from bread.

The Opryland crew was extremely welcoming and proud of their dynamic facility. The tour showed just how wide-reaching and dynamic Nashville hospitality can be.

4. Chefs’ Showcase. At the IFEC conference, opening night featured the Chefs’ Showcase, with dishes and cool action stations form local chefs and the crew at the Sheraton Music City. Here are a few photos of the highlights.

Mushrooms formed centerpieces that looked like sea life on all the conference room tables

Gold tomatoes, avocados and caviar shone brightly on a burnished metal tray.

Lamb sandwiches and lamb sausage pumpkin pies on Verterra biodegradable plates, behind a bright wall of fresh herbs and microgreens.

Heirloom tomato cappuccino with wildflower honey foam. Click through for recipe.

My visit to Nashville was filled with ideas at every turn. Thanks to IFEC and the Music City Sheraton for a wonderful visit!

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