If ever there were an event that touched all facets of my food geekdom, A Place at the Table, was it. Held this past Friday and Saturday in Old Town Rock Hill, the intimate gathering of curious souls and hungry guests was a collaboration between the Friday Arts Project
and the Longhouse Food Revival
, a traveling dinner series produced by the inimitable food writer, Molly O'Neill, and her team at Cook n' Scribble
I knew I was in for a special gathering simply by the caliber of folks who were involved, but what I didn't know was that the collision of bright young minds, seasoned intellectuals and open hearts would create the perfect storm for magic.
I was inspired. I was moved. I was provoked. I was fed.
Photo by Cameron Bunce
The weekend began with a photography exhibition called Coming Home
featuring the work of Cameron Bunce
, a member of the Friday Arts Project. Cameron captured everyday images of life within the group which amounted to a beautiful collection. The one above was my favorite, capturing the essence of home and a well-lived kitchen. I'm partial to the orange kettle, mustard S&P shakers and Kitchen Aid mixer since they also live on my counter at home. The lovely Rachel Klebaur prepared a fantastic spread of cheese and accoutrements for the early evening nibble.
Rachel Klebaur, Orrman's Cheese Shop
Between the exhibition and that evening's screening of The Man Who Ate New Orleans
, guests were encouraged to dine at nearby Erin's Restaurant
. Having made reservations for myself and three invisible friends, it was time to ask complete strangers to dinner. It wasn't hard. By dinner time, my meager and lifeless reservation blossomed into a round table of eight people, acquaintances and strangers, passing family style plates to one another, trading stories and sharing food. I couldn't have planned it better myself.
I opted to stay the night at the East Main Guest House
, the local bed and breakfast just up the street. I was so thankful to drive the quick mile down the road to lay my head down for the night. I was lulled to sleep by the intermittent moaning of the trains, the only sound Rock Hill made that night.
The East Main Guest House is the home of Melba Peterson, a long time resident of Rock Hill who runs the B&B with her son and daughter in law. We shared coffee together Saturday morning and she told me about the house, built in 1915, and how she never thought she would love her B&B so much that she would be there 22 years. Melba told me about her husband of 53 years, Jerry, who was a well-known weatherman in town before his passing two years ago. She told me how she went to college at age 46 and how her son in Mobile, AL is following in his father's footsteps. We drank two full cups of coffee and she let me take her picture. We hugged when I left and I promised Melba I'd be back with my husband. She promised me the Honeymoon suite.
Saturday was alive. The Yolk Cafe
awoke my palate with killer shrimp and grits complete with the crumbliest sharp cheddar cheese and verdant scallion pesto while the daytime series of panels and discussions fed the other part of me. Peter Reinhart gave a moving talk delving into the spiritual side of breaking bread with others. He drove the point that satisfaction is not experienced from food itself, but through it. Dr. Tom Hanchett
of the Levine Museum of the New South
discussed the New South with his philosophy of the salad bowl suburbs, the eclectic mix of new immigrants who are changing the look and taste of our growing city.
Lunch was an assortment of "York County tapas" so says Dan the Pigman, who graciously provided an 18-month old cured ham, sliced thick with homemade biscuits, deviled egg salad on hatch crackers, brussels sprouts and cast iron skillets full of pimento cheese. Attendees mingled and chatted and ate with their hands. A honeybee buzzed around snapping pictures with unsuspecting guests and we were sated.
Meanwhile, Dan the Pig Man prepared the sacrificial lamb for our evening meal. Purchased from a local Halal butcher, Dan steeped the lamb whole in a cooler with Greek yogurt and mangos for several days before ceremoniously mounting the lamb on a spit to be slow roasted for our dining pleasure.
The afternoon session, a roundtable discussion with Molly O'Neill, Peter Reinhart and Tom Hanchett was probably the most inspiring session for a writer like myself. Molly shared her ideas on creativity and the art of writing. She touched on the otherworldliness of inspiration, the channel we become when we get out of our own way. Peter Reinhart discussed the inconsolable longing that is our human condition. I soaked up every word, nodding like a bobble head. The panel spoke my language.
The final piece to the weekend, the Longhouse Food Revival brought us to the Arts Council of York County. Beautiful long tables set with mix-and- match vintage plates invited guests in for the final feast, a celebration of the bond forged between strangers, now friends, after a short weekend in Rock Hill.
Tamales and homemade guacamole whet the appetites of guest before a multi-media presentation was given by the Longhouse crew. Dinner was lively with guests happily buzzing on alcohol and togetherness. The spread was spectacular. Homemade tortillas, fresh mango, Hidalgo style barbacoa, smoked chicken and gorgeous lamb filled our plates. A jazz band played (loudly) and there was magic. New friends talked like old ones, lovers ate off each other's plates and to my left and right were my neighbors, people I had come to know over food and fellowship.
On left: Molly O'Neill and Stephen Crotts, Cook n' Scribble hand painted flag, Michelle Lamb of Bosky Acres Farm and Mary Jane Leach
Dessert was served in the side alley, a bubbling caldron of rich and smoky Mexican drinking chocolate. Guests reveled in their cups, sipping and tipping and scraping their mugs clean. For a moment, guests abandoned their outward enjoyment to engage in a private moment with their cup of chocolate. I believe there was magic in there too and, maybe, amphetamines.
It was a really special weekend for me as I had hoped. I did not attend for "networking purposes" nor for some particular self-motivated gain. I came for an experience, for the possibility of that magic moment that can occur when people break bread together. And, that is exactly what I got.