Learning my way around Knoxville’s foodshed

victoria  —  September 12, 2015

I don’t think I’d quite realized it, but I spent almost twelve years figuring out who I am as a cook, professionally and now more not, in Nashville. What I eat, what I make, what I’ve taught others to make is largely predicated on where I’ve lived for the last decade plus with an underpinning of family tradition and my travels. I think everyone’s on board with the idea of regional cooking but inside regional cooking are smaller pockets of local foodsheds influenced by the terrain, the tradition, the farmers & artisans, and the incomers.

Nashville and Knoxville are just far enough distant from each other and the terrain is just enough different that the foodsheds, though sharing the generalities of regional southern cooking, have some striking differences. Hot chicken is not really a big thing in Knoxville. (Well, it is kind of a trending thing everywhere at the moment.) The downtown, main farmers markets are very different. Not just physically but in the array and expanse of what is on offer. I haven’t quite learned all the who’s who at the Knoxville market but two weeks in, we’ve found a few vendors where  I think we’ll always stop to see what they have.

Today I discovered a new locally grown grape I’ve never had before. It’s called Marquis. It’s small, pale green, and perfectly round. It pops in your mouth like a muscadine but is incredibly sweet and the skin doesn’t have the leatheriness that muscadines can have. We bought apples and cucumbers from the same farm last week and more apples and the grapes this week. We’ve switched from the Hatcher milk we preferred in Nashville to Cruze Farm milk here. They make an excellent coffee milk but I was disappointed that the whole milk is homogenized. I know it’s weird that I actually like having to shake up the milk before I pour it into my coffee. I’ll get used to the change.

There are restaurants that I am going to miss (and probably take every opportunity to eat at when we visit Nashville). Keifel and I have had so many breakfast dates at Marché in East Nashville that we always get seated at the same table. But there’re also our favorite Thai and Vietnamese and sushi and fancy places for anniversary and birthday dinners. We’ll find ones we like here, too. It took awhile in Nashville and it’ll take some time here as well. I’m on the hunt for “my” coffeehouse. Somewhere with excellent coffee, a little bit of food, and ample space to read, take notes, or write when I need to get out of the quiet of my office at home and require the low drone of human activity in a coffeeshop to be productive. I tried K Brew in North Knox. Excellent coffee but tiny space with limited options for camping out for a couple hours. Knoxville isn’t quite as littered with Starbucks as Nashville but they’re here and that is decidedly not what I’m looking for. I’ll find it, but I’m happy to take suggestions.

We’re having a friend over for dinner tonight and my brother and his family are coming for waffles in the morning. Tonight I’m making a version of Moroccan chicken that I’ve been making since I lived in Knoxville the last time and waffles, well they are waffles. What I cook won’t change immediately or completely. But I am looking forward to finding what’s new to me here and how that will push, change, and help me grow as a cook. Now, if I can figure out the cooking for only two people thing…