JB Harvest feastI’m starting to believe that my wife can control the weather…

Three weeks ago in Alabama, temperatures were in the mid-90’s, the sun blazing cruelly in the sky for an early autumn afternoon. I was at the University of Alabama for a football weekend with the guys. If I was going to be away from the family for a whole weekend to drink beer and watch football, then I was going to suffer for it.

This past weekend, however, I returned to Alabama to do good. And what do you know? The weather (or my wife) took mercy on me. A gentle sun shone happily in the cool Alabama skies while a constant breeze put a slight chill in the air.

Sunday evening the great folks from Garden and Gun Magazine put on a benefit for the shrimpers and fishermen of Bayou LaBatre effected by the Gulf Oil Spill. Some of Alabama’s best chefs were invited by Chef Chris Hastings to come, gather by the lake and cook their Alabama hearts out for a cause.

And cook we did. From our make-shift kitchen under a tent on the far side of Lake Tadpole in Trussville, we looked out over a lake as guests arrived, chauffered down the long gravel road in shiny new Range Rovers. They gathered lakeside and sampled the raw bar that was presented in canoes filed with ice. As they laughed and sipped their bourbon, sounds of a gospel choir drifted across the lake to our kitchen. Their merry-making continued until the choir stepped down from the gazebo and led the crowd to a single, long banquet table set for 170 guests. The table sat atop  a natural dam that ran across the lake.


As the guests took their seats, a film by the Southern Foodways Alliance played on a giant screen at the head of the table. The film told the story of the men and women of Bayou LaBatre as they braced for the beginning of their fishing season in the wake of the Gulf Oil Spill. It’s a touching and very brief film. (See The Blessing of the Fleet here.)

As for the food, I kicked things off with Bacon Wrapped Venison Pate, Pickled Fall Vegetables and ‘Pork Fries’ (deep fried pork rillettes)

Chris Zapalowski followed with a complex and spicy Quail and Oyster Gumbo with Country Ham Deviled Eggs that was so warm and satisfying on the cool night.

The meal comtinued with family style platters,

Rob McDaniel made Alabama Free Range Chicken with Fall Vegetable Panzanella;

Chris Harrigan grilled up Duck Sausage Quesadillas with Pumpkin Blossoms, Manchego Cheese and Poblano Mole;

James Boyce served gorgeous Whole Roasted Gulf Snapper, Watercress and Stone Fruit Relish and Muscadine Vinaigrette;

Joe Wolfson offered melt-in-your-mouth Braised Beef Cheeks with Butternut Squash and Pickled Onions.

and Drew Robinson stole the show with his ‘Pork and Grits’ a whole hog that was smoked for 18 hours before being shredded and served over creamy platters of McEwen and Sons Grits.

Chef Hastings and his team brought it all to an end with Persimmon Bread Pudding with Pappy Van Winkle Hard Sauce and Hot Mulled Apple Cider.

It was a beautiful evening and I was honored to be a part of it. Thank you so much to all those involved!