I live in a high tech town full of engineers, IT, military, and rocket scientists. That is all well and good for them and they speak of the place as a mecca but I am a liberal arts guy from Birmingham who has lived and traveled all over the country working in the performing arts. I have lived in Huntsville for thirteen years now and have a difficult time finding my niche in that community.
So I was fortunate indeed to be able to travel over to Florence again to attend the most recent Friends of the Café dinner at the Alabama Chanin Factory on Saturday, October 24. This is a trying and stressful time for my family with my father in the hospital; my mother, bless her, knew I had reservations for the dinner and insisted that I travel up for the night.
I have attended several of these Alabama Chanin (www.alabamachanin.com) events over the past sixteen months. Natalie Chanin is doing great things to spark community from her design business based in the Shoals and she and her phenomenal staff always create a lovely and memorable evening of food and camaraderie. In addition to Chanin’s amazing hand-sewn fashion designs and clothing, the Factory store features books, pottery, art, and other products, most of them crafted by various makers from the South and beyond. The aesthetic of the place is flawless and I am always restored and inspired when I leave the Factory. When I attend the Alabama Chanin dinners I feel like I have found a place where I “belong.”
Chef Anne Stiles Quatrano of Bacchanalia (www.starprovisions.com) and other Atlanta food destinations was the guest chef for the evening. After cocktails and an assortment of passed hors d’oeuvres, diners sat down to a four course meal with wine pairings starting with a Georgia white shrimp cocktail. The second course was served family-style and featured a whole roasted Green Circle chicken in a large vessel with bitter greens and roasted chicken jus vinaigrette.
A simple and elegant cheese course featured Grayson cheese with hazelnuts and crispy honeycomb presented on a circle of fine wood. Finally, the dessert course was canales with a rich coffee cream and Revelator coffee (www.revelatorcoffee.com).
“Southern Makers,” an Alabama collective of artists and artisans (www.southernmakers.com), was a sponsor of the event and guests received a “Maker Box” of Alabama-made products introduced by Garlan Gudger of Cullman’s Southern Accents Architectural Antiques (www.sa1969.com). Oxford American magazine (www.oxfordamerican.org), another sponsor, is now partnering with Southern Makers to expand the collective to include artisans, artists, and makers from throughout the South. Lee Sentell of the Alabama Tourism Department took the opportunity to discuss the upcoming “Year of Alabama Makers” during which makers throughout the state will be featured in tourism publicity and events.
Finally, Chef Quatrano brought and signed copies of her gorgeous cookbook Summerland: Recipes for Celebrating with Southern Hospitality. This is one of the prettiest cookbooks I have seen with a long and varied collection of recipes and commentary.
During the comments throughout the evening, someone mentioned that even though people travel from faraway destinations to see Alabama Chanin’s operation and to have the Factory experience, many Alabamians have not yet heard about her business, what she does, and her wide-spread influence. The word is getting out, however, and with the continued efforts of Alabama Chanin, Southern Makers, Oxford American, Alabama Tourism, and many other makers and supporters throughout the state more people will be aware of the hidden treasures to be found and nurtured throughout Alabama and the region.
A night at the Factory in Florence always gives me hope.