This week on Chef’s Story we have John T Edge, who actually, (for the first time in this show’s history) is not a chef! Nonetheless, Mr. Edge is known throughout the food industry as a writer and educator, especially within southern culture. Edge holds an MA in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi, and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. He is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South. His magazine and newspaper work has also been featured in ten editions of the Best Food Writing compilation. In 2009, he was inducted into Beard’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America, and in 2012, he won the James Beard Foundation’s M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. Edge talks about a variety of topics in today’s episode, ranging from the history of the South and the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of southern chef’s and southern cuisine (Sean Brock and Chris Shepherd), and how he works within the Southern Foodways Alliance to further educate those interested in southern food. Tune in today to learn more about the history, cuisine, and inspiration behind southern cooking from the expertise of John T Edge! This program has been sponsored by White Oak Pastures.


“I think what we have in the South, because of the Civil Wars and the Civil Rights Movement, I want them to think more about the Civil Rights movement, because that to me is the defining struggle.” [15:30]

“There are more and more students looking to get a Master’s degree on Southern Studies.” [40:23]

“My dream for the south is that we acknowledge our ugly past and work towards a beautiful future.” [45:30]

– John T Edge on Chef’s Story

“On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Mississippi is enacting a law that could sanction anti-LGBT discrimination. Can the state’s most prominent chef and cultural ambassador help keep his adoptive home from repeating its ugly past?”

A new long one for BuzzFeed: “Can John Currence save Mississippi from itself?

[above, my Hitchcock cameo.]

The John T Shirt

the name

Our friend John T Edge wearing his namesake shirt. Photo by Angie Mosier

Billy jokes that he named a shirt after his good buddy John T Edge as an effort to “slander his good name by spreading his claim as a closet fashionista.”

In all actuality, John T is far from being a fashion obsessive. As the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, a regional institution associated with the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, he works to celebrate the history, place, and practice of Southern food.

There’s a long history of deep appreciation between John T and Billy Reid, the company and the man. They’ve been thick as thieves since 2005, when they met through their mutual friend Angie Mosier, the Renaissance woman behind Placemat Productions. The first time she and Billy met, Angie told him that he needed to meet her friend, John T.

“I asked her, ‘Who’s John T?’” Billy remembers. “And Angie said, ‘Don’t worry – you’re going to meet him and you’ll be fast friends.’ Well, I’ll be damned if that isn’t what happened.” Angie was proven right when she finally brought John T to Florence to meet Billy: “It was love at first sight,” he says.

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John T. Edge: The Truck Food Cookbook

Impossible to resist gathering of the best food truck food from all over America, THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK: 150 recipes and Ramblings from America’s Best Restaurants on Wheels.  Not just the photos of the trucks and their food, but recipes as well.  I am sure there are great trucks Edge has missed - there are just so many - but those he does capture here are wonderful, quirky, representative of this new wave of American cookery.  Love this book.  Edge is one of the best food writers we have.  Publisher catalog page here.

The Faces of SFA


SFA members Chef Donald Link of Link Restaurant Group and Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Photos by Fred Mitchell

If you spend enough time around Billy, at some point you’re going to end up talking about food – specifically, the Southern Foodways Alliance.

The SFA is one of Billy’s true passions. The official mission statement of the non-profit, member-supported SFA says that the organization “documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.” To Billy, the SFA stands for this and much more.

“The SFA is a community of people who are curious and appreciative of craftsmen – and I see a farmer as a craftsman, and I see a cheese maker as a craftsman, I see a chef as a craftsman… It’s a group that takes pleasure in seeing and supporting people who do what they love.

“The SFA nurtures the South and all that’s good about our culture.  They seek to find those special people and truly make a difference in so many lives. They spread pride.”

The SFA – whose director, John T Edge, we talked about in Tuesday’s Journal post – is based in Oxford, Mississippi, at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. They are constantly looking for ways to take their mission to a broader public, and do so by producing documentary films (for example, Pride & Joy by filmmaker Joe York), collecting oral histories, sponsoring scholarships, providing mentorships to students, and publishing great writing. The biggest event of each year is Symposium; the 2013 installment is happening this weekend in Oxford.

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CULINARY: A recent visit with John T. Edge 

Compiled by Cheri Leavy   Photograph by Yvonne Boyd

It was a treat for me to visit with the South’s most distinguished foodie and wordsmith, John T. Edge.  We started our banter sharing our love for the two best college towns in America: Oxford, MS and Athens, GA.  Athens is in his home state where he was born and he is the Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at The University of Mississippi.  I live in Athens as a University of Georgia graduate that started out my college career at the University of Mississippi where I too loved Southern Studies.  So we had each other at hello.

Edge told me he liked the food in Athens running the gamut of Weaver D’s to Five and Ten which I love too.  I should have told him I like the food in Oxford running the gamut of Taylor Grocery to City Grocery which you can bet he frequents too.  

John T. Edge is the voice representing our southern food culture best through his award winning writing in magazines, newspapers and books.  

Edge has a new cookbook that he is out on tour promoting titled, ‘The Truck Food Cookbook,’ where he delves into his belief that truck food is not fast food.  

I am putting my order in for the book at Square Books in Oxford as you can get a signed copy there but they should be out in your local bookshop now.  If you would like to keep up with the “recipes and ramblings from the author of The Truck Food Cookbook” on tour, then head to their tumblr site.

Here is a Frito Pie recipe shared via ’Garden and Gun’ from the cookbook. Enjoy his recent article in his N.Y. Times column United Tastes, ’Tostilocos, Tijuana Street Food hits the Mainstream.’  

Here is a little bit from our visit…

Fave food journey:

JTE: A recent barbeque road trip with my son, Jess, that I wrote about in the most recent issue of ’Garden and Gun’ mattered most to me because it was father and son.  My son is eleven going on 25.  The time on the road in the car was valuable to me as I tried to point out in the piece.  It was not just BBQ and people along the way but also the bonding experience between us.  A good road-trip does wonders especially if over food as the communion of a meal is special.

CL NOTE: Here is an excerpt from Edge’s piece that touched me profoundly: “Five miles from home, I asked Jess what he learned on our barbeque road trip. ”“Respect what you have while you have it,”“he said. That insight applies to issues of hunger and poverty.  And to the barbeque traditions of the South.  Not to mention father-son relations.

Though our barbeque buzz had faded by the time we rolled back into Oxford, my road-trip-fueled appreciation for Jess had grown, as had my conviction that we needed to plot another expedition.  Before his hunger fades.  Before he grows up.”

That my friends is why you need to subscribe to Garden and Gun as every article in the magazine will resonate with you if you love the south and its culture.  I am a member of their Secret Society and appreciate so much their efforts to portray the south.

Current project at Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) at The University of Mississippi:

JTE: I am proud of all of our oral histories that you can find online.  Checkout the Down the Bayou project about the foods coming out of the south wetlands and west Louisiana.  

I am proud of The Barbeque Bus team of oral historian Rien Fertel and photographer Denny Culbert that this past winter documented the stories behind all of the North Carolina barbeque mainstays.  They are currently covering South Carolina that leads into our June field trip to eastern North Carolina.

CL NOTE: The most recent project happened after my interview and was last weekend’s Big Apple Barbeque Block Party in New York where the SFA co-presented the Potlikker Film Festival with Union Square Hospitality Group to kick-off the weekend’s events. At the festival and throughout the weekend, they screened two new barbeque short films produced by Joe York, filmmaker for SFA. They screened Helen’s Bar-B-Q, an homage to Helen Turner, the Brownsville, Tennessee, pitmaster who is one of the few women in the business; and Madison Square Pork, a retrospective and celebration of the Big Apple Barbeque Block Party at 10.

We had some folks from The Southern Coterie at the Big Apple Block Party enjoying the fare and festivities with their Charleston crew of the BlackJack Barbeque Cooking Team. We cover their fun in a post here.

Five ingredients always in your pantry:

1. tobasco sauce

2. chickpeas

3. coffee

4. Marshall’s freezer biscuits originally out of Mobile, Alabama (Edge wrote a feature on  southern frozen biscuits including Marshall’s and Sister Schubert’s in his N.Y. Times United Tastes column, 'But Surely They’re Homemade?’)

5. hunk of cheese (on weeknights we don’t do much dessert but we like to finish with cheese and wine for a note at the end of a meal)

Do you cook at home?

JTE: I love to cook but not as much as my wife. She is a great cook and I am not just showing due deference, it is the truth.  We follow gender patterns and I cook the hunk of meat or fish on the grill.  I cook breakfast on the weekend mornings.  My wife is a good baker and makes great pasta dishes.  When we are having a dinner party, we like to walk up to the bar at City Grocery (in Oxford) and talk through the meal and what to cook.  We entertain a lot.

What would you want for your last meal?

JTE: Barbeque: chopped fresh pork barbeque sandwich with a vinegar pepper sauce with a little tomato and whole hog preferably and white bread