Every year the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival offers the best from the Southeastern culinary scene. This year I was credentialed media. So beyond the renown tasting tents, I was able to attend some of the educational experiences and VIP parties. Between the Thursday preview event, the Friday kick off and the Saturday classes– here are the five best things I tasted at the 2017 at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

1 Smoked Gator by Chef Kenny Gilbert
Kenny Gilbert is probably best known as a contestant on Top Chef. As the owner of two southern restaurants in Jacksonville, FL, he knows how to adapt Floridian ingredients into southern traditions. He talked us through his process of procuring a farm raised gator, brining it, seasoning it and finally smoking it. Talk about slow cooking! The result was one of the tenderest, juiciest meats I’ve ever eaten. Gator has a reputation for being chewy, but when done right, as Chef Kenny Gilbert proved, it will fall off the bone.

2 Rivulet Pecan Liqueur
The world is accustomed to other nut based liqueurs. But being a Georgia girl, I have deep love for the pecan. Enter Rivulet Pecan Liqueur. I remember while growing up, my aunt had a tree in her yard. Not so fun to pick them up when they fell, but totally worth it when she made a pecan pie! Rivulet is reminiscent of that joy. The owner of the company actually attended the tasting tents and gave me the rundown about how many different types of pecans there are (20 in Georgia). I can honestly say that I will definitely be supporting this brand. I can’t wait to try it with a cola and/or a bourbon. So delicious. 

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3 Red Velvet Cupcake from Sugaree’s Bakery
I am really hard on red velvet cake. I’m super critical. For me, it must be dense, not light and airy. It must be dark red, not pink. It must be moist and buttery. And the icing must be creamy and heavy, preferably with nuts, NOT whipped. Sugarees delivered on all of these things. I cannot tell you how I nearly melted when I bit into the cupcake. They were generous enough to give me a case. Sadly, I decided to share them rather than eat a whole dozen. I will definitely be ordering from them as they ship nationwide.

sugarees bakery red velvet

4 Spicy Coconut Wahoo from the US Virgin Islands
All throughout the tasting tents, I could hear steel drum music and see a woman towering above everyone while dancing on stilts. I finally made my way over the U.S. Virgin Islands tent, which was a cool lounge area with, as it turns out, a live steel drum player accompanied by an instrumental calypso track.  Of course, they served food and drinks. Wahoo is one of my favorite flaky white fishes, it was served with a light coconut broth and fresh peppers. It had the perfect amount of heat and the right balance of sweet. I washed it down with cruzan rum. The whole experience made me want to go to the Caribbean.


5 Arkansas Bourbon Bread Pudding by Chef Scott Rains
At the preview event, Chef Scott Rains served a bread pudding. While sharing my experience live on facebook for my friends, I walked past the table with all the Arkansas chefs and restaurants. I was reading the sign when this attractive tall man said to me “you know you want it”. I burst out laughing and made my way back to him after my video ended. Seriously. This man knows how to make a bread pudding! I think I got the last one. The next day, I went to a breakfast hosted by the Arkansas CVB, here again Chef Scott Rains was serving the famous bread pudding. I should have had a second serving that day. I got a selfie with him instead, which has managed to disappear. Damn.