The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art will join the "50 Years of Soul" celebration with "Soul Food: African American Cooking and Creativity," showing May 19th through August 19th. The exhibition includes more than 50 works — photographs, mixed-media installations, paintings, and artifacts — that trace the roots of soul food and the development of black culinary traditions.
Most ethnic groups have food that qualifies as "soul": soothing comfort food that brings back fond memories. However, in America, the term soul food is related to African-American cuisine. In the mid-1960s, when the civil rights movement was gaining strength, soul was commonly used to describe African-American culture and, as such, was also used to describe its particular cuisine of chitlins, country-fried steak, cracklings, fried chicken, pigs' feet, okra, greens, sweet potatoes, biscuits and cornbread, hushpuppies, chow-chow, and grits. Although a popular thesis in Africana studies locates the genesis of African-American culture in the fusion of faith and the movement that produced the "ring shout," jazz, and other creative hallmarks, the exhibition will explore the premise that African-American culture and its products emerged from its culinary traditions.
Artist Kerry James Marshall's multifaceted, mixed-media piece Baptist alludes to the trade routes that carried Africans to the New World to grow sugar, rice, cotton, and tobacco. A postcard series commemorating the "Cakewalk" — an antebellum entertainment where the enslaved parodied the enslaver — reveals the role of food and festival in maintaining the appearance of social order while simultaneously creating disorder. Carrie Mae Weems' portrait Black Man with Watermelon introduces some of the more painful and complicated associations between food and African-American culture.
On May 18th at 7 p.m., Oxford, Mississippi, group Afrissippi will perform its unique mix of North Mississippi hill-country blues and traditional Senegalese melodies. The event will offer guests a sneak preview of the exhibit as well as a cash bar and African-inspired food. Tickets for the concert are $10 for members and $15 for nonmembers.
On June 6th, the theme of Brooks' 1st Wednesday will be "Art and Soul." There will be live soul music, art tours, a discussion of the origins of soul food by Luther Ivory of Rhodes College, and soul food prepared by Brushmark chef Wally Joe. Items on the menu include Southern fried chicken with creamy macaroni and cheese and red-cabbage cole slaw, smoked and smothered pork chops with candied yams and peppered turnip greens, and pan-fried Mississippi Delta catfish with pecan rice and okra-tomato stew. Tickets are free for members and $6 for nonmembers. The event is from 6 to 9 p.m.
On June 29th, John T. Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance and filmmaker Joe York will present Above the Line: Saving Willie Mae's Scotch, a film that tells the story of Willie Mae Seaton's famed Scotch House during and after Hurricane Katrina. Following the film is a tasting of soul food by local restaurateurs. Tickets for the event, which starts at 6:30 p.m., are $10 for members and $20 for nonmembers.
In addition, throughout the run of "Soul Food," the Brushmark will feature soul food on its lunch menu.
The Inn at Hunt Phelan is offering diners a special treat this weekend. Sous chef Brown Burch is headed to Europe for the summer to pick up some culinary tricks, and he's bidding Memphis farewell with an 11-course tasting menu on Friday and Saturday. The menu starts with foie gras prepared two ways, followed by Columbia River salmon tartar, gnocchi with spring-vegetable ragout, curry-oil-poached scallops, halibut, lobster, veal sweet breads with wild boar pancetta, duck-leg confit, lamb loin with smoked eggplant puree, Roquefort with cayenne apricot jam, and chocolate-coffee bananas. The cost for the tasting is $120 per person plus tax and gratuity. Wine pairings — a three-ounce tasting per wine — are available for $50. Seating is limited, and reservations are required.
The Inn at Hunt Phelan, 533 Beale (525-8225)
The Grove Grill will host an Italian-wine dinner at its chef's table on May 23rd. John Adams of Star Distributors selected the wines for this five-course dinner. The featured vineyard is Domain Select Wine Estates. Cost for the menu is $75 per person plus tax and gratuity. Seating is limited, and reservations are required.
The Grove Grill, 4550 Poplar (818-9951)