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VOL. 37 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 19, 2013

National food writers praise Nashville cuisine

By Hollie Deese

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Deviled Eggs with bacon jam and mustard seed caviar was one of the courses at a recent Slow Food Dinner prepared by Forage South. “It’s the independent restaurants that make Nashville special,” says Deana Ivey, senior vice president for marketing for the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, noting that publications around the globe have taken notice of Nashville’s food.

-- Ron Manville

The first time New York Times writer Kim Severson wrote about the Nashville food scene last June, she got as much heat for using the term “hipster” as she did praise for her focus on Nashville’s food trends.

For that she is sorry, but hopes the sentiment of the article still came across loud and clear.

“The bottom line was I ate well and I liked the people who were cooking and the food was great,” Severson says. “I felt like there was some really good cooking going on, and I have to say I had a lot more fun eating in Nashville than I do in Atlanta. Nashville is truly trying to be its own thing which I appreciated. Hipsters have good taste.”

All joking aside, Severson had been hearing good things about the city’s fare, and while in town working on a few other articles, she decided to eat as much as she could. As the Atlanta bureau chief for NYT, she has covered food extensively and previously, she spent time writing about cooking and the culture of food for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I kept hearing from friends of mine that they were having a really fun time eating in Nashville,” she says. “My buddy at Bon Appetite had really liked Catbird Seat, and another friend of mine really liked the taco trucks in East Nashville. We are usually so coast-centric, but I felt like there was an energy there.”

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The local food culture has certainly grown over the last decade or so, and the national attention is being used by the Nashville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to drive tourism.

“We have a very large marketing plan that we update every year about how we will promote and sell Nashville as a destination,” says Deana Ivey, senior vice president for marketing for the CVB. “We are always looking for a new angle of what we can promote, and in the last couple of years it has been in the culinary scene.”

The bureau hosts press trips throughout the year to get journalists to write about Nashville as a destination, four a year for national press, twice a year for international, as well as schedule individual visits.

“We have gotten some great articles this year,” Ivey says.

“It started about this time last year with Bon Appetite when they wrote a really strong article about the food scene, and then it has been one right after the other – The New York Times, Food and Wine and even The Guardian in the UK did a story.

“It’s been a long time coming. Business has been great, but then when you start getting good publicity on your restaurant scene that helps even more.”

Ivey bases visitor numbers on tax collections and hotel collections, and every month of the past year has seen increased numbers.

“Many months have been the best months ever in the city’s history,” she says.

Of course restaurants are only a piece of the pop-culture puzzle that has the country captivated by Nashville.

A little show on ABC has added to the buzz, as well as the city’s continued effort to promote the Music City brand.

Ivey came on board 15 years ago right as the Opryland Theme park closed and the city was struggling to change tactics to bring people in.

“We had to shift our marketing direction a little bit and wrestled with how to get our arms around what to promote,” she says.

But food and restaurants continue to bring in tourists, and at the very least feed them well while they are here.

“It’s the independent restaurants that make Nashville special,” Ivey says. “They are all different and you can’t find them anywhere else.”

Severson continues to keep an eye on the city, following the construction of the convention center and other topics, but looks forward to tasting as the food continues to evolve.

“People in Nashville have a really good palette and know really good food but really respect the tradition of Arnold’s and hot chicken,” she says.

“Nashville should continue to be itself and not try to be San Francisco or New York because it is doing pretty darn well.”

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