Local chef to participate in museum panel
Smith to lend talent to Georgia Museum of Art this Sunday
For Irene Smith, host of “Taste of Newton” and guest panelist at the Georgia Museum of Art this Sunday, talking about her love of Southern cooking comes as naturally as breathing.
When she was approached by the director of the Georgia Museum of Art to join a panel called “Southern Chefs” to discuss the tradition and culture behind Southern cooking as part of the museum’s summer series honoring the South, Smith says her first thought was “This is fluff n’ stuff and I’m going to be the fluff.”
However it didn’t take long for Smith to be talked into talking about one of her favorite subjects.
“I was very honored that they would ask me to do this,” Smith said. “It’s going to be just a fun afternoon as part of our summer culture series. The museum is a beautiful place. It’s such a jewel for the whole state.”
Before signing on to speak at the panel Smith says organizers threw a couple of trial questions her way to see how she would handle them before an audience. One of the questions: “Why do you think that Southern food did not reach the heights of appreciation of say French and Italian cooking?” Smith says got a rise out of her.
Smiths says she was quick to fire back that French and Italian cuisine have their routes in the common fare that peasants would prepare for their dinner table just the same as such Southern staples as collard greens, fried chicken and Brunswick stew.
“I was fixing to walk out onto the stage in blue jeans and bare-footed,” Smith said of her ire at the question.
However when she learned that the question was asked only to get a rise out of her, Smith says she took it in good humor.
“They know that I can hold my ground,” Smith said.
A relative late-comer to the culinary realm, Smith says she didn’t really learn how to cook until she began cooking for her husband Billy when they were a young married couple living at Dixie Manor.
“ Mama always did the cooking and had help and literally ran me out of the kitchen,” Smith said.
Smith says her favorite things to cook are foods with sauces because she loves to experiment with flavors.
“I just enjoy food, I enjoy everything about it,” Smith said. “I even enjoy grocery shopping, not many people can say that.”
Smith’s fellow panelists include Charles Ramsey from Five & Ten, Linton Hopkins from Restaurant Eugene and Lee Epting with Lee Epting Catering. The panel will be moderated by Athens historian Milton Leathers. The panel will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens.
Smith has written four Southern culinary cookbooks which can be purchased at the Southern Heartland Art Gallery and at Covington Cooks.
The Georgia Museum of Art’s Southern Summer series also includes an exhibition of Southern-themed works of art collected from the 1920s — 1940s and includes prints, etchings, relief prints, lithographs and serigraphs. The majority of the works feature scenes of landscape, architecture, worship and entertainment. Museum organizers describe the exhibit as reflecting both the positive and the negative views of the South during that time period. The exhibit will run through Sept. 16.
There will be a roundtable discussion focusing on Southern literature at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19 at the museum. Speakers include Hubert McAlexander, a professor of English at the University of Georgia, Mary Ward Brown, a notable author from Alabama, Randy Hendricks, a professor of English at West Georgia University and William U. Eiland, the director of the Georgia Museum of Art.
The final event of the summer will be a forum examining the social context of art in the South in the 1920s through the 1940s. The forum will begin at 3 p.m., Sunday Aug. 26 and will feature James C. Cobb, the Spalding Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Georgia.