“You can grill almost anything. Jello is tough,” was just one of the many tips I picked up this weekend at sessions at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. That gem was from Chef Mark Abernathy, owner of Loca Luna and Red Door Restaurants in Little Rock, AR who entertained, informed and fed us at his Saturday morning session, “Wild Wonderful Grill.”
In between dropping his wedding ring on the tile patio and swooping it back up before his wife saw it, Mark grilled pizza, okra, watermelon and peaches among other items on the Big Green Eggs set up on the terrace of the Loews Hotel in Midtown Atlanta.
How to Grill Pizza
Spread out pizza dough, sprinkle one side with olive oil then throw dough with oiled side down on the grill for a few minutes. Pull it off and spread with marinara, then add artichoke hearts, carmalized onions, basil, mozzarella and provolone. Spray bottom of pizza crust with cooking spray then place on board dusted with cornmeal so you can slide it easily off the plate onto the grill. Close lid with the grill on a low setting and cook just long enough to melt the cheese.
How to Grill Okra
Skewer whole okra on two skewers so it’s easy to handle, brush with butter and sprinkle with Tony
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. Throw on grill for a few minutes. Eat whole or cut into slices.
Grilling Tips from the Rathbun Brothers
• Olive oil is not the best oil to rub on your steak because of its low smoke point. Use peanut or grape seed oil instead. If you want an olive oil taste, rub it on at the end. For a really fatty piece of steak you don’t need much oil.
• To cook a yummy prime rib make 30-40 small slits in the meat and insert chunks of sliced garlic, a task the young Rathbun boys did for their dad growing up in Kansas City.
Between throwing large slabs of meat on the grill the brothers joked with each other. Kevin, illustrating his love of steak: “If he could pick his last meal, and there was a firing squad that was gonna kill Kent, I’d eat his steak.”
He also shared this bit of advice when asked about culinary school.
“Anyone who wants to go to culinary school needs to work in a restaurant first. Find out if you want to work weekends and holidays, have pans thrown at your head and get yelled at. If you can take that, you may have a future in the restaurant business.”
My last session was “Foods of the Southern Tailgate” with Kelly English from Tennessee and Chris Shepherd from Texas, who pre-gamed their session by passing around a bottle of liquid fortitude.
“Tailgating is like Thanksgiving,” Kelly said. “You bring a lot of traditional foods. But you get to invite who you want.”
Chris regaled the crowd with a few stories of the legendary Houston Texans tailgates, where excess seems to be the theme. Chris asked him about the rumor he had once cooked an entire bison.
“Yes, I did. That was for a game against Buffalo. If we are playing your team, I’ll try to find a food that represents your city, like for Atlanta I may do hotdogs in tribute to The Varsity. If I can’t do that, I’ll just roast your mascot.”
Atlanta Food and Wine Festival co-founder Dominique Love dropped by, admirably still standing after running this marvelous festival for three days, but declined to share details of her famous Tater Tot casserole, a family recipe. But it was agreed that a Tater Tot casserole is perfect for tailgate parties – you gotta have something to soak up all the bourbon.
As Chris said when asked about tailgating disaster stories, “There is no such thing as a tailgate disaster, as long as you have set up a good bar and supplied plenty of snacks.”