Being a blogger and foodie facebooker (I did just make that up) I meet people with different interesting connections to food. For instance there's Chris, or Soul Man as I like to call him, the founder of Dublin's only major soul festival. I wasn't sure at first how I could play any part in his magnum opus - the festival he dreamed up for our fair city, now in it's fourth year - but turns out there's a space for food and foodie-ism just about anywhere. Makes sense I suppose, when your aim is to enrich the soul. Food has always been up there with music as an agent of those same heady, evocative properties.
So after a few not brief meetings at various Dublin cafés and coffee shops - discussing music, food and everything else you can fit into the space of several cappuccinos - me and the Soul Man came up with the idea of a 'Soul Food Trail' or the 'Soul Food Restaurant Trail,' as it's turned out in the end. The basic premise was to see how many restaurants, cafés, gastropubs and so on would get involved in the festival: playing music, dressing up their space, but most importantly, having a signature 'soul food' dish on the menu for the duration. We hoped for other acts of participation too, like perhaps having special offers for festival-goers or giving away dinner vouchers as prizes, as part of the promotion of the festival. But the key thing was the soul dish, as the real point of engagement between music and food for the week that was in it.
Naturally, times being tough 'n all, people were less willing and/or able to deviate from the daily business of surviving (for many, according to strict budgetary plans), but there was also a surprisingly good turn out for the trail, in spite of things. This upped the ante somewhat, so we thought: what could we do to drive our participants to greater heights of creativity, to really push the food experience of the festival to the level we were hoping for?
Of course - and I know I'm biased - Bridgestone was the obvious catalyst! And Bridgestone being Bridgestone, they (John and Sally) couldn't resist the notion of such a sensory mélonge and, well, just the plain ol' thought of 'soul food.' So now we had a contest on our hands, making it the task of the Bridgestone judges to find the 'Best Soul Food' before the end of the week.
As the week of the festival approaches, we have no idea what to expect and the highest hopes for this unusual event, most of all of seeing the potential for something even grander next year. On a personal note, I'm just dying to see this great mix of food and music, tourists and home crowd, and the whole cultural shooting match in full swing!
It's also got me thinking quite deeply about what 'soul food' means to people? I like to think of it as a very broad term that could take on as many meanings as the imagination can allow, as long as it's edible and touches the soul in some way or other. The comfort food you reach for every time you need a happy injection. Or complex creations by a talented artist that make you close your eyes and think about it until you drift away to some other place. Or just something you make because the smell takes you back to another time in your life to which attaches some warm feeling or nostalgia you seem to need, explicable or not.
I am REALLY looking forward to seeing 'soul food' in all its forms next week, and hope the trail becomes a fixture, as the festival itself has now become. On that note I'll part with a 'soul food' dish of my very own, which contains two of the most evocative aromas for this foodie - roast chicken and cinnamon §:) (Dublin City Soul Festival 27 - 30 May 2010, www.dublincitysoulfestival.ie)
Caroline's Spicy Barbecued Chicken
One whole chicken
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 tsp cinnamon
Small pinch nutmeg (freshly grated)
Sprig fresh thyme (picked)
Good hot pepper sauce, to taste (such as Piri Piri, I love Smoked Tobasco)
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Good squeeze of lemon
Sea salt (Maldon's my fav)
I prefer to roast the chicken before grilling, for that essential roast chicken aroma, but the recipe can be cooked from scratch on the bbq (just be careful to cook it all properly).
1. Massage the chicken with generous amounts of olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then roast slowly until cooked and juicy (get a good quality bird to ensure best results).
2. Once cooled, remove the legs (as drumsticks and thighs), wings, breasts, oysters, and any other good bit you fancy, and place in a large bowl of some sort. The carcass can be used for stock.
3. Sprinkle the chicken with all the other ingredients, as evenly as possible, as well as some more sea salt and black pepper and toss (very carefully to keep the skin in place) to ensure it's all well coated. Cover and allow to marinate from anywhere between 2 and 24 hours.
4. Finally, when your barbecue is ready, put the chicken on the grill until it's nicely charred and the garlic and spices have had a chance to cook. (I find using a grilling basket makes life a lot easier for turning so many small bits - and it means it all gets done evenly). Serve sizzling hot with lemon wedges, and make sure to eat the crispy fat and get the chilli oil all over you face!