We have talked about Appalachian foodways in this blog, taking stock of the importance of certain foods for Appalachian culture and how foodways migrated with the people to the urban areas. It remains an open question as to how Appalachian foodways are being re-interpreted for our present times. We take as a positive sign that food writer Keith Pandolfi reached out to the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition with an interest in Appalachian culture and Appalachian food. Keith Pandolfi is the Cincinnati Enquirer’s new food and dining writer. He has recently returned to Cincinnati from New York, and he is taking on Cincinnati food and culture with a renewed enthusiasm for his hometown. I had the opportunity to talk to Keith about his work, returning to Cincinnati, and of course food.
Keith told me he developed an interest in Appalachia and Appalachian foodways while he was still in New York City. He explains, “My interest in Appalachian culture was already on the rise. I am a fan of the poetry of [core member] Pauletta Hansel, for instance, and reading her poetry got me thinking about the Appalachian culture of my hometown.” Keith is probably not the first to become interested in urban Appalachian culture through poetry. Still, Keith’s interest in Appalachia and Appalachian food became inspired in ways that had everything to do with his work as a food writer.
Keith Pandolfi explained that the idea of the Appalachian culture of Cincinnati occurred to him while he was still living in New York: “I was writing about Cincinnati and realized that I had been ignoring Appalachian culture. It was something I always knew about but never really paid attention to.” This led Keith to take an interest in Appalachian foodways. Writing about food and dining, he gets around, as you can imagine. He decided to take on Appalachian foodways but realized he was missing too much information—that there was more to it than he realized, and he needed to get a better understanding of Appalachia in general to take on this topic.
Now that he is back in Cincinnati, Keith is grasping our local urban Appalachian culture head-on. One topic that we met on was the central place of Tucker’s Restaurant in urban Appalachian history in Cincinnati and as a place that is at the heart of urban Appalachian foodways. After learning of the death of Manie Tucker while in New York, Keith wrote an obituary for her. He has fond memories of going to Tucker’s as a young man. “I went there quite a lot. Back then, it was just a great diner. I have since learned how important Tucker’s is to Cincinnati’s urban Appalachian history and culture.” Tucker’s Restaurant and Manie Tucker’s soup beans have already figured large on this blog. Keith Pandolfi appears poised to take this topic to new heights.
Keith explained that one of his priorities as food and dining writer for the Enquirer is to delve deeply into Cincinnati food history. As Keith told me: “I want to look at Cincinnati the same way I did at New Orleans: explore the Greek influence on chili, and get a real understanding of the Appalachian influence on so much of our local cuisine.” This project begins with looking at what some of our local chefs are doing. Keith said that one of the standout local chefs is Chris Burns at Commonwealth Bistro. As he explained: “Chris is using local ingredients and updating traditional Appalachian dishes using things that have all but disappeared on menus.” Keith said these are the kinds of things that are going on in other parts of the country as people re-discover the magic of traditional Appalachian foods.
An Appalachian food summit in West Virginia was an eye-opener for Keith. This event drew chefs from Berea and Paducah, Kentucky and parts of West Virginia to gather around the idea of Appalachian food. Keith explained that “the event included Appalachian poets, thinkers, and story-tellers who gathered to tell stories and share thoughts on Appalachian food.” That such an event obviously extended beyond the table and straight to the heart tells us how important Appalachian food is to the preservation of Appalachian culture. Foodways are as much cultural history as they are culinary arts.
Keith Pandolfi expressed his intention to train his experienced palate and eyes on the Appalachian culture and history that abounds in greater Cincinnati. One of his priorities is to highlight the Appalachian core that lies in so much of our culinary traditions that many of us may not even recognize. As Keith said, “I want to utilize this platform to educate readers, and myself, on the topic of Appalachian foodways and culture that abound in Cincinnati.” This seems like exactly the kind of boost urban Appalachia can use as so many of us work to support Appalachian culture in greater Cincinnati.
The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is certainly behind Keith Pandolfi’s efforts to celebrate Appalachian food and culture, and we welcome him back. We’ll be keeping an eye out for stories about the Appalachian flavors that remain alive in greater Cincinnati restaurants and beyond. We are happy to have such an accomplished writer involved in bringing Appalachian culture to the table, as it were. Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.