Tiffanie Barriere has not missed an Atlanta Food & Wine Festival since the Southern Cuisine celebration began.
As she recalls it, Todd Richards and Duane Nutter, two of the South’s premiere chefs and members of AFWF’s advisory board, suggested she attend the festival as it was getting its start. She was, at the time, building a name and reputation for herself as a mixologist.
“They changed the game for me,” she told NBCBLK on patio of the Loews Hotel in Midtown Atlanta. “I was just a nerd who wanted to be something and here they were, chefs who at one time wanted to be something like I wanted to be something, providing an opportunity for me.”
Seven years later, the Avion Tequila brand ambassador, is one of few African American woman mixologist. Oh yeah, and she identifies as a lesbian cocktail nerd.
Being one of a few Black woman presenting as part of the festival’s weekend programming is, in a lot of ways, still surreal for her.
“During this one weekend I am a personality. I come into this place and put out a lot of energy,” she said. “It is easy to feel out of place, being one of few black women mixologists in general in the food and wine industry. When I get here I am a personality. But I also get my nourishment because I am surrounded by other food and beverage enthusiasts.”
AFWF is more than simply four-days of programming, sessions, tastings and partying spread throughout Midtown Atlanta during early June.
The festival also provides an opportunity to showcase the vast culinary talent in the south. Such exposure is especially important for black chefs and mixologists who are not as successful as many of their counterparts in breaking into the industry. Richards and Nutter talked about this reality with NBCBLK during last year’s festival.
Jennifer Booker knows all too well. With over 20 years of culinary experience, she is always checking out the culinary playing field to see if anyone looks like her, especially among the chief players.
“I have noticed that over the years there are more females chefs in the kitchen (though not an equal ratio to male chefs), but I feel that there are fewer black chefs in the kitchen,” she told NBCBLK. “I find that disparity especially troubling when the conversation is about Southern cuisine, one that blacks helped to create.”
The disparity is also very obvious during AFWF, Booker, who owns a catering company in Atlanta, points out.
“This is an ongoing conversation between myself and other chefs of color-particularly black chefs,” she said adding that she is not suggesting her culinary journey is any more difficult that other chefs of color. “But I will say that as a woman I am not welcomed into the kitchen with open arms and as a chef of African descent, my culinary skills are always questioned.”
As far as food is concerned, Booker pairs her classic French training with her commitment to healthy, seasonal, southern cuisine. In addition, she is an advocate for adequate representation of chefs of color, especially black woman chefs, within the Southern cuisine industry.
“There are very few black women showcased in this festival, which has not changed since the festival began. I find that baffling, since I meet talented black female chefs of color at every culinary event I attend,” she said.
“Festivals like AFWF inspire me to be a participant so that people that look like me know that unicorns do exist," added Booker. "What would I like to see at this Southern themed festival and in the culinary arena in general? More Southern Black female chefs being showcased for their talent and because their culinary heritage is the heritage of one of the first foods of America.”
Deborah VanTrece sees AFWF as one of the most prestigious festivals to get involved with. Quite often she finds herself in rooms with people that look nothing like her. Her first time participating in the festival, which was this year, was no exception.
“It is a whole other level of talent,” she told NBCBLK. “For me, very few African American chefs get much recognition period. When you add on the female part, it becomes even less.”
VanTrece has built a name for herself through Atlanta. Today, many people are familiar with her because of her restaurant, Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours. However, she has been in the culinary industry for years.
“You really do not get recognition in the industry until you get a storefront. It is one of the unfortunate facts of the industry,” she said. “I am not the only African American woman chef around, but it is hard for us to find each other.”
So coming to the festival this year and having the ability to be one of the tasting tent wasn’t easy, but was an exciting opportunity for her and her staff. There were a series of setbacks getting to the festival and during the festival, including sightings of lightning and having to shut down the tents temporarily. But she felt very strongly that she and her staff should be at the festival this year.
Moving forward, VanTrece wants to create more opportunities for young chefs – especially those of color and women. She is looking to make her impact alongside the festival continuing to be a participant, but also outside of it.
Her major idea at the moment is a pop-up restaurant where young chefs are given the opportunities to develop a menu and run a restaurant for a day – something almost reminiscent to Top Chef’s Restaurant Wars without the competition aspect.
“Providing opportunities for those who would not normally have them is something I want to do more,” she said. “Then people can see what they are capable of which only advances their careers. That’s what we all should be doing for one another.”
As a woman and a bartender, Barriere is also interested in creating more opportunities as well. She has an idea in her head that she is not yet ready to share. But she is adamant that it will happen.
“Black women need more opportunities to make ourselves present. We are already a focal point and have to be fearless,” she said. “I want to do my part to make us more present. I want that to happen.”