Food Writing Workshop: Write On // Southern Roots

Last week, I was asked by a former News & Record co-worker to lead a food writing workshop for high school students as part of a week-long writing boot camp. My inner foodie jumped at the chance to talk to young people about writing about food.

Our session was short, as most of our time was spent eating, talking about food in general, and me getting to know the kids in order to help them with their writing at Southern Roots Restaurant & Catering in Jamestown, N.C. The end goal: write a piece about their experience at the restaurant.

warm, smoked gouda pimiento cheese
Sam's summer salad: watermelon, canteloupe, goat cheese, crispy country ham bits with a balsamic vinaigrette

Roasted okra pizza with roasted Roma tomatoes, grilled onions, shaved mozzerella

The cheese was the best part

Shrimp tacos

World famous bread pudding

When I was 14 years old, I was pretty articulate, but I know I didn't know too many words to describe food. I didn't know fancy terms like umami or how to prepare complex things like Sachertorte or much about food in general. To help them along the way, I furnished a list of words to describe food. It was nearing lunch time, so I wanted to get them hungry and prime them about food.

I also offered a short lecture about what to write about in regards to food: It's more than just describing what you ate and how it tasted. Food is an adventure. A couple of the students were a little shy and did not submit a piece, but that does not diminish the value of the lecture or the pieces that were written. I took the time to do the writing exercise, too:
I reached down in the ground and pulled out some of my Southern roots last week. After being invited to Southern Roots Restaurant and Catering in Jamestown, N.C. my group was treated with southern hospitality, offered a pick of beverages and treated with the utmost respect.
A staple on most Southern restaurants' menus, pimiento cheese is usually a chilled dish. Sharp cheddar cheese studded with bits of roasted red peppers and gloppy mayonnaise usually dominate the platter. This pimiento cheese was nothing like that.
First, it was steaming hot. Fresh from the oven, the brûléed top of the cheese was still undulating and shimmering with radiating heat. We dipped our spoons in the ramekin to break through the cheesy crust and were met with a soft, pliable center, gooey and ready to be eaten. Paired with crisp chips dusted with salt and fresh parsley, this pimento cheese will not be soon forgotten. --Nikki Miller-Ka

Rising sophomore, Mandy Reiffer
Today my writing class and I went to a restaurant called Southern Roots in Jamestown.  When we first walked up to the restaurant, outside there was a clay wall with an arched doorway, and inside the arch were a bunch of tables and chairs.  It was like a little secret garden.  When we walked through the secret garden we walked in the door to the restaurant.  The staff greeted us with their “hellos and welcomes.”  The atmosphere felt very welcoming and warm.  There was a bench against the wall with colorful pillows casually just sitting around.  The tables and chairs felt like I was simply having lunch at a friend’s stylishly comfortable home.  Once we sat at the table the waitress was very cheery and ready to cater to our needs.  It made me feel cool and mature that the water was served in beer glasses.

When the summer salads came out they looked very light and fresh.  They had assorted green lettuces and pieces of melon.  It was served with balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the side.  To me the best thing about salad is the dressing, so naturally I put plenty on but still left the dressing cup about one third of the way full.   Unfortunately for me it was way too much.  It was a good dressing but only in small amounts.  Since it was a vinegar-based dressing it was very tangy and bitter; it didn’t have a good balance to it with just the lettuce.  Thankfully the sweet cantaloupe and watermelon helped balance it out a bit.  The goat cheese sprinkled on top was nice and creamy.  Sometimes goat cheese can be a little tangy but this kind wasn’t, so it wasn’t competing with the dressing.  The salad also had little bacon pieces sprinkled on top, which added a nice salty crunch and complemented the salad nicely.  Overall it was a really good salad aside from the bitter dressing overdose.

Rising senior, Melissa Douglas
On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to be able to go to Southern Roots and taste a few of their delectable menu options. Sam's Summer Salad was the perfect preview to the alluring meal I was about to consume. I'll have to admit, I'd never had a salad (a really green salad), with fruit on top. The fruit was sweet and juicy, a perfect combination to the crisp, mountain of fresh blend of field greens. I want to know how they got such fresh lettuce. I checked for a vegetable garden in the back as we were leaving, and was surprised there was not one. (Yes, it was that good.)

I'd have to say out of all the dishes I was able to try, the shrimp tacos were my favorite. The fiery, yet cool taste made my mouth experience a wide range of emotions. It was like watching a Nicholas Sparks movie in my mouth. Just like when watching The Notebook, crying one moment, cheering the next, this Shrimp Taco sent me on a roller coaster of spice and zest. The bursting flavor of the secret sauce, mixed with the crisp, juicy shrimp was the perfect contrast. I may be a little biased about shrimp tacos. In fact, before we even left for the restaurant, I was asked my favorite food and said shrimp tacos. It was a perfect layout of events!

Rising Freshman, Junn Park
It was the last dish. Their famous one, in fact. It was bread pudding. Truth be told, my expectations aren't all that high. The past courses disappointed me. The salad's dressing was too tart. The okra pizza was messy and soggy. the shrimp taco had way too many onions, giving it a bitter taste. But most of all, the didn't give me an emotion.
So you can see why I wasn't drooling over this "famous" dish.
I take my spoon and scoop a piece of the bread onto my plate. The cream is a mini river flowing down the simmering bread. The scent is enough to get my mouth watering. I take a bite.
Suddenly, I'm 10 again. In the mall. Staring at a really pretty girl. She's holding something out to me.
"Here you go," she says. "You wanted it."
It was a simple gesture, just a simple sample of a Cinnabon.
It was special. It was from her.
Time shifts back into reality, into a noisy restaurant. I am sitting, staring off into space, slowly chewing on the bread. The chilled cream contrasts with the wam bread. The nuts and the raisins gill my mouth with more texture and flavor.
This is why it's famous. The nostalgic chord was plucked.
Shut up. And take my money.

Huge thanks to Lisa and Chef Wes Patterson at Southern Roots for treating us to a great lunch! And another huge thanks to Tina Firesheets, my friend and former co-worker for thinking of me to lead this fun workshop!

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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