“If you avoid foods that are strange to you, unimaginable culinary experiences will pass you by, as the cart winds its way to another part of the room.”
-Christiane Lauterbach, Knife & Fork, 1984
At their annual symposium last weekend, the Southern Foodways Alliance – a non-profit dedicated to the documentation and celebration of the diverse food cultures of the South– bestowed the Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award to Atlanta’s own Christiane Lauterbach.
For the better part of 30 years, Christiane has consistently been one of the strongest, most eloquent, and most interesting voices to come out of the south. In addition to having been the main dining critic for Atlanta Magazine for over 25 years, a publication to which she still contributes, Lauterbach also helped found Knife & Fork, a monthly 8-page newsletter that has chronicled the culinary evolution of our city since 1983. She has influenced nearly every food writer in this city, including upstarts like me.
During the award presentation speech, SFA director and renowned food writer John T. Edge said, “Back in the early 1980’s—a time when restaurant critics and restaurant owners were often cozy, Christiane Lauterbach threw elbows and spoke truths.”
“I was completely surprised,” Lauterbach said. “John T. Edge actually told me a little ahead of time, because he knew that I would just cry. He knew that I would completely bawl.”
Little more than a pamphlet, complete with three hole punches for cataloguing, Knife & Fork maintains no digital presence. You won’t find it archived on any website, and there is no @knifeandfork dispensing any Tweets. Nevertheless, every month for the past 27 years, Christiane has printed on those unassuming pages some of the most mouth watering, funny, and inspiring food writing Atlanta has to offer.
When I asked her why she has not expanded Knife & Fork into the digital medium, she said, “It was always meant to be an ongoing book. This was something that was meant to stick around, not just something that you glanced at and deleted.”
She has branched out into the digital age though, all in the name of activism. Her blog, atlantafoodcarts.com, lead the way in initiating change in Atlanta’s archaic legislation inhibiting the budding food truck scene. But now that some significant strides have been made in Atlanta’s attitude toward street food she is “proud of what we have accomplished, but I’m tired of blaming the city, the lack of progressive attitude. It really is up to the vendors now to take it beyond the idea.”
So what does she see on Atlanta’s culinary horizon?
“I’m very happy to see the rise of young chefs who carefully source their own products, that’s tremendously important to me,” she said. “I’m so excited about that generation of young chefs”.
But she is also “dismayed to see that so many of our chefs have bailed on us, and some of them have been really successful in other cities, and that has been disheartening. I’m not happy that the true fine dining – the incredible crystals, the maître d’ - is simply disappearing.”
Our current ethnic explosion however, and the increasing diversity of Atlanta, has her much more optimistic. “We will have many, many more new international cuisines,” she said. “And that I’m looking forward to for sure.”
Thankfully, Christiane remains active in her craft to this day. We are lucky to have her.
Congratulations, Christiane. You deserve it.
- Jon Watson writes about Popular Eats for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Live To Feast