If you’re like me, you look forward to Foodimentary tweets from John-Bryan Hopkins: The facts he packs into 140 characters are fun, informative, and occasionally provide an excuse to indulge. (Tell me you aren’t looking forward to National Chocolate Cupcake Day on October 18.) Any wonder why he won a Shorty? He also blogs at Foodimentary.com, which is packed with so much that you can easily lose an hour or two exploring it. John-Bryan invited me over to his house in Homewood’s Hollywood neighborhood, and I soaked in all the beauty of his to-die-for kitchen.
He is a former interior designer turned food advocate who is devoted to the South, and to much more than food trivia. He tweets, blogs, does TV segments for Grow Alabama in his own kitchen, and he’s working on a TV series pilot and three books (including a children’s book). We talked about everything from farming, to why he thinks he might turn into a food-world bad guy, to what he’s afraid of. And, of course, he shared a favorite recipe.
“I grew up on a farm in Childersburg, Alabama, and in my senior year of high school we moved to Polaski, Tennessee. My mom bought animals no one else would buy, just derelict animals. I had to learn to take care of them. I learned real quick how not to let the goats out or they would eat everything—even the laundry. When I left, I didn’t ever want to be on a farm again, didn’t want to see a farm again, and didn’t want to be responsible for all of that. Now, I find myself wishing I had a place to have chickens. I’d love fresh eggs.
“My parents didn’t cook, so I cooked at home, and cooking was a burden. I did it because no one else did. When I left home, I didn’t want to cook at all. The kitchen was the place where all the pretty appliances should be. But I started eating at good restaurants, and I wanted that at home. I also connected with farmer’s markets, and I realized that the farmers were people I grew up with.”
On being The Foodimentary Guy:
“I only tweet about four or five times a day. I educated myself about food and social media—I used to wake up with nine books next to my bed, sticky notes in all of them. I learned to write and think in 120 characters. Basically, what I talk about is stuff people should already know… for example, how to tell if an egg is fresh. People don’t know what choices they have. There are vegetarians who just give up meat, but then they go buy processed food, and they feel like that’s the only choice they have in this world. No one’s giving them a choice. Eating meat, that’s life, and we need to come to terms to that. Your grandmother used to have chickens in the yard, and she would wring their necks and cook them. Your grandmother’s not going to chicken hell for eating chicken. Someone needs to say there are choices, so I’m probably going to be that bad guy.
“… I’m a food advocate. I feel it’s my duty to talk about food the way that I do, and to connect farmers to chefs and consumers. [I realized] farmers don’t always have the confidence that people will buy specialty produce. Most people don’t understand what it’s like to put your life on the line, working on a farm. You and I can make a living working on a computer. But for farmers, if you only have ten acres and that’s your life and living, it’s hard to take that risk. It’s easier if you know someone’s going to buy what you grow.”
What he’s afraid of:
“I’m afraid that someone’s going to become the Michael Moore of food. Food is not political, and it should not be political. Everyone opens their mouths and feeds themselves every day. Walmart’s signs used to be blue and yellow; now their signs are green, and that viscerally tells you something [about their food] that isn’t true. So I think we ought to buy local first. Organic is another word to make farmers work harder—it’s become so political now.”
What he’s been cooking:
“I love to smoke food, and I have a smoker at my place at Lake Martin. Once I discovered the smoker, I put everything in it. Smoked vegetables, smoked peaches…oh my God! Peaches and sugar, that’s all you need. Or a little honey or maple syrup. If they start to dry out, I put the best butter that I can find on them.
fresh whole peaches
sugar, honey, or maple syrup
ice cream (optional)
Prepare a smoker. (John-Bryan says he loves mesquite, and thinks maple would be good, too.) Cut peaches in half, and remove the pits. Where the pits used to be, fill the peach halves with water. Sprinkle the peaches with cinnamon and sugar (or drizzle on honey or maple syrup). Smoke the peaches for about 45 minutes. Remove the peaches from the smoker, and fill the peaches with butter or a scoop of ice cream.