Friday, April 22, 2011

Marietta History Museum with Johnnie Gabriel


The Marietta Museum of History has a Lecture Series of speakers. This month the speaker was local cook, restaurateur, and cookbook author Johnnie Gabriel speaking about the history of food, especially in the Southern culture.

The lecture was held at the newly renovated first floor of the Kennesaw House. Previous lectures were held on the 3rd floor with the museum on the 2nd floor. The renovation included refinishing the beautiful hardwood floors, but the chair railings were not there last night, which was a disappointment to me. I thought they gave it a historic style. The renovation has been a big undertaking for the museum on a limited budget, often using what they called the “grey ghost” crew of volunteers. I’m hoping the beautiful pictures in the previous lecture hall will soon be resident in the new room when time allows.

We bought cakes from Garbriel’s several times at her smaller location on Whitlock before Johnnie moved the business down the street to her present locatiom. When I would pick up a cakes we ordered, she was always completely relaxed, witty, making you feel like you had dropped in at a friend’s house. Johnnie isn’t strung out as I imagined a business owner would be. Her new bakery location is now a restaurant as well that is often frequented by local politicians and business people. When we were eating there once, I told Anna, “Garbriel’s is the place to be seen.”

Johnnie was very relaxed and at ease in speaking about food, saying she was not a trained chef but knew how to cook. She learned cooking from two great cooks: her mama and mama’s mama, who’s nickname happens to be “Mama Mama”. Many in the audience shared their roots were similar in the South.

She shared she knew hardly anything about the history of cooking until she began her preparation by going thru Google, just like you and I would do. As she spoke, it felt like she was just sharing with friends. The history she found included the initial approximate dates for various food we all think are only Southern, such as fried chicken actually started apx. 400 BC. I really liked how she shared a spiritual slant on the role food plays in the evolution of various cultures. Most everyone in the audience knew Johnnie’s cousin is famous TV chef Paula Deen. She made reference to her two or three times just by referring to Paula or her cousin, never by her full name. She once stated “my cousin’s house in Savannah” was where she ate her first warm, freshly laid egg.

She encouraged the audience to participate and got us OM’s talking about restaurants we knew 40 or more years ago. I kept naming old restaurants and nodding enthusiastically when other people named them. Johnnie pointed at me saying, “there’s a man who loves to eat out!” Man? I thought I was a boy.

I heard names of restaurants I haven’t thought of in years but mostly ones I have mentioned in my blog, such as The Economy, Hunts, Dunaway Drugs, Hodges, Atherton’s, Dixie-Inn, Robinson Tropical Gardens, Aunt Fanny’s Cabins, and so on. I was wallowing in my own memories.

I made the announcement about the Varner’s Reunion being this coming Saturday. Johnnie asked “where” and I told her. She asked, “What time?” and I told her. It will be interesting to see if any of the OM’s there are at the reunion.

Afterwards, Johnnie signed her cook books for fans, and we enjoyed cupcakes she brought to share. Delicious!

It was a pleasant evening.

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