Teens and restaurants provide hope for action

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The room fell silent as about a dozen teenagers took over the staircase in the back of the room, turning to face the crowd seated around tables with white linens. Restaurateur Kris Fuller stood near the door, listening alongside the owners of Winston-Salem’s beloved Sweet Potatoes. At a table in the back of the room, KimBees tea company owner Kimberly Brown of Greensboro watched with rapt attention, and someone else at the table filmed the performance on an iPad.

The teenagers, part of the growing tradition at Authoring Action in Winston-Salem, performed their poetic prose in turns, popcorning from one voice to the next, simultaneously praising the organization, offering vulnerable confessionals and making proud declarations. Falling somewhere between a headlining act and a series of toasts, the performance capped the seventh annual Taste the South gala designed to honor and support Authoring Action, an arts-based nonprofit founded in 2002 in part to combat youth violence.

Food at events like this is generally catered, though often by an anonymous company serving up basic and relatively uninspired fare. Even at $50 a head, attendees at such high-end functions aren’t typically coming for the dinner, though that does help, but instead for the cause, and maybe at least a little to be seen.

But this fundraiser, held on Nov. 17 at the Milton Rhodes Center in downtown Winston-Salem, was different. For starters, a half dozen restaurants pitched in with food, including Sweet Potatoes, Fuller’s Crafted (which just expanded to the Camel City), Finnigan’s Wake, the Porch, Dewey’s, Bib’s and Krankies.

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Each served up an item or two, many of them featuring hometown Texas Pete, like Finnigan’s, which offered its traditional popular mac & cheese and a hotter variety doused in Pete.

Hoots poured beers and several vineyards showed up too, as did local hangover cure Sunshine energy drink. With separate tables for each business, no lines ever built up, making it easy to get at the abundance of tasty food.

Like the snack-sized cheesecake bites from Dewey’s that looked so cute and small I initially confused them with bitty cupcakes. Or the dueling tacos from Crafted and the Porch, the former with mac & cheese as well and the latter providing two varieties including a vegetarian option.

Krankies, which added food in earnest to its repertoire not long ago, came with pintos and cornbread while Bib’s had sweet or spicy barbecue sliders ready to grab and go. But my favorite may have been Sweet Potatoes, a soul food institution that should require no introduction or explanation. Luckily their table was positioned closest to the door to the main room, meaning I hit their line first before my plate ran out of space.

Why owners Stephanie Tyson and Vivián Joiner don’t own several restaurants in town is beyond me, but if they’re interested, someone with capital should jump behind them as fast as possible.

Most people didn’t come for the food, but I can’t have been entirely alone at the event dubbed Taste the South. Not that I didn’t want to support Authoring Action, because it’s a more than worthy cause that I gained a deeper appreciation for that night, and one that I feel a kinship with because it seeks to influence positive change through the power of words. But I admit that it’s the name of the event that first caught my attention, rather than the noble reason beneath.

And that’s good marketing, as is the decision to pull in some of the city’s best yet least pretentious restaurants to join in. And good on each of them for stepping up.

Because Taste the South is actually just one of many civic-minded events that are supported by the area’s restaurants and food industry. Indeed, most galas and parties would be nothing without them.

It’s something I thought about, while standing at the back of the room and watching those teenagers on the stairs splash their creativity across the floor; not everyone can afford to attend events like this, though the ones who can make important work such as Authoring Action possible. But the rest of us can still do our part by supporting the restaurants and businesses that sponsor, underwrite and supply causes we believe in.

I watched the teenagers and reflected that maybe our future isn’t as dark as it might seem. And I looked around the fringes of the room at the owner of the Porch, the volunteers clearing plates, the employees scooping servings and remembered the significant role that the local food scene can play in our push towards a better tomorrow, too.

Read more at authoringaction.org.