Normally I try to post a new Peter's Blog every Tuesday, and I plan to do another one this week, but not till Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, because I want to wait until I return from the ribbon cutting ceremony at Charlotte's new 7th Street Public Market. It's a project that has been two years in the making and, I hope, will signify a major shift in the cultural culinary scene in this city. I've been fortunate to serve on the Board of Directors for this project and the ribbon cutting marks the opening day of commerce in this new farm to table, year round, daily, artisanal marketplace. I'll be back in 24 hours or so with my report and more thoughts on the Public Market.
In the meantime, Brad is working on another original pizza pictorial and we'll be posting that on Wednesday. So keep checking back, as there's always something new here at Pizza Quest.
...I'm back from the ribbon cutting ceremony and, of course, I'm jazzed. The mayor of Charlotte, Anthony Foxx, was there along with the head of the host committee for the upcoming Democratic National Convention, Dr. Dan Murrey (who is also the Chairman of the Board for the 7th Street Public Market). Representatives from Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Health Care of the Carolinas, the Market's two major sponsors who financially made it possible, along with Michael Smith of Charlotte Center City Partners, the visionary group that ideated the whole concept, also offered welcoming comments and helped the mayor cut the ribbon (actually a construction rope) to officially open the market. Christy Shi, the Executive Director of the Market, has been working around the clock for months leading up to this moment which, for Charlotte, is historic because it signifies a huge statement of support for sustainability and local agriculture, as well as for artisans of all types. It is, in fact, the beginning of something important for this city.
Okay, so why is this such a big deal? There are thousands of farmers markets all over the place, as well as urban markets like The Reading Terminal Market in Philly, Pike's Market in Seattle, The Ferry Terminal Market in San Francisco, and many others. Markets like these help define the identity of their region and the people who live in it. Charlotte, for example, is a growing city, on its way to becoming a major city, populated by a very diverse crowd from all over the world. Yet, unlike other cities near to us, such as Charleston, South Carolina, Atlanta, and even Chapel Hill, all of which have very strong cultural food identities, Charlotte is still in its discovery process when it comes to food and culinary identity. We have a number of dedicated farmers surrounding the city, some amazing pork, poultry, and beef producers, year round vegetables, a young but vibrant wine industry just up the road, access to great Mid-Atlantic seafood, an emerging micro-brewery culture, the first few entries in what promises to be a large farmstead cheese community -- all the pieces are coming together but there really hasn't been a central place, until now, that celebrates -- and sells -- these on a daily, year round basis. We are, at last, moving from the hobby phase to the "this is who we are" phase; from the "wouldn't it be nice" phase to the "this is how it should be" phase. All the values of The Slow Food Movement, the sustainable agriculture community, the Chefs' Collaborative, and other worthy organizations are embodied in this new Public Market, which is really an incubator for small start-ups that will eventually grow into successful, impactful businesses. This is the Market's vision, which includes supporting other organizations that serve areas we call "food deserts," neighborhoods that don't have access to good products and practical food or health education.
We've discussed on this site the idea of food being a signifier of one's cultural identity. Living as we do in a "tossed salad" society (the new version of "melting pot"), cultural identity is often a difficult thing to pin down. But we all recognize that food is one of the front line aspects of identity (hey, I'm from Philly, home of hoagies, cheese steaks, roast pork sandwiches; when I lived in Rhode Island it was all about the quahog stuffed clams, spaghetti and "gravy," and, more recently, grilled pizza -- nearly every region has such identifiers). I think that one of the next steps in the unfolding of Charlotte's identity will be some locally produced foods that become associated with this city. We're going to take a stab at it with the new sprouted wheat pizzas that will be served at Pure Pizza in the Public Market (opening is slated for mid January), but I have a hunch that one of the biggies will be a new benchmark version of pork tacos, perhaps made with a signature sauce and local cheese -- a Charlotte equivalent of a Philly Cheese Steak. I just saw in today's paper that we just got our first Korean Taco truck, so we'll see how that catches on. Things are starting to happen and I think this new market, championing local products, is a big piece of the puzzle.
My sense is that similar projects are happening around the country as well as around the world. We'd love to hear about how this celebration of local, artisanal, and benchmark products is manifesting in your region. Please send us your comments and your stories. If you want to flesh it out in the form of a commentary, we'll consider featuring it in our Guest Column section. Meanwhile, I'm heading back to the Market -- a new era has begun….