Each time you go out to dinner, what do you see in the menu? Delicious meals curated by a special talent in the kitchen? Or perhaps farmers and producers who spent months caring for the ingredients on that plate? For T.S. Strickland, he sees both. And it’s what prompted him to begin a supper club concept called Peat & Pearls, and eventually bring it to Knoxville.
“Knoxville is a place that is growing,” T.S. says. “A lot of new people are moving to the area, and the food scene is maturing and growing.” And with an exceptional community of chefs in the region, the opportunity to connect East Tennesseans with the producers behind the food they eat was clear. “In Knoxville there is a community of people who care about their food and not only care about having good food but care about where their food comes from and (want to help) build stronger local food systems.” This has been T.S.’s focus from the beginning.
T.S. was a journalist when he began making this connection himself. He focused his writing on food, more specifically seafood. “Growing up on the Gulf Coast, seafood had always been part of the fabric of life,” he says. “As a kid, you grew up watching the fishing boats unload their catch on the dock…It wasn’t really until I started writing about seafood, that I really fell in love with it and the people and places that compose the industry.”
Before long, T.S. would find a way to tell the stories of the industry in a different way. And in 2017, in an attempt to begin changing the way his neighbors and others across the southeast would view how they approached food, he came up with a single dinner event, focused on farm-raised oysters and whisky. “It was really just with the goal of connecting my farming friends with more chefs,” he says.
After a few years of doing events, T.S. says it was clear that more and more people were “hungry to sort of reconnect with the sources of their sustenance.” The pandemic came and while it slowed the trajectory of events he would have, things have come back alive, offering him the chance to “bring folks together around a common table, sharing the stories of the ingredients and the people and the places that have nurtured them.” What had started as a concept on the Gulf Coast began branching out to the other communities across the southeast.
Fast forward to 2022 and that list now includes Knoxville. The September 7 dinner, at The Plaid Apron with Chef Drew McDonald, kicked off the Peat & Pearls dinner concept in Knoxville. Over the course of the fall, other East Tennessee chefs will host dinners with Peat & Pearls, including Chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro of Olibea who will host a dinner in October, and Chef Alex Gass, formerly of The Walnut Kitchen, but who is in the process of opening his own concept called Fire & Salt in his hometown of Oak Ridge. Alex hosts in November, just a month after the slated opening of Fire & Salt.
Those interested in attending the dinners can visit peatandpearls.com.