Even rock stars have food problems. Three years ago Caleb Followill—singer/guitarist for Nashville super-rockers Kings of Leon—was sitting on the balcony of his condo, trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. As he mentally flipped through a flurry of menus, his mind turned to grander ambitions. “Let’s start a food festival,” he texted his manager. “Great idea,” came the reply. By the end of the day, Followill says, “I had ten people texting me that they wanted to be a part of it.”
His brother and bandmate Nathan soon came on board, and the two spearheaded the creation of the Music City Food + Wine Festival, which celebrates its second year this September. The event has dovetailed nicely with the explosion of Nashville’s food scene, with more than twenty-five local chefs participating. And though a newbie on the food festival circuit, it’s also attracted internationally renowned names, including farm-to-table pioneer Jonathan Waxman, Texas chef Tim Love, and the Iron Chef himself, Masaharu Morimoto. “Some festivals overwhelm you, but this has just a real cool vibe,” says Tandy Wilson, chef and owner of Nashville’s venerable City House. Wilson offered chicken sausage with celery slaw for the festival’s inaugural year but has something grander in mind this time: homemade mozzarella. “We’re gonna pull some cheese!” he says. “Nothing I’d rather do!”
There’s also musical talent, curated by the Kings (and yes, they’ll probably play as well), along with cooking demonstrations and panels, but the Followills hope to create a more interactive experience. “Everyone loves to watch Morimoto cook,” Caleb says. “But we want to get people up there to cook with him.”
Caleb traces his love of food back to the days when he was barely a teen, going to local bars around Trenton, Tennessee, with his uncle Peanut on Saturday nights. They’d get home at about 2:00 a.m., and Peanut would rouse Followill’s grandmother, asking her to make cheeseburgers. “She said, ‘I’m only making ’em if you go to church in the morning,’” Caleb recalls. “So there we were eating and then at 8:00 a.m. we’re splashing cold water on our faces.”
Followill once had designs on becoming a chef, until he played an early gig and saw a couple of girls at the front of the stage. “I traded the apron for the guitar,” he says, laughing. Now married, he cooks a lot for himself and his wife, trying to chal-lenge himself in the kitchen now that he has to try to hold his own among the culinary heavyweights he counts as friends. He makes a mean strip steak with a salsa verde, as well as an arroz con pollo in which he substitutes kale for rice. But don’t expect him to spend the festival behind a stove. “I just like lying on the grass, eating good food, and drinking great wine.”
The Music City Food + Wine Festival takes place September 20-21. For more information, go to musiccityfoodandwinefestival.com.