SFA Founders Oral History Project

SFA Founders Group Photo

We all know that this is the finest regional food in America, yesterday and today and forever. Here is our chance to keep it vibrant and to share it with one another and the rest of the world. – John Egerton, from his 1999 SFA recruitment letter

In the fall of 2004, through generous support from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q of Birmingham, Alabama, the SFA launched its Founders Oral History Project. This important undertaking will forever preserve the history of the SFA through interviews with the organization’s fifty founding members. By recruiting SFA members and friends in locations across the country to conduct the interviews, SFA supporters have had the opportunity to be more actively involved in the SFA’s mission–and its history. To date, more than forty interviews have been collected, and some of them can be found here. Completed interviews will be added regularly so please check back often.

Below is an excerpt from John Egerton’s original letter to folks far and wide, inviting them to gather around the table of Southern Foodways. A handful of years later, we feel that these words still serve as the cornerstone of this organization, along with the fifty fine folks who heeded the call. We thank you.


June 16, 1999

Dear Friend,

As you know, a new effort is emerging to establish an organization that would bring together people from all over the region and beyond who grow, process, prepare, write about, study, or organize around the distinctive foods of the South. The principal base for this comprehensive and inclusive group will be in the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. They are offering us an opportunity to use their tax-exempt, non-profit status and their support staff like a greenhouse to grow this new organization, which will have its own officers and board, a self-generated budget, and an independent mission: to preserve and enhance the great food heritage of the South.

To get the pot boiling, I’ve been asked to send this letter of invitation to 50 people whose interest in such an organization is widely known. We request the honor of your participation in a “founders’ meeting” at Southern Living magazine on Thursday, July 22. We will meet all day and then adjourn to Highlands Bar & Grill, where Chef Frank Stitt and his wife Pardis will be our hosts for drinks and dinner. From 9 until noon the next morning, we’ll gather again at Southern Living to complete our work.

You will appreciate, I’m sure, the spirit of inclusiveness that is driving this effort. The time has come for all of us–traditional and nouvelle cooks and diners, up-scale and down-home devotees, meat-eaters and vegetarians, drinkers and abstainers, growers and processors, scholars and foodlorists, gourmands and the health-conscious, women and men, blacks and whites and other identity groups, one and all–to sit down and break bread together around one great Southern table. We all know that this is the finest regional food in America, yesterday and today and forever. Here is our chance to keep it vibrant and to share it with one another and the rest of the world. We sincerely hope you’ll agree to come to Birmingham and help us.

Most cordially yours,

John Egerton
for the “add-hock” organizers


SFA Founders

Ann Abadie Norma Jean Darden Cynthia Hizer Marie Rudisill
Kaye Adams Crescent Dragonwagon Portia James Dori Sanders
Jim Auchmutey Nathalie Dupree Martha Johnston Richard Schweid
Marilou Awiakta John T. Edge Sally Belk King Ned Shank
Ben Barker John Egerton Sarah Labensky Kathy Starr
Karen Barker Lolis Eric Elie Edna Lewis Frank Stitt
Ella Brennan Donna Florio Rudy Lombard Pardis Stitt
Ann Brewer John Folse Ronni Lundy Marion Sullivan
Karen Cathey Terry Ford Louis Osteen Van Sykes
Leah Chase Psyche Williams-Forson Marlene Osteen John Martin Taylor
Al Clayton Damon Lee Fowler Timothy W. Patridge Toni Tipton-Martin
Mary Ann Clayton Vertamae Grosvenor Paul Prudhomme Jeanne Voltz
Shirley Corriher Jessica B. Harris Joe Randall Charles Reagan Wilson


Ann Abadie - SFA Founder -

Ann Abadie

Born in Greenville, South Carolina, Ann Abadie received her bachelor’s degree in English and History from Wake Forest University in… Read More…

Karen and Ben Barker - Magnolia Grill - SFA Founders

Ben Barker

Among the dishes to emerge from his kitchen (and the pages of that book) – cucumber soup with buttermilk, dill,… Read More…

Damon Lee Fowler SFA Founder

Damon Lee Fowler

Born in Georgia and raised in South Carolina, Fowler earned a degree in architecture from Clemson University and worked as… Read More…

Dori Sanders - SFA Founder

Dori Sanders

Dori Sanders is a farmer, novelist, cookbook author, and a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance. She was raised… Read More…

Edna Lewis SFA Founder Photo

Edna Lewis

Edna Lewis was born in 1916 in the African American community of Freetown, Virginia, near Charlottesville. Raised in a family… Read More…

Ella Brennan - SFA Founder - Commander's Palace

Ella Brennan

In 1969 the Brennan family took over Commander’s Palace. That restaurant became Ella Brennan’s priority. Thanks to her, Commander’s Palace… Read More…

Frank Stitt SFA Founder Photo

Frank and Pardis Stitt

In 1982, he returned to his native Alabama. A quartet of restaurants followed. Recently, he wrote Frank Stitt’s Southern Table:… Read More…

Jessica B. Harris - SFA Founder

Jessica B. Harris

Jessica B. Harris is the author of eight books documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora. In addition… Read More…

Jim Auchmutey - SFA Founder

Jim Auchmutey

Jim Auchmutey grew up in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. A fifth generation Georgian, Auchmutey is the steward of his… Read More…

Joe Randall SFA Founder Photo

Joe Randall

A native of Pennsylvania, Joe Randall realized while stationed in Albany, Georgia, in 1963, that there was something special about… Read More…

John Egerton - SFA Founder and Board Member

John Egerton

John Egerton is the author of Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History. He has lived—and eaten—all over… Read More…

John T. Edge - SFA Founder and Director

John T. Edge

At the University of Mississippi, John T. discovered a common thread between food, social justice, politics, and fun. His dissertation… Read More…


Karen Barker

Her repertoire, honed over two decades in the kitchen, includes pink grapefruit soufflé tarts, key lime coconut pie, blackberry slump… Read More…

Karen Cathey - SFA Founder

Karen Cathey

Cathey, who passed away in 2009, was the president of Bon Vivant, a food marketing consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia,… Read More…

Kathy Starr SFA Founder Photo

Kathy Starr

Her cookbook, The Soul of Southern Cooking, is a collection of classic Southern dishes that span generations of her family,… Read More…

Leah Chase - SFA Founders Oral History Interview

Leah Chase

In the years that followed she has transformed Dooky Chase into a landmark of New Orleans cookery, dishing peerless gumbo… Read More…

Lolis Eric Elie - SFA Founder

Lolis Eric Elie

Lolis Eric Elie was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He holds an MA from the Columbia School of Journalism and… Read More…

Marie Rudisill SFA Founder Photo

Marie Rudisill

Born in Alabama, Marie Rudisill is the author of eight books, including Sook’s Cookbook and Fruitcake: Memories of Truman Capote… Read More…

Marilou Awiakta SFA Founder Photo

Marilou Awiakta

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1936, Marilou Awiakta is a seventh-generation Appalachian native and self-described Cherokee-Appalachian poet, storyteller, and essayist.… Read More…

Martha Johnston SFA Founder Photo

Martha Johnston

Johnston became the director of Southern Living’s cooking school in 1978. In the following years, her role expanded, and she… Read More…

Nathalie Dupree SFA Founder Photo

Nathalie Dupree

When she returned to the U.S., Dupree opened her own restaurant, Nathalie’s, in Social Circle, Georgia. In 1975, she founded… Read More…

Norma Jean Darden SFA Founder Photo

Norma Jean Darden

In addition to her talents in the kitchen, Darden is an accomplished actress. She has produced a one-woman play, Spoonbread… Read More…

Paul Prudhomme SFA Founder Photo

Paul Prudhomme

Born in Opelousas, Louisiana, Paul Prudhomme was the youngest of 13 children. At 17, inspired by the cookery of his… Read More…

Ronni Lundy - SFA Founder

Ronni Lundy

Born in Corbin, Kentucky, Ronni Lundy has long chronicled the people of the hillbilly diaspora as a journalist and cookbook… Read More…

Shirley Corriher SFA Founder Photo

Shirley Corriher

Her expertise earned the attention of Nathalie Dupree. By the late 1970s, Corriher was teaching a class on science and… Read More…

Terry Ford SFA Founder Photo

Terry Ford

Prior to signing on as a founder of Southern Foodways Alliance, Ford helped found the American Southern Food Institute, an… Read More…

Toni Tipton-Martin SFA Founder Photo

Toni Tipton-Martin

Born and, for the most part, raised in Los Angeles, Toni Tipton-Martin traces her family to Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.… Read More…