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Reporting from the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium: Thacker Mountain Radio Show, Mississippi Masala, and a Talk by Robb Walsh

The 13th Annual Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium officially kicks off today, but the fun got started Thursday night with the Thacker Mountain Radio show and some dinner offerings in line with the "Global South" theme, including Mississippi Masala by Suvir Saran.

Thacker Mountain is broadcast on stage with a live audience, this time from the Lyric Theater. Host Jim Dees welcomed a full house of SFAers and other onlookers, and promised a show the food types would dig, starting off with some impromptu "poll results."

"We asked folks whether they preferred butter or margarine," Dees smirked, "and they said we trust cows over scientists." Ba-dum ching.

The house band, the Yalobushwackers, warmed up the mike with a mini-set of Delta blues before former Houston Press restaurant critic Robb Walsh (full disclosure: he's also my dad) took the stage to dish on chile peppers, fajitas and oysters.

Walsh, who once edited Chile Pepper Magazine, described chiles as "mother's milk" in Texas. "It seems like everyone I know has a chile pequin plant growing in their back yard--the birds plant them for you," Walsh said. "Throw 'em in a jar with some vinegar and you've got easy hot sauce."

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He also explained the not-so-clear cut(s) used for fajita meat, which he originally explored for the Press in June 2009. Trade negotiations with Japan in the late '80s have made it near impossible to get the outside skirt steak originally used for fajitas (the word "fajita," or "little belt" in Spanish, refers to this cut), but a number of other cuts make good alternatives, including inside skirt. And, in the end, the economic recession gave us a glut on USDA prime, which you can sometimes get cheaper than skirt anyhow. The silver lining, as he put it.

Before handing the mike over to Mississippi mariachis Los Cantadores, Walsh offered his take on oysters as aphrodisiacs--during the course of "extensive research" on the topic for his book Sex, Death and Oysters, he said, he got married and had a kid. So there you go.

Walsh parted with a few words on the impact of the BP spill to Gulf seafood, a teaser to his inclusion on Friday's panel discussion "The Gulf and the Spill."

Stay tuned for coverage of this and other talks as the SFA Symposium continues.

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