Dishes fit for a cuisine: Restaurants and the Construction of Appalachian Food

Appalachian food is usually referred to as folk cookery or foodways, but rarely as cuisine, a set of dishes, ingredients, flavorings, and cooking techniques felt to represent the finest gastronomic representatives of a culture. Similarly, while there have long been commercial, public establishments selling dining possibilities within Appalachia, it is only recently, with some exceptions, that there are restaurants that identify and promote fare as Appalachian.

This paper explores this trend, examining the dishes included in these restaurant menus. Some are recognizable as “refinements” of mountain traditions, while others are new inventions that might draw upon historically available ingredients or introduce new ingredients to older recipes. Some establishments conflate mountain with generic southern, while others emphasize specific localities.

The implications of this restaurant trend go beyond marketing or tourism. In constructing an Appalachian cuisine, the restaurants suggest that the culture is more than the “hillbilly” stereotype of a people who put little thought into what they eat. Instead, cuisine implies an intentional, self-conscious aesthetic system and artistry applied to food.

Furthermore, many of the restaurants are responding to concerns within the larger society around eating sustainably, seasonably, and locally. In doing so, they represent a shift in the position of Appalachia within mainstream America from periphery to center. Instead of demonstrating the backwardness of the region, this new cuisine offers a glimpse of a food culture that is considered by many to be the ideal, wave of the future.