Each year, the SFA honors one of our leading lights, a man or woman whose lifework has proved a beacon for us all. Our first award, to Edna Lewis, the onetime doyenne of American regional cooks, set the standard.
The SFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award goes to an individual whom all thinking eaters should know, the sort of person who has made an indelible mark upon our cuisine and our culture, the sort of person who has set regional standards and catalyzed national dialogues.
In recognition of that life of work, we commission a portrait by Oxford, Mississippi artist Blair Hobbs and we toast their life and their legacy at the annual Southern Foodways Symposium, held in and around the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
In October 1999, we presented our first Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award. Craig Claiborne, a native of Sunflower, Mississippi, heralded Southern food and foodways as possessing “the vastest and most varied of all traditional regional cooking in the country.” Claiborne offered his readers an inclusive primer on the South’s cookery, one that honored the lives and traditions of black and white, poor and rich.
Hugo Ortega is executive chef/co-owner of four Houston restaurants—Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s, Caracol and Xochi, and he won the 2017 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. Ortega views food as an important way for him to share his Mexican heritage.
Dedicating her life to cooperative living, equality, and ecology, Ira Wallace is both a master gardener and prominent voice in the organic farming movement, and the author of The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast.
JoAnn Clevenger took the Symposium stage at SFA that October in 2005, just two month after the levee failures, talking with Johnny Apple of the New York Times, John Besh of Restaurant August, and Lolis Elie, an SFA founder and New Orleans native, about the “New Orleans Culinary Renaissance.” She reminded us then and she continues to remind us now that the root word for restaurant translates from French to English as restore.