CITY GRIT is a culinary salon – a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste.
The brainchild of Sarah Simmons, recently named one of America’s Greatest New Cooks by FOOD + WINE Magazine, CITY GRIT offers food-culture events anchored by dinners that feature a pre-actualized tasting menu around a particular theme or ingredient.
The dinners are created and conceptualized by perennial host Simmons with her signature Southern influence. In addition to Simmons’ menus, CITY GRIT hosts a series of well-known and emerging guest chefs from around the world looking to showcase their culinary talents in New York City.
City Grit: The story of a southern girl on a mission to feed the souls of New Yorkers – southern-style
Having spent my entire life living in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, one day, seven years ago this southern girl decided to become a Manhattanite in order to get herself on the career fast track. It wasn’t long before I was in love with the city – the nightlife, the activity, the food – but winter rolled around I found myself a tad homesick. Winter in NYC was nothing like I’d ever experienced down south. What I thought was cold had just been a slight chill, and what I thought was a “winter” coat was actually just layer I was wearing under my “real” winter coat.
To get myself through what I call “my first real winter” where the days slipped away too quickly and the months dragged on too long, I set out for southern comfort food in this northern city. NYC is an eating town, offering a plethora of ethnic cuisine, but lacking in what I was looking for – gourmet southern. There are many southern restaurants in the city, but I was looking for something more than fried chicken and collards. Don’t get me wrong, Aunt Sylvia’s is delightful, as I’ve never had such delicious fried chicken (sorry Papa) and scrumptious collards in all of my life (sorry Nana), but I was looking for one thing in particular – grits!
And so I went on the hunt, making this search my own personal project. I was still relatively new to the city, so in an effort to help my cause, I began asking people – coworkers, clients, new friends, strangers on the subway – if they knew of a restaurant that served grits, only to receive responses ranging from confusion to disgust. My friend Dianne once said to me, “Ahh grits, I’ve heard of those things, never had them though, but I’ll try anything.” This was the more pleasant of the responses I received as most folks looked at me like I was totally crazy and they were completely grossed out at the thought. When I worked grits into a conversation, as I always did somehow, it was amazing to see facial expressions become twisted and disgusted, like someone had just handed them a stinky diaper.
At first I became offended at the reaction, but then learned to simply respond with a smile and say in my sweetest southern drawl, “Well, by the look on your face I can tell you’ve never really had grits.” This most often draws the response that they had tried them – at Waffle House (which I call “dirty grits”) or from an instant package in college (which, I agree, is pretty gross) – and didn’t like them. This reaction always led me to bet them that they’ll like mine…and they always do.
My search for tasty grits in the city eventually turned into my personal crusade to convert the non-grits fans (down south we call them Yankees) into grits evangelists, a movement resulting into me hosting many brunches – perfecting the preparation of creamy, butter grits (basic morning grits) and cheddar cheese grits. In general I love watching people eat food that I have prepared, but there was even more pleasure in watching folks eat “real grits” or “my grits” for the first time. After mastering the basics I began developing my own recipes, throwing dinner parties in my tiny Manhattan apartment, the menu always centered around my latest discovery. In was through these dinner parties and the search for my favorite comfort food that a private supper club, and development of a cookbook were born. By coming together twice a month to taste my recipes and hear the stories behind them, many New Yorkers have found jobs, partners, and a respect for Southern cuisine.
In April 2011, I made the decision to take the City Grit experience to a larger venue, hosting events for up to 150 people. For more information on these events, go to citygritnyc.com.