Why Southern Hospitality Belongs in Southern California

Bring Southern traditions into a California kitchen.

Want to experience a family vibe while savoring SoCal cuisine? Join us for Chef Kevin Callaghan’s exclusive dinner on July 27 at Wanderlust Hollywood as part of the Find Your True Fork dinner series. Click here  for tickets and information. 

When most people think of Southern hospitality, one of the first images that springs to mind is a large gathering centered around a home-cooked meal. It’s not a particular anomaly, since social exchanges are largely food-centric across a great many cultures, but there’s no denying that food is a very big deal in the South. Classic dishes like fried chicken, potato salad, pecan pie, and casseroles galore grace the tables of many a Southern home and eatery, and have for generations. Likewise, pleasantries like “please and thank you” have never gone out of style, and much like the lower states’ summer temperatures, a certain level of warmth permeates the idea of what it means to be Southern.

In Southern California, that same warmth exists both literally and figuratively—just in a slightly different form. Inventive dishes infuse fresh ingredients into cross-cultural couplings, from Eastern grain bowls topped with avocado to smoothies blended with nourishing ingredients from all points of the globe. The creative, independent SoCal ethos may shun convention and associate itself more with sand and sea than sweet iced tea, but as it turns out, there’s a common thread between the two approaches: Both are focused on pleasure, and on people taking care of one another.

Blending a bit of Southern hospitality into Southern Californian cuisine isn’t that odd a concept, nor is any culinary coupling that pairs ingredients from different places to bring out the best in one another and bring pleasure to those who gather for the feast.

Gathering is Good for the Soul

Particularly in a time when finding a comfortable balance between the strains of work, the chaos of other concerns and attention paid to our own interior lives requires patience, we need one another more than ever. Communal dining has long been a way for people to connect in a relaxed environment, enjoying the sights, scents, and flavors of a meal together as we open up to one another, letting ideas rise and fall across the table. As a result, we can lower our stress levels and find support, commonality, and community while we nourish ourselves together.

That concept—the importance of gathering for good conversation and good health—is a key point of focus for chef Kevin Callaghan, who’s putting a Southern spin on SoCal dining this summer when he hosts a Find Your True Fork dinner in Los Angeles. As part of a larger series introducing the work of six chefs with six different food philosophies, the founder of Acme Food & Beverage Co. in Carrboro, NC, who also serves as Wanderlust Festivals’ Executive Chef, will blend sustainability and Southern hospitality in a flavorful event designed to foster conversation and connection.

The key component of the evening, he says, is simply the fact that people are coming together. In advance of the event, he told an interviewer, “The important part of the meal is the person across from you.”

There’s Comfort in the Family you Create

Southern hospitality has long been imbued with a strong sense of family, but it’s a mistake to assume blood relations are ever a hard and fast requirement. The idea of chosen family—of Friendsgivings, of “brothers from other mothers” and “sisters from other misters” who are as important to us as those with whom we share literal DNA—is one that resonates with plenty of people. In the hustle and bustle of modern life, the ability to lean on and confide in the people we care about isn’t just a luxury; it’s a necessity for our own well-being. 

Potluck meals, long a staple of Southern living in which everyone brings a dish prepared in advance at home, are an excellent (and affordable) way to come together as a group to commune over familiar flavors and decompress together. Likewise, “stone soup” dinners—another common practice in which everyone brings an ingredient or two and pitches in around the meal’s preparation—are another perfect way to gather in a casual setting, help one another out, and maybe even learn a thing or two in the process. And the best part: They’re as doable in Southern California as they are in South Carolina.

What’s Simple is True

As the importance of sustainability has taken center stage in the country’s collective consciousness in recent years, so, too, has the understanding that great dining doesn’t have to be fussy or overwrought. In fact, sometimes, the simplest ingredients and forms of preparation are also the best.

As fads and trends come and go, a few certainties remain: butter is always delicious, and makes its way into many a Southern dish for good reason. Farm-fresh ingredients are more flavorful and packed with nutrients than their factory-made counterparts, and nothing “sticks to your ribs” quite like a meal made with love and shared in good company—no matter where in the world it takes place. 

Want more opportunities for mindful dining? Check out the various dining opportunities at a Wanderlust Festival, including BBQs, sake tastings, and Find Your True Fork dinners. Click here for more information.


Amy Wilde is a writer and editor based in Austin, Texas. She covers places that inspire conversation, products that spark curiosity, projects that stimulate progress, and people who move the world forward. Her work has appeared on Lonely Planet, Refinery29, Brit + Co, The Hairpin, Collective Quarterly and more. Follow her on Squarespace or Twitter.