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Summer By Rail 2019: Southern Roundup

August 9, 2019

Catching up with Chef Madi's cross-country adventure

Summer by Rail 2019 is past the halfway point, with Chef Madi now in the Southwest after finishing her tour of the South and Midwest. We've hightlighted a number of the stops below with blog posts and media coverage, but be sure you go to the website to see everything that Summer By Rail has to offer.

Be sure to follow along with Chef Madi's journey through all our social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. And of course, you can find everything over at SummerByRail.com.

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Summer By Rail Heads To Charlotte

Charlotte showed me many of its facets as a city. My first stop back in the south, I saw a lot of development, cultural variety, and an interest by many residents and workers to move the Queen City into a new era. I arrived at an interesting time. The weather was warming up and the crowds were rising. I had chosen one restaurant to visit and one had been chosen for me by the folks hosting me in the city.

Dream job? She travels via train across the U.S., stopping to eat


“Ultimately my end game is to show that the train is more accessible than flying or driving. We have to make sure the service is maintained and our long-distance routes stay open. I want to make sure that connections in and out of city centers are at the right times. It only works if we all work together.”

Summer By Rail And The Tastes Of Atlanta

I should preface this blog by saying, I absolutely adore Atlanta. It is a testimony to everything multi-generational progress can manifest in the South. A living, thriving city bursting with creativity and integrity. My first expedition in the city was a e-car tour around the city, hosted by Victoria Lightfoot, my coordinator for this stop. Victoria is a PR genius with a deep understanding and respect for Atlanta

... Another great thing I want to highlight about Atlanta is the MARTA Fresh Market. Operating within four different stations, this Market is an affordable solution for people who experience issues related to food desert and food scarcity and urbanized environments. Not only do they offer twice the retail value in food stamps credit, what I witnessed was a surprisingly large variety of fresh produce. The team there is Unified in supplying as much organic and locally-sourced produce as they can. I found it to be really comforting to know that it was possible to acquire good quality fresh food in transit.

Meridian: A Resurgence Of Food, Art, Music And Community

Tucked between the interstate and the train tracks, the town of Meridian is growing out of its complicated past into a place of beauty. The resurgence in food, art, music, and community is welcoming and inspiring. Not only was I greeted on the platform by the local paper, I was welcomed into the homes and lives of multiple Meridian residents as if I had been a member of their community my whole life. Mississippi is a complicated place with a history detailed by its myriad of talented artists from all walks of life.

...The culmination of brunch at Mississippi’s oldest restaurant and spending hours in it’s newest Experience filled my heart with inspiration, love, and a little cholesterol. Jerome took me through each section of the MAX and his enthusiasm for all things Mississippi was engaging and enriching. I have family ties to the state but this showed me the history through so many different interpretations and immersive experiences I felt the impact of the enrichment it will provide for future generations.

Summer By Rail Heads To A City Of Mystery: New Orleans

What is a foodie trip without paying respect to one of America’s oldest and most awarded food cities? Deep inside the timeless labyrinth of alleyways and old oak trees, rests eateries, bars, streetcars, and a culture uniquely its own. New Orleans is a city of mystery, no matter how many times I return to it. As I stepped off the train and embraced the humid night air, I was excited to see what this round in the Big Easy had to offer as the dawn arose.

...As we crossed the new bridge into Ocean Springs, I reflected back to how during Hurricane Katrina, the old bridge had folded like a row of dominos, how the trees were stripped away and boats thrown chaotically into the harbor by one of the largest storms of my lifetime. I remember my extended family springing into action to help my grandparents salvage and rebuild before many elected officials had released a statement or offered a plan. My mother and a number of other medical professionals rushed into the flood zone to offer any support they could. Locals still lament the federal response to the natural disaster and the latency in receiving aid. Though there were trains that shuttled people out during the evacuation, most of the gulf is left without that safety net now as hurricanes and tropical storms are becoming more frequent.

Summer By Rail: Chef Madi Butler Shows How Rail Travel Can Revitalize America

Big Easy Magazine

When I caught up with her here in New Orleans, it was at a private tasting at Jimbeaux’s Bar and Grill, which opens in the Central Business District on August 3. Over a delightful menu that included Ponchatoula salad, red bean hummus, oyster flambeaux, roast beef tacos, steak topped with lump crabmeat, and signature cocktails Madi and I talked a little about her passion for rail travel.

“Rail travel provides accessibility for all different types of people,” Butler said when I asked her why this issue is so important. “It’s more environmentally conscious as a mode of transportation. As long as it’s affordable and includes both urban and rural destinations, rail travel can provide great solutions and revitalization in a variety of communities.”

Summer By Rail In Greenwood

...My stay at the Alluvian was absolutely delightful. A boutique hotel crafted by the Viking team, the Alluvian offers a gorgeous breakfast buffet as well as bar and dinner service led by Chef Cameron Shaw of Giardina Restaurant located inside the hotel. After a long day, I was ready for dinner and drinks with Danielle Morgan of Greenwood Tourism as well as the Alluvian and Viking Marketing teams.

...After visiting the Mississippi Store, filled with made-in-state gifts, I received a text that T.J. Girsch and Jonsie Stone were ready to join us for the cooking class, Lunch in Little Havana. I was beyond ready to get back in the kitchen and whip up some Arroz con Pollo, Borracho Black Beans, and Tres Leches Cake. For anyone visiting, I absolutely recommend this activity at the Viking Cooking School. Lunch preparation was a great team building activity, however VIking also offers romantic dinner classes and youth friendly programs. In a class of 12 led by Chef Leanne, we broke into teams of 4 and loosely followed the recipes provided. With a beer in hand and chicken thighs searing, I cut it up with the Chef who has accomplished a range of achievements from Jackson to New Orleans.

Traveler samples local culture on long train trip

The Greenwood Commonwealth

...Also known as “Chef Madi,” Butler is a graduate of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Aside from culinary flavors, she said she’s also interested in reducing food waste, increasing food accessibility and using biodegradable packaging for food. Butler is staying at The Alluvian until departing Sunday night. Her experience in Greenwood has consisted of a tour of the headquarters and production facility of Viking Range (one of the program’s sponsors); dining at Mai Little China, Fan and Johnny’s, and Giardina’s; taking a class at the Viking Cooking School; speaking with Mayor Carolyn McAdams; and shopping along Howard Street.

Greenwood is “one of the little towns in Mississippi that highlight its history and artists,” Butler said. “I like the architecture. I like the layout — a lot of old buildings that have been maintained.”

“I think it’s pretty obvious how having the Amtrak station encourages tourism here,” Butler said. McAdams and other city officials have been lobbying CN railroad, which owns the Greenwood station, to make it more attractive.

Last week, Madi was in Memphis, Chicago, and Milwaukee and is currently in Albuquerque, NM (via Kansas City and the Southwest Chief). As the trip starts to wind down, the next few weeks will take her to places like Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson, before ending the trip in LA & San Francisco. So stay tuned for much, much more!