Actually, it's been a number of weeks, but the one that just passed was particularly memorable. I'll work backwords: Last night the Charlotte Shout ended. It's our city's big festival of the arts and it always finishes up with two days of a culinary blow-out that's like going to a rock concert. I've called it a foodie's Woodstock, and it really is, with multiple location cooking demo's and tastings, and book signings, and celebrity chefs, dancers, music, Stomp-type drummers banging out rhythms on pots and pans, pyrotechnics (the celebrity chefs take the stage amidst sparkler fireworks, kind of like how professional wrestlers enter the ring on TV), and on and on. Yesterday's line-up included Martin Yan, Rick Browne (of PBS's Barbecue America), Rock (the winner of this year's Hell's Kitchen show), Sam (a semi-finalist on last year's Top Chef, but also a local Charlotte boy--how do these reality show chefs become so famous so quickly that they can get by with one name--Sam, Rock, etc? Talk about a social phenomena...), Alton Brown, TNT's Marvin Woods (another Charlottean who made it on TV, mostly on the Turner South Network), PBS's Mary Ann Esposito, and about a dozen others. Even I got to give a demo on the "big stage" (there were three stages, but only with a giant screen magnifying our every action and gesture), so I made whole wheat focaccia. This event has turned into a real extravaganza and today, now that it's over, I feel like soaking in a jacuzzi for about a month.
But this was just the tail end of an even bigger event earlier in the week: Alice Waters came to town and I got to interview on our local NPR station, then we hosted her for lunch at Johnson & Wales, followed by an hour long talk that she gave to 200 of our students, followed by a six-course dinner at one of Charlotte's "fork to farm" restaurants (Ratcliffe on the Green), where I contributed the Spent-Grain Bread from the new book using Irish stout grain given to me by Dave Gonzalez of Rock Bottom Brewery ("Each slice is like drinking a pint of Guinness," I told the 65 guests as I passed around the bread baskets. That turned out to be a real attention grabber, actually). Alice spent the next day touring a local pork farm that follows principles of social responsibility and humane animal husbandry conditions (Grateful Growers is the name of the farm and their pork products are indeed fabulous). Then, she visited with the culinary students at the Art Institute school, where they prepared her another "farm to fork" meal -- seven-courses this time -- and then she gave a talk to a large audience at Queens University on her current project, the edible schoolyard garden and lunch initiative. Okay, for those of you reading this who don't know anything about Alice Waters and the influence her restaurant, Chez Panisse, has had on American cuisine and consciousness, take a break and go to your favorite search engine and look her up. You need to know about her and, especially, this new initiative of hers to get real food-- flavorable, organic food-- ont the tongues and into the bellies of the next generation. I won't say any more about this visit except to say it was a big deal that she chose Charlotte as one the cities on her current tour and that she seemed very pleased by what she saw here (I've often compared this part of North Carolina, along with the Chapel Hill/Raleigh/Durham "Triangle" area, as a miniature version of Norther California. We're starting to catch up to the innovative food and culture projects there, and I think we may even be closing the gap). I could barely keep up with Alica and the schedule she was on, so I can hardly imagine how she'll keep up the pace during the subsequent six or so cities she plans to visit. Bottom line: it was an amazing, nurturing, enlivening visit by one of America's true culinary prophets.
The weekend before Alice arrived I spent in Chapel Hill, teaching a pizza class at A Southern Season, a wonderful food emporium and cooking school. At the Carrboro Farmer's Market, where we picked up some home made fresh and smoked mozzarella for the class, as well as Italian sausage made from locally raised pigs, I saw a cooking device that I immediately wanted to own. It was a fire-roasting tumbler that looked sort of like one of those things they put bingo balls or lottery tickets in and then tumble before a winning number is drawn. But at the bottom, there were four jets, attached by a hose to a propane tank. Alex, the owner of this device, filled the tumbler with a bag full of various red peppers grown on his farm and then lit the jets, shooting four flames into the tumbler while he turned the crank, tumbling the peppers so that in about 60 seconds they were evenly and perfectly charred and roasted. He then put them into a paper sack where they steamed and self-peeled. So cool--it was like performance art, a theater experience. Alex said there's a website, www.chileroasters.com that sells them and, sure enough, I looked them up and there's the device. I gotta have one!!! By the way, I bought a bag of Alex's roasted peppers and they were perfect--I'm amazed that any made it home, but I had to save some for Susan so she could experience them for herself and understand why I really want one of those roasters. She too, now, is a believer....
Well, there was more I wanted to write about but I've gotta go see how the Phillies are doing--will they break our hearts on the last day of the season as they've been doing to native Philadelphians forever (regardless of where we live, we are always Philadelphians), or will this be a year of miracles. We'll see. But, speaking of Philly, I will be returning to my home town on October 24th for the Book and the Cook, and will be collaborating with Chef Chris Lichtman and his team at the Citygrange Restaurant at the Westin Hotel, where we will be matching their farm fresh foods with some of the new whole grain breads from the book. If you're in the area come on by and introduce yourself. Details are still being worked out regarding time, price, and final menu, but I think reservations will soon be available, probably sometime this week.
The week before, on October 19th, I'll be back at A Southern Season for a whole grain breads class, and then, on Nov. 2 and 3, a workshop at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont. I think the Saturday session is sold out but there may be slots still available for the Friday evening demo and presentation. Give King Arthur Flour a call to find out.
Okay, enough--on to the Phillies and, probably, heartbreak....