Sunday, November 29, 2015

The making of a documentary about legendary Southern chef Bill Neal teaches his son, Matt, new things about his late father

Matt and Sheila Neal moved into the Carrboro home where Matt's father,
Bill Neal, lived. In the attic they discovered boxes filled with items from
Bill's life, some of which was used to create footage for the film
"They Came for Shrimp & Grits: The Life and Work of Bill Neal."
Indy Week photos by Alex Boerner.
Matt Neal has been interviewed many times about his famous father, the chef Bill Neal.
He has answers about how Neal, a small-town North Carolina boy who taught himself to cook by working his way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, achieved so much in so little time. By his mid 30s, the elder Neal had helmed two essential Triangle restaurants and written a book, Bill Neal's Southern Cooking, that became a landmark of the region's cuisine. He was arguably the cook who made shrimp and grits a staple of contemporary Southern cuisine.
The gracious co-owner of Neals' Deli in Carrboro has even decided there's no point in getting offended when asked about the end of his parents' decade-long marriage or his father's romance with Gene Hamer, a colleague at La Residence and partner at Crook's Corner. He's even accustomed to being asked how it felt when, in 1991, his charismatic father died from AIDS at the age of 41.
click to enlargeKate Medley and her fellow filmmaker, Jesse Paddock, left, recently completed the film "The Came for Shrimp & Grits: The Life and Work of Bill Neal" about Matt's father, chef Bill Neal. - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Kate Medley and her fellow filmmaker, Jesse Paddock, left, recently completed the film "The Came for Shrimp & Grits: The Life and Work of Bill Neal." 
So when Matt agreed to be interviewed yet again last spring for a documentary about his father commissioned by the Southern Foodways Alliance, he expected not to be surprised by revisiting the familiar turf. What caught him off guard, however, was the filmmakers' interest in a casual reference to his father's writings, stashed away in a box in the attic.
Durham filmmakers Kate Medley and Jesse Paddock were surprised, too, that this wealth of materials had been sitting, almost forgotten and entirely unexplored, in Bill Neal's post-divorce home so long. Matt, who lives their now with his wife, Sheila, and two children, escorted Medley upstairs. What they found became the key of They Came for Shrimp and Grits: The Life and Work of Bill Neal, a short but dense and powerful documentary that explores and expands the scope of Neal's accomplishments.
"The family was very generous. They gave us full access," recalls Medley, who works as a photographer and filmmaker for Whole Foods Market. "Matt had boxes of things in his attic that he'd never looked at. It was a treasure trove of handwritten recipes, writing and correspondence and sketchbooks. There also were medical bills and records."
The scope of unpublished documents in the boxes dumbfounded Matt, offering new insight into the father he'd lost nearly a quarter-century earlier. They covered not only his food writing but also drafts of pieces about other interests—gardening, travel, his declining health. While Matt lived and worked elsewhere before returning to live at his dad's old house, renters had miraculously left the boxes intact.
"Most of it is cookbook notes, menus, journals, sketches. In some cases, I really remember what he was writing about, or when it was," says Matt, now 44. "I thought I had about a third of what I actually had."
Medley and Paddock finished the 13-minute documentary just minutes before the film premiered last month at the annual SFA symposium in Oxford, Mississippi. (A local screening is in the works for January in Chapel Hill.) Neal is open to working with them on an extended version of the documentary. After all, they helped him learn about his own late father.
How the sausage was made: Filmmaker Jesse Paddock holds the rescued sausage recipe of Bill Neal. - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER

How the sausage was made: Filmmaker Jesse Paddock holds the rescued sausage recipe of Bill Neal.
"They were sensitive and smart to the story," he says. "I found it very moving and engaging, though I'm a bit biased."
John T. Edge, the executive director of SFA, agrees that the film represents a balanced look at Neal's brief, brilliant life and a significant achievement for Medley. She previously produced a series of SFA shorts called Counter Histories, regarding the role of food in the civil rights movement.
"Last year, we asked her to explore the burdens of racism and the heroic stories of Southerners who fought that bastard Jim Crow," Edge explains. "This year, our assignment required more subtlety. She juggled narratives of fame, creativity, sexuality, family and mythology. She accomplished all with aplomb and sensitivity."
Medley and Paddock interviewed many people who were part of Neal's culinary circle, some of whom are still active in the area's food scene. There's Moreton Neal, his former wife and the author ofRemembering Bill Neal: Favorite Recipes From a Life in Cooking, and Crook's Corner chef Bill Smith, who succeeded Neal in that role just as he'd done previously at La Residence.
Last May, Gene Hamer, Crook's owner and Neal's former partner, was inexplicably omitted from a panel discussion on the 30th anniversary and enduring impact of Bill Neal's Southern Cooking at a UNC conference. They Came for Shrimp and Grits corrects that, allowing Hamer to offer red-eyed recollections of his last conversation with Neal and his sense of his friend's lingering presence at Crook's.

New York Times food writer Kim Severson presents a thoughtful assessment of Neal's role as a magnet for exceptional talent, even if he famously declined to give a break to Magnolia Grill's Ben and Karen Barker. (Still, the couple later required all Magnolia cooks to study Bill Neal's Southern Kitchen.)
And those who did put in time with Neal at Crook's before achieving renown elsewhere share insights about Neal's passion for promoting regional foodways and his seemingly manic temperament in the kitchen. John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, for instance, speaks with palpable regret about never mending fences after an argument with Neal that ended with the younger chef flinging a cup of hot coffee at his boss. But there are many references to Neal's influence in Currence's cookbook, Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey.
"You can still see that it really hurts him," notes Matt. "But John has paid his own dues in the meantime. He's really pushed and promoted my dad's legacy."
Neal's importance extends far beyond his recipes, though. He believed food could say a lot about who someone was and where that person was from. He made the claim in 1986 to Bill Friday during an episode of North Carolina People in a rare video appearance that opens They Came for Shrimp & Grits. Young and confident, Neal contends that, whether a conscious decision or reflexive habit, the food we choose to consume connects each of us with a time and place. Now a tenet of foodways studies, that notion was still novel at the time. In only 13 minutes, They Came for Shrimp & Grits gets to the core of Neal's decades of impact.
"It's really touching for me and my family," Matt says. "It's like when Dean Smith's players started missing him again; they, like others, talk with praise. They don't have to do that, but they've all gone out of their way to do so."
This article appeared in Indy Week with the headline "A simmering history."

Daniel Whittaker's big plans for Person Street Pharmacy's cafe

If it wasn't already clear from chef Scott Crawford's opening of the long-awaited Standard Food, the success of Oak City Cycling Project or the existence of So & So Books, last week's announcement by New Raleigh of new ownership of the cafe at Person Street Pharmacy makes it clear: The North Person sector near downtown Raleigh is suddenly one of the city's busiest zones.

Daniel Whittaker of Green Planet Catering has taken the reins of the cafe, which was renovated and reopened just a few months ago by Chad McIntrye and Craig Rudewicz. If you don't have your notes handy, Rudewicz is best known as the owner and creative force behind Raleigh-made Crude Bitters. McIntrye was the chef at The Market restaurant, which was located next-door to Escazu in their Blount Street strip. (It's occupied by Stanbury these days.)

Before that transition, McIntyre—now owner of Eco-Tech Draft Systems, which delivers environmentally friendly means of tapping kegs—was in discussion to open a restaurant-grocery concept at the address that is now the innovative Standard. His one-time partner in the plan was, indeed, Whittaker. 

click to enlargePHOTO BY JOLEE TODD
  • Photo by Jolee Todd

"It's funny the way things work out sometimes," says Whittaker. "I look across the street at Standard and wonder what might have been. But when [pharmacy owner Trey Waters] approached me about the cafe, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to grow Green Planet Catering. We're thrilled to be part of the neighborhood."

He's also glad to maintain relationships with McIntyre, who services the Eco-Draft system he designed for the cafe's vintage soda fountain, and Rudewicz, whose bitters and syrups are essential to creating their soft drinks, shrubs and cocktails. 

Whittaker says the deal took shape in the past two months, around the same time he hired Patrick Cowden as Green Planet's executive chef. Cowden has cooked in Chapel Hill at Southern Season's Weathervane restaurant, Michael Jordan's 23 Sport Cafe (where he and Whitaker first met) and kitchens in both Durham and Raleigh. He's currently completing his obligations as executive chef for Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, which has three Triangle sites.

There will be considerable overlap between operations at Green Planet and the Pharmacy Cafe. Cowden will helm both, training staff and developing menus. Currently open 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, the cafe menu will continue to focus on breakfast and lunch offerings, though Whittaker wants to add dinner service during the next few months. 

"I see it being something like Hayes Barton Cafe, which serves dinner just a few nights a week," says Whittaker. "My first goal is to become the go-to place for great sandwiches in the neighborhood. I live there myself, and I know it's something that's been missing. I want to see lines out the door at lunch time."

Whittaker will provide plenty of seating for those lines; he'll soon add an 18-foot community dining table, with some seating outdoors for al fresco service. They'll also emphasize to-go service. Whittaker is planning other neighborhood-friendly features, too, like taco nights and expanded barista service. 

But he's confident that deli-style sandwiches (with cured meats imported from Brooklyn), soups and salads will serve as the primary draws for those craving well made comfort food. 

This post first appeared in Indy Week

Heritage turkeys aren’t your usual holiday birds of a feather

Turkeys wander around at one of Coon Rock Farm's free range areas.
The local sustainable family farm raises lean heritage turkeys for sale
each Thanksgiving. (Photos by Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer)

HILLSBOROUGH-- With their scaly legs and fierce temperaments, lean heritage turkeys appear to have more in common with dinosaurs than their rotund grocery store cousins. And without farmers committed to making these specialty breeds available for holiday tables, they’d just as likely be extinct.
“It’s an interesting concept that we raise these breeds, and kill them, to keep them viable,” says Jamie DeMent of Coon Rock Farm. “Without customers who want to serve them at Thanksgiving, they’d all be gone.”
Before last week, a raucous mix of about 300 specialty birds roamed the sustainable, 55-acre farm, which is tucked into a bend of the Eno River. Their lives were very different from turkeys raised at so-called factory farms, which are kept in tight quarters and fattened up at a rate two to three times faster than those raised outdoors on pasture.
“Most commercial turkeys have gigantic breasts that throw off their balance and make it difficult to get around. It actually prevents Tom and Tina Turkey from natural procreation,” DeMent says, noting that spirited heritage birds enjoy considerable freedom and protein-rich foraging on land shared with cows and pigs. “Our customers want to know that their bird had a happy life. I can’t promise it was happy, but I can guarantee that it was natural and healthy, and its end was humane.”
DeMent and Richard Holcomb, who bought Coon Rock Farm 12 years ago this month, have been raising heritage turkeys for seven years. They started with a few pairs of registered breeds but now save the best from each year’s flock to repopulate the following season’s stock. They grow several types not only to ward against issues that might affect one breed and not others, but also to ensure that they have a range of sizes to meet consumer needs.
“Sometimes there’s just two people at the holiday table but they still want a turkey,” says DeMent, noting that a petite Beltsville White, which resembles a very large chicken, might be ideal. “For those who want a big, meaty bird to feed a crowd, we’ve got them.”
Through a snug plastic bag, DeMent lightly pokes the muscular thigh of a bird that was just processed in the spacious abbatoir located directly across from the front door of her 1870s farm house. “You can tell that bird spent a lot of time walking around here,” she says of the outstretched limb, which might surprise those accustomed to buying a turkey shaped more like a bowling ball. “That’s a lot of meat.”
And it doesn’t come cheap. Like many other small-scale growers, Coon Rock Farm requires a $50 down payment to reserve a bird. Early orders are billed at $9 per pound, with later ones at $10 per pound.
This means that many folks gladly fork over upward of $200 to feed their family and friends – not counting sides. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average price for whole, frozen turkey in the South is $1.60 per pound, though many grocery stores slash prices as loss leaders.
DeMent and Holcomb strive to educate and advise their customers about the benefits of consuming heritage poultry.
Jamie DeMent of Coon Rock Farm
“There’s a bigger difference between commercial and heritage birds than other commercial and heritage meats,” Holcolmb says. “With turkeys, 10 percent of a commercial bird’s weight is (saline) flavor enhancer. Without that, it would taste like nothing. And since those birds never move, the texture of the meat is like mush.”
A more muscled bird requires a different approach to cooking, a fact they say many customers forget despite numerous email reminders.
“One year, someone called and said they had cooked their bird for eight hours and the pop-up thermometer still was not working,” DeMent recalls with a laugh. “I had to explain that our birds don’t have pop-up thermometers. If it’s not on them in the pasture, it’s not in the bag.”
Coon Rock Farm recommends having a proper thermometer on hand and generally following the heritage turkey technique prescribed by Food Network host Alton Brown, which is available online. Brown begins with a wet brine to keep the bird moist and flavorful. Cooking starts in a hot oven to turn the fatty skin into a crisp, moisture-retaining shell, then he dials the temperature down to ensure even roasting. The method can yield improved results with commercial turkeys, too.
To keep customers engaged in the months that often pass between order and delivery, Holcomb indulges them with emailed photos and videos of the maturing flock outside doing their thing. It’s kind of like getting pictures of your kids at summer camp, except the kids get to come home and eat the bird with you.
In the days leading to Thanksgiving, Holcomb says they receive constant emails and phone calls, especially from anxious first timers.
“He always hands off the nervous and crying ones to me,” DeMent says. “Sometimes it’s really sad, like their mama died and they have no idea how she did things. One year, I met a lady at a farmers market and she had a complete meltdown as soon as she picked up the bird to take it home. Taking on that responsibility can be a very emotional experience for people.”
DeMent, however, is matter of fact about their family celebration. “We’ll cook one of the turkeys, probably one that got a clipped wing and isn’t pretty enough to sell,” she says as Holcomb shrugs in bemused acknowledgement. “But by the time we sit down to eat, we’re all pretty much over it. We’ll be having ham and enjoying some bourbon.”
This post first appeared in The News & Observer on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Raleigh woman’s pie business inspired by son’s military service

Pam Runyans prepping pie crusts in her Oakwood kitchen.
Photo by Robert Willett of The News & Observer 
When her son received an appointment to West Point in 2000, Pam Runyans thought it was not possible for her heart to be more full of love and pride.
Four years later, when Bob was sent on his first conflict deployment to Iraq, the Raleigh mother of three found that fullness turned to sleep-starving fear. She’d rise from her bed in the middle of the night, wide awake, calculating the time zones and wondering what he might be doing.
“He was in an armored Humvee,” she says. “Those were the days before instant messaging. We lived for phone calls.”
Bob Runyans at Ur in Iraq.
Photo courtesy Pam Runyans.
Alarmed by vivid news coverage, the only way Runyans could keep her thoughts from wandering toward danger was to focus squarely and positively on something she enjoyed doing for him. So, night after night, Runyans rolled pastry and baked pies. She baked a lot of pecan pies, Bob’s favorite, and apple, her favorite because they were distractingly time consuming. She baked recipes she learned from her grandmother (lemon with billowy meringue) and mother (peach) and experimented with dozens more torn from magazines.
In the beginning, neighbors and friends were surprised when she’d knock on their doors and hand off pies. “I couldn’t possibly keep them all. I’d be big as a house,” says Runyans. She relied on husband Robert, a Raleigh architect, to serve as her taste tester.
Pam Runyans, about what she did while her son was serving in Iraq
Runyans, whose father tinkered with his birth certificate to join the Navy at age 15 during World War II, kept baking throughout Bob’s service. Her technique developed from tentative to masterly. At her son’s urging, she launched ABC Pie Company in 2010.
“Just before his second deployment, he told me I needed something to do that made me happy, and baking pies makes me happy,” she recalls from the pristine kitchen of her home in the historic Oakwood neighborhood, where two commercial convection ovens are preheating. “I’d make pies and think about him and pray. I’d watch the news and worry and make more pies. I had to keep myself occupied so I’d be sane.”

Military family

The business draws its name from children Abigail, Bob and Camille, each of whom has pursued a military career. Abigail is a physician assistant who serves in the U.S. Army Reserve in Colorado Springs. Camille, who graduated from West Point last year, will report to Fort Bragg in February to fly Blackhawk helicopters.
“She graduates from flight school the day before Thanksgiving. Does the Army have a sense of humor or what?” quips her proud mother. “It’s not like this is my busiest time of year or anything.”
Camille is engaged to an Army Ranger also stationed at Fort Bragg. Bob, who now serves in the Army’s Judge Advocate General division in the Netherlands, met his wife when they were both in service at Fort Campbell, Ky.
While Runyans developed her skills making full-size pies, her ABC pies usually are produced in endearing 5-inch rounds. She got the idea from Arnold Wilkerson of Little Pie Company of the Big Apple, a renowned baker she befriended while traveling to New York to visit Camille at West Point.
Arnold Wilkerson of Little Pie Company of the Big Apple, about Pam Runyans
Wilkerson recalls they had a lot in common because he started his business in his apartment. “I didn’t know her family story then, that she would bake because of her son’s service,” he says. “She understood pie baking, but being a successful entrepreneur takes a kind of love that you just can’t describe. Clearly, she’s got it.”
Photo by Robert Willett, The News & Observer
Runyans continues to infuse her pies with genuine affection. They look so perfect, and they have such appealing texture and flavor, that some people doubt she makes each by hand.
“Take a look,” she says, opening one of three freezers in a former breakfast room repurposed several years ago for her one-woman, home-based business. It is stacked high with nearly 200 frozen pastry shells, each with elegantly fluted edges. “Oh, that’s nothing. You should see what it looks like around here just before Thanksgiving.”

Busy month

November is her busiest month as customers seek her pies for family gatherings and hostess gifts. Among her most popular fall flavors are apple caramel crumble, pumpkin with pecan streusel, maple walnut, Mayan chocolate pecan, pear cranberry custard and red velvet custard.
Most will be sold through Southern Season, the Chapel Hill-based gourmet market and home store. Runyans credits the business for giving her opportunity and exposure.
“I was so nervous. I brought all these different pies for them to try, but they didn’t take a single bite,” Runyans recalls. “She just looked at them and said she’d take two dozen. You could have knocked me over with a feather.”
With help from her husband, Runyans continues to sell pies there as well as NoFo@The Pig in Raleigh’s Five Points area. Neomonde recently started carrying her smaller, cupcake-sized pies in Raleigh and Morrisville. ABC Pies also are sold at the Washington, D.C., outpost of Dean & DeLuca, the prestigious New York-based market.
Runyans’ normally busy baking schedule slowed this fall as she sorted through the estate of her beloved father, Gene L. Watterson, who was pastor of First Baptist Church in Shelby for 26 years. She and her husband spent weekends clearing his home, where they rediscovered ample evidence of his impact on his community. “It was hard work, but we found so many lovely things, personalized books and things he and Mama collected when they traveled,” she says. “Now, I’m back to making pies around the clock.”
This time, however, she’s driven not by worry but to please loyal customers, for whom Thanksgiving would be incomplete without her pies.

This post first appeared in The News & Observer on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2015.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Durham's Kathy Hester to be featured on January live Cook the Book cook-along event

Following the success of Saturday's debut online cook-along with Chapel Hill's Nancie McDermottCook the Book With Denise and Jenni  has scheduled its second event with another local talent: Kathy Hester of Durham. Hester, a prolific writer of vegan cookbooks recently featured in the INDY, will select a recipe from her new release, The Easy Vegan Cookbook.

"We're still working to confirm the date, but mostly likely it will be January 9 or 10," says Field, a Garner baker and recipe developer who blogs as Pastry Chef Online. "We're hoping that Kathy will have some big news to share by then, too."

Field presented Saturday's live, bi-coastal cooking program with colleague Denise Vivaldo, a  food stylist and instructor based in Southern California. McDermott cooked along with Field in her camera-filled kitchen, while Vivaldo surprised McDermott by having a guest present, too: Jill O'Connor, McDermott's longtime friend, who is thanked in the acknowledgements section for providing the good-humored encouragement to complete the new Southern Soups & Stews.

Saturday's participants cooked in real time with the four presenters, who prepared Sheri Castle's recipe for Watauga County Chicken Stew with Fluffy Dumplings; at least 157 participants from several continents were logged in at one point. Participants in Saturday's event who made the recipe were encouraged to post a photo of it on the Cook the Book Facebook page. Three personally autographed copies of McDermott's Southern Soups will be awarded today to randomly selected entrants.

Follow the page for additional details about the Kathy Hester cook-along, as well as events being organized in California by Denise Vivaldo. If you missed Saturday's broadcast, it can be viewed via

This post first appeared in Indy Week.

Avett Brother Joe Kwon talks about cooking whole hogs, which he'll do for the second time next weekend

Joe Kwon gets schooled by Sam Jones
 on how to finish whole hog
barbecue at TerraVita.

Last month at Chapel Hill's TerraVita Food & Drink Festival, hundreds of people signed up to take scheduled classes with leading chefs and food advocates from across the South.

Joe Kwon was not among them. The charismatic cellist for The Avett Brothers instead took advantage of a break in touring to attend barbecue school at the elbow of his friend, legendary pitmaster Sam Jones ofSkylight Inn in Ayden and the new Sam Jones Barbecue, which opens Tuesday in Winterville. Jones smoked a huge hog for TerraVita's Hill Fire dinner at Carrboro's Town Commons, which paired him with Raleigh's Ashley Christensen for a showstopper combination of pork and collard greens over heirloom popcorn spoon bread. 

Kwon spent the day soaking up wood smoke and drinking beer with a cluster of friends, all gathered around Jones' smoker. He took notes in his tablet and, along with a handful of folks fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, stood in wide-eyed wonder to watch his friend chop and season massive quantities of moist, flavorful pork.

He will apply the lessons he learned next weekend when he cooks a pig for Wild Yonder's Friendship Feast & Campout. (For details on and tickets for the Nov. 21–22 event in Mebane, click here.) Kwon called from Wisconsin, between shows on the Avetts' tour, to talk about his lifelong love of barbecue and his deep respect for Jones' well-earned acclaim.

INDYWhen you built your home in downtown Raleigh, it was important to you to have dedicated space for outdoor entertaining and your smoker, made by Alabama pitmaster Nick Pihakis.
JOE KWON: I've always admired people who had these. I've had this long relationship with North Carolina barbecue from an early age, because of where I grew up in Winston-Salem. I loved going out to eat barbecue because it was so different from the Korean barbecue we ate at home. And today, I love cooking barbecue for friends at my home.

How did you connect with Sam Jones?
In my mind, Sam Jones is the gold standard of barbecue. When I met him, I realized he's married to the sister of someone in my circle from my days with Big Pretty and the Red Rockets [Kwon's band before joining The Avett Brothers]. It was this very chance meeting, but I also know him through Ashley Christensen.

He's the friggin' godfather of barbecue, and we've become good friends. I told him, "I would love to sit with you one day and learn to do this." So that's what we did at TerraVita. We talked and drank beer and I took a lot of notes in my iPad. I've cooked pig before—well, piece— but never a whole hog. It's a very different experience.

Have you had a chance to practice before cooking for the Wild Yonder event?
I did. Five days later, Raleigh Architecture (which designed his house) hosted an event and asked me to cook a pig. It was a good opportunity for me to try out what I learned. I messed up some, but it was amazing. Now all I want to do is cook pig. It's so calming. There's a great camaraderie sitting around the fire.

How did you mess up?
It was a big pig, at least 160 pounds, maybe more like 180. It barely fit on my cooker. I had a flame up in the last 15 minutes and lost all the skin. It was tragic. I was cursing up a storm. The skin is the best part. It's the crunch in all that juicy meat. That's why I need redemption at Wild Yonder.

What was the biggest surprise about the process?
The thing I've learned is the hardest part is getting the sauce mixture just right. I thought you premixed the sauce, but Sam pours it on after he's done most of the chopping. I was blown away. I thought, "That's the part. That's the secret." 

While it was tough to guess ratios, Sam Jones made no secret of his sauce ingredients: apple cider vinegar, Texas Pete's, iodized table salt and pre-ground black pepper—standard items of the Southern pantry.
That's the beauty of how amazing his barbecue is. It's so simple but it's so multi-dimensional. The texture is so amazingly soft and juicy, but at that same time, you've got these crunchy bits of skin and the fat. It's really what sets it apart. 

Sam Jones' portable barbecue gear at TerraVita.
You'll also be preparing Korean-style grilled short ribs to share the flavors of your family's table. What do you think about the wide array of commercial Korean-style barbecue sauces? 
Oh, no, never. It's so easy to make yourself that there's just no excuse to not try it. [See recipe below.]  My mother made this all the time when we were growing up. It's something you can pull together on a weeknight in 30 minutes, but it's really much better if you give the meat more time to marinate. Give it a quick grill and dinner's ready.

Beef short ribs used to be really cheap. Now, everyone wants to eat short ribs so the price has gone up. It's important to get them cut across the bone so you get three or four pieces per rib. Very few places will sell that. I always go to S-Mart in Cary. They cut them nice and thin, which is how I like them.

Other than flavor profile, what's the biggest difference between Korean and North Carolina barbecue?
Korean barbecue is really fast. I still love it and make it all the time. But for me, that long process of cooking North Carolina barbecue is a more satisfying experience. It's about sitting there, putting the time in. That's a big part of the soul of it. 

Your mother will mark her 70th birthday on Saturday. What's for dinner?
Skylight Inn is catering barbecue for us, and we're getting some sides from Beasley's (Chicken + Honey). I'd love to cook it myself, but I'll get back into town at 2, and the party's at 5. I'll be lucky to get home, take a shower and change clothes, and get there in time to help set up.

Joe Kwon's Galbi: Korean-style BBQ Short Ribs
5 lbs. beef short ribs, cut across the bone into thin pieces
10 tbs. sugar
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 onion, grated
2 stalks green onion, diced
8 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tbs. toasted sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel garlic and onion; mince the garlic and grate the onion. Transfer half of the garlic and onion to a small mixing bowl or cup, then add soy sauce, 5 tablespoons sugar, sesame oil, green onion. Mix well and set aside.

Arrange spare ribs in a large, deep dish and evenly distribute the remaining sugar, plus salt and pepper, on all the ribs. Then sprinkle on remaining onion and garlic; let the beef sit 15 minutes. Pour the marinade over the beef, coating each piece. Cover and place in refrigerator at least 30 minutes or several hours before grilling.

Remove ribs from marinade, shaking off excess liquid. Grill to a nice medium, about 4-5 minutes per side, and serve with short grain rice and kimchi. 

This post first appeared in Indy Week.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Comfort me in cooking: Ruth Reichl rediscovers the life affirming call of her kitchen

Ruth Reichl
(Photo by Fiona Aboud)
We've all sought consolation from disappointment in food. For Ruth Reichl, the act of cooking became a life saver of sorts. A glamorous career of writing for some of the country's most distinguished food publications crashed without warning in October 2009, when Condé Nast pulled the plug on Gourmet. Reichl had been the magazine's editor for 10 years, elevating the publication to cult status among its devoted readers.

Obligated nonetheless to a press tour to promote the then-new Gourmet Cookbook, a massive tome featuring more than 1,000 recipes, Reichl repeatedly answered the same questions from bereaved subscribers and curious reporters: How she was holding up? 

Not very well, actually. It wasn't until she got home that Reichl began to feel clarity about her circumstances. 

"And so I did what I always do when I'm confused, lonely or frightened: I disappeared into the kitchen," she writes in My Kitchen Life: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, her new cookbook and memoir. She allowed herself to rediscover and luxuriate in ingredients and techniques set aside during a demanding career. "When you pay attention," she says, "cooking becomes a meditation." 

As demonstrated in previous memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, Reichl has one of the most engagingly familiar narrative voices in food. Post Gourmet, it has connected her with an adoring online community that thrills to her haiku-like daily tweets at @RuthReichl. And now, in a move uncommon for cookbooks, publisher Random House has even issued My Kitchen Life as an audiobook.

"We actually don’t do many cookbooks in audio format because it usually doesn’t lend itself well to being read aloud," says Alex Chernin, her publicist. "We did Ruth’s because of the narrative aspect."

While Reichl's voice becomes an earworm as she shares her story of redemption through cooking, it's equally appealing to hear how she describes each recipe. Instead of listing components, Reichl describes each conversationally in the audio version, as if she was standing by your side. You can practically sense an ingredient's virtual ripeness and heady aroma, as well as hear the satisfying sizzle when it hits oil waiting on a hot skillet. 

Recipes are collected by season, starting with the fall, because that's when she learned that Gourmetwould cease publication. Among the most appealing in this chapter is one that were cooked by Chef Colin Bedford of Fearrington House for a Cooks & Books luncheon, presented in collaboration with McIntyre's Fine Books. 

"Butternut squash is more than merely colorful. It cooks down into a wonderfully textured soup: soft, thick, almost creamy," Reichl says, making it sound irresistibly luscious. "Requiring nothing more than water, it makes the luxurious vegan dish I know."

Butternut Squash Soup
(From My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl Copyright © 2015 by Ruth Reichl. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc.) 

Shopping list: 
1 stalk celery, 2 carrots, 1 pound butternut squash, 1/2 pound potatoes

Staples: 1 onion, olive oil, salt

Begin by coarsely chopping an onion, a stalk of celery and 2 carrots; you don’t have to be fussy about this since you’re going to end up pureeing everything. Slick the bottom of a casserole or Dutch oven with olive oil, add the vegetables and let them tumble into tenderness, which should take about ten minutes.

Peel a pound of butternut squash and cut it into 3/4 inch or so cubes. Peel half pound of waxy potatoes (Yukon Golds are good), and cut into chunks of the same size. Stir them into the vegetables in the casserole, add a couple teaspoons of sea salt and 2 1/2 cups of boiling water, cover and simmer until everything is very soft. This will take about half an hour.

Very carefully puree the soup in a blender, in small batches, making sure the top of the blender is secure (hot soup can be painful).

Taste for seasoning and serve drizzled with a few drops of olive oil and/or good balsamic vinegar. A crisp dice of apples on top makes this look lovely and adds a very pleasing note of sweetness. (Diced pickled walnuts also make a wonderful topping.)

This post first appeared in Indy Week.