Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cooking old-school with fire can teach much about modern foodways

Food historian Paula Marcoux will talk about how paying attention to historic cooking can improve contemporary home cooking at 7pm Wednesday at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. The event is the season opening meeting of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOPNC). Admission is free and Marcoux will sign copies of her book, Cooking With Fire: From Roasting on a Spit to Baking in a Tannur, Rediscovered Techniques and Recipes That Capture the Flavors of Wood-Fired Cooking. 

After a long humid summer, we all crave fall. Leaves already are beginning to change color and loosen. 

Pine straw soon will follow. So when those needles carpet your yard, do what Paula Marcoux does: Set them on fire.

“Some people are wary of digging a fire pit or cooking in the fireplace, but everyone seems to get the idea of cooking mussels with pine straw," says Marcoux, a food historian who shares her passion for primal cooking methods in her book,Cooking With Fire: From Roasting on a Spit to Baking in a Tannur, Rediscovered Techniques and Recipes that Capture the Flavors of Wood-Fired Cooking (Storey Publishing).

Pine-Needle Mussels from Paula Marcoux's website.
Marcoux made the dramatic meal for an episode of the aptly named Man Food Fire on the Cooking Channel. She's also made it several times during her book tour and recommends it as an easy way for newbies to try cooking with live fire.

Many people embrace it because there are no tools needed," says Marcoux, whose book includes step-by-step photos how to arrange the mussels and pine straw. "A lot of people say they want to jump right in and build an oven. I try to back them off from that and try less expensive or labor intensive methods. People with fireplaces have huge opportunities to try a lot of the recipes without making big changes or an investment."

Marcoux just led an extraordinary fireplace cooking presentation at Monticello, the Virginia estate of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a lover of fine food and wine who is credited for introducing many European delicacies and cooking methods to colonial America. The original kitchen fireplace remains at the historic site but is not often used.

"One of the barriers is that no one wants to be the one to burn it down," she jokes. "But it's a really safe arrangement. With ordinary precautions, they can have a very vibrant exhibit there. I'm happy to know that I was a small part in possibly opening this up in the future."

Marcoux worked on the menu with Dr. Leni Sorensen, a fellow scholar who is cooking her way through The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook by Mary Randolph. First published in 1838, it is generally recognized as the first truly American cookbook. She followed its directions to prepare a sumptuous meal of roast leg of lamb, okra and tomatoes, sweet potatoes on a griddle and burnt cream, the latter being an Americanized crème brulee.

"It was an amazing, awe-inspiring honor to cook in the actual Monticello kitchen," she says. "It's a very simple hearth, and they also have a stew stove with air blowing up beneath it. It's a much more precise way of cooking and keeping temperature under control. I made a butter sauce on it, something you have to pay attention to."

While Marcoux cooks with an eye on history, Cooking With Fire is written for the modern cook who wants to broaden their understanding of cooking over an open fire. 

"It's surprised me how many people who have told me that they built a fire pit in their yard – and that they view it as a really nice feature," Marcoux says. "I think there is renewed interest because many chefs and bakers are going back to cooking with wood fuel. The flavor can't be matched any other way."

Marcoux is strongly opposed to cooking with a gas grill. "Using them always reminds me how much I hate them," she says. "Even the expensive ones just don't get hot enough. And if you use the lid, it steams instead of grills. The crappiest little hibachi and coal is better." 

If you don't have a hibachi and aren't keen on mussels, Marcoux suggests banking dry wood in an old kettle-style grill to get a taste of the live-fire cooking experience.

"They're not made for such high heat, so it will burn out" she warns. "But if you keep watch, people are always throwing away parts of old grills. I have quite a few, myself. I also collect heavy cast iron pans from people who say they are too heavy to use. If you don't cook directly on a grate, there's nothing better than a heavy cast iron pan."

And there's always your fireplace – or a friend's fireplace, if your home does not have one. "No one thinks to cook in their fireplace, but it won't destroy it to grill a steak or roast a chicken," she says. "You can learn quite a bit by cooking the way they did hundreds of years ago."

Pine-Needle Mussels
Excerpted from “Cooking with Fire” by Paula Marcoux, photography by Keller + Keller, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

In October, the pitch pines and white pines around our house drop a beautiful puffy mat of russet needles. It takes but a few minutes to gather up the pile needed to have this kind of fun. This is an irresistible introduction for newbies of any age to both cooking with fire and eating shellfish.

About 4 or 5 pounds of fresh mussels in the shell

6 to 10 servings, as an appetizer

1. Gather 1/2 to 1 bushel nice dry pine needles.

2. We like to set this up directly on an outdoor wooden table, but you can use a large board (say 3 by 3 feet) or a very flat large stone. Be aware that you will leave a pretty good scorching on whatever surface you select. Also look around before you start to make sure that you will not inadvertently set something else on fire; have a bucket of water handy just in case.

3. Place something small and stable in the middle of the board; a quarter of a brick, a small oblong stone, a half of a potato, cut side down, a small cube of stale bread . . . Arrange the mussels around it, leaning against the supporting object, with their pointy ends sticking upward. Continue arranging all the mussels in a concentric manner. Many hands make quick work and add to the fun.

4. Now let everyone scatter the pine needles evenly, and as deeply as possible, over the top of the mussels. Give a brief safety lecture, then take a single coal from whatever fire you have burning nearby and deposit it deep in the mountain of pine needles, directly on top of the little support in the middle. (If for some reason you don’t have a fire already burning somewhere, just use a match.) Stand back; these babies really go up.

5. That’s it. When the fire dies down, within the smoking ruins lies a tasty appetizer. Resiny-smoky, briny, delicious. I once tried offering toast and remoulade sauce as accompaniments, but was soundly rebuffed with cries of “they’re too good alone!”

6. If for some reason there’s a cool spot in the fire and some of the mussels don’t open, gather them up and rearrange them with new pine needles for a quick encore pyre.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hadassah speaker to describe Jewish cooking around the world, from generation to generation

Greta Schiffman will be the guest speaker for the Greater Wake County Chapter of Hadassah at an event to celebrate its new community cookbook: l’dor v’dor: from biscuits to briskets. Greta will talk about Jewish food around the world at 7 p.m. Sept. 9 at Temple Beth Or, 5315 Creedmoor Road, Raleigh. The event is free and light refreshments from the cookbook will be provided. 
Copies of the cookbook, which features more than 300 recipes from members, will be sold for $20 each. Proceeds benefit Hadassah Hospitals and vital medical research underway in Israel.

Some people think cooking fresh food for their family is a drag. Not Greta Schiffman.

“Cooking has always been a joy and an adventure,” says Greta, a retired kosher caterer who has lived and cooked around the world. “Also, why go out when I can prepare meals better with better ingredients?”

It wasn’t always like that, however. Greta and her sister both didn’t start cooking until they left home as their mother was a bit territorial about her kitchen. “She had a hard time sharing,” Greta says. “She wasn’t a gourmet cook, but she was a phenomenal baker. I think she felt that if she taught us to bake we wouldn’t ask her to help us with our baking.”

Greta Schiffman
Her mother’s baked goods were well known in their hometown of Poughkeepsie, located in upstate New York near the Culinary Institute of America. In fact, when their synagogue would have bake sales, most of her contributions were sold before people ever got through the door.

“Her rugelach and especially her yeast cakes were very good,” she recalls. “She was an ethnic cook who learned from her mother, who was Russian. They used to put up yeast cakes for the Sabbath. I remember that, those yeast cakes would be sitting Thursday night on the radiator when I was a little girl.”

Greta, a former public school teacher, became avid about taking cooking classes, often from chefs at top restaurants.  She and her husband, Saul, enjoyed entertaining, which gave her a chance to show off new skills. People often begged for her recipes, saying her food was better than anything they could buy in area restaurants and shops.

As Greta’s skill and confidence grew, she chaired cooking committees for her synagogue and civic organizations. It became a constant in her life when, as her husband’s career advanced, they moved every few years.

In the 1980s, when the Schiffmans lived in Tampa, Fla., she quit teaching and started baking and cooking for friends at her new temple. Before long, she partnered with a woman to create Simply Delicious, a kosher catering business. The start-up was flourishing when Saul was transferred to Japan.

“I told him he’s ruining my life,” quips Greta, who soon found work teaching English to women through Western cooking classes. “I learned a lot about Japanese cooking and traditional ikebana floral arranging, but all they wanted to know was how we cook and entertain in the US.”

When they returned to the states, the Schiffmans moved to Raleigh. She worked part-time baking for a small catering business that grew into the Tuxedo Café at the old North Hills shopping center.  When the business was sold, she started baking at the Irregardless Café.

Raleigh remained their base while Saul’s career took them back to Japan and later to Australia. They are both retired now.

“I’ve always found cooking very therapeutic, especially baking,” she says. “But I’ve worn out my hands. I’ve had two hand operations. Also, my husband was tired of his car always smelling like food.”

Greta was always protective of her recipes while working as a caterer, but she has shared several of her best that are included in l’dor v’dor: from biscuits to briskets, the new community cookbook published by the Greater Wake County Chapter of Hadassah.

“I am happy to be part of it,” says Greta, whose three daughters are excellent cooks like their mother. “It’s a really wonderful thing to add l’dor v’dor to my collection of cookbooks. I have books from different Jewish organizations, including National Hadassah, and one from my temple in Poughkeepsie from many years ago that I still use all the time.

“Someone just asked me about getting a copy of l’dor v’dor, and they’re not even Jewish. They wanted to have a really good exposure to Jewish cooking,” she adds. “It’s good to have so many great Jewish recipes to treasure and share.”

If you are unable to attend the Sept. 9 event but would like to order copies of l'dor v'dor: from biscuits to briskets at $20 each, send a check made out to Greater Wake County Chapter of Hadassah to: Rita Kessler, 10504 Parsley Court, Raleigh 27614. For information about our Hadassah chapter, please visit our website or follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Weekend: Slingshot opens a morning hangout

This post first appeared in Indy Week.
Rain fell steadily the Friday night that Slingshot Coffee owner Jenny Bonchak welcomed fans and friends to her new Raleigh headquarters at 1420 N. Brookside Drive. She and husband Jonathan Bonchak couldn't show off the comfy sofa and chairs purchased for its new outdoor coffee shop, Weekend, but no one seemed to care.
Jenny Bonchak, the founder and CEO of Slingshot,
makes a pour over. (Indy Week photos by Jeremy M. Lange)
Supporters gladly crowded into the 1,000-square foot production room and gamely stood under a canopy of trees on the new patio to admire the sylvan view of a stretch of Crabtree Creek. They simply were too busy enjoying themselves, drinking coffee and beer, nibbling pork or vegan barbecue sandwiches, and listening to Stu McLamb of The Love Language perform a solo set.
The party is over, but the coffee continues to flow. The aptly named Weekend is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Patrons appreciate the opportunity to have bean options and hot pour-over coffee made by Jonathan, who works for Counter Culture Coffee in Durham. Jenny pours cold Slinghot from a series of taps topped with actual slingshots.
"This is a chance for Jonathan and I to do something we've dreamed about for years—standing beside each other, making coffee in a coffee bar. Our coffee bar," she says.
In the coming weeks, Weekend will feature new menu items, such as herbal infusions and granita-like coffee slushies. They also serve baked goods from Yellow Dog Bakery, their North Person neighbor, including scones and Pop-Tart-inspired pastries.
Bonchak started brewing Slingshot two years ago in a now-closed restaurant during its off hours. A few months later, she moved to a 150-square-foot production room inside Oak City Cycling. The new location, which she thinks will also allow for future growth, was made possible by the company's first significant investor: John Replogle, president and CEO of Seventh Generation, a maker of environmentally friendly household products.
A customer enjoys a leisurely
sip on 
Weekend's patio.
"It's been amazing to have someone like that who not only is providing resources, but is providing a sounding board for me to talk through things," Bonchak says. "With his advice, I really feel like we're able to take a huge step forward."
When Bonchak launched Slingshot just two years ago, she would leave her day job and work through the night to bottle one batch and start brewing another. As a Valentine's Day gift to herself, she quit that job on Feb. 14. She now has three part-time employees, including one in Atlanta, and distributes Slingshot to retailers from Pennsylvania to Florida.
For this venture, Bonchak knows that her spouse is more than the average supportive husband. "You don't win the Brewer's Cup regionals twice in a row, and place at nationals, unless you really love making the very best coffee for people," she says with pride. "It's great to be able to do all this side by side."
The Bonchaks view Weekend's comfortable setting as an extension of their own nearby home. It's also pet friendly, with water bowls and a jar of dog biscuits next to the station with cream and simple syrup.
"Frank the beagle wouldn't have it any other way," Bonchak says of the couple's gregarious pup, who has his own Twitter account. "We love to be outside and entertain with friends, and we wanted the same feel for Weekend. We hope people will want to hang out here, enjoy some coffee, read the paper and just unwind."
Hannah Elmore stopped by with her husband, Jack, and their 2-month-old son, Roy, on their way to the State Farmer's Market. They got two coffees and a bottle of chilled Cascara Tea to go, along with a pair of Slingshot T-shirts. "We follow Slingshot on Instagram and were so excited when we heard Weekend was open," she says. "We love great coffee, so we'll definitely be back."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Downtown Raleigh Restaurant Week returns

Raleigh restaurant lovers are counting the days until the start of Downtown Raleigh Restaurant Week, Aug. 18-24. That’s #DRRW, for those of you inclined to share your dining experiences online.

Forty eateries have signed on this year, including some of the Capital City’s best known and most upscale establishments and a few newcomers. Prix fixe menus offer flexible three-course dinners for $20 or $30, varying by location, and generally include vegetarian choices. Optional beer and wine pairings also are available.

Reservations are strongly recommended as these bargains tend to make busy restaurants even busier. Not all participants have their menus posted yet but visit the restaurant link of DRRW’s website for contact information.

Among the best deals for the $20 dinners can be found in the hopping Glenwood South neighborhood. At 518 West, Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne will present shrimp polenta, eggplant parmesan or pasta saltimbocca. Around the corner, the globally inspired menu at Chef Steve Day’s Plates Neighborhood Kitchen also satisfies with choices like smoked duck breast carbonara and homey chicken and dumplings, as well as the irresistible sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

The Oakz, one of the newest eateries on the list, serves a changing a menu that features different US regional cuisines. The father-and-daughter duo of Ira Freedman and Jaclyn Sterritt offer both $20 and $30 options. The latter includes such temptations as fried duck and waffles or seared scallops with fried sweet corn polenta and mango relish.

Options abound in the $30 category. Always wanted to dine at Second Empire, one of Raleigh’s top special occasion locations? Here’s your chance to pull up a chair in the historic house located steps from the State Capitol, where you’ll experience Chef Daniel Shurr’s luxe approach with the “off the hook” daily catch or roasted Springer Farms chicken.

The hip hospitality and authentic Laotian food served at Bida Manda at Moore Square make it one of Raleigh’s most popular destination eateries. Chef Lon Bounsanga presents challenges for diners at every course: crispy pork belly soup or green papaya salad? Seafood pad Thai or fried North Carolina whole fish? Don’t fret. It’s all good.

ORO Restaurant in the PNC Building focuses on shareable tapas in a glitzy setting that transfix people passing by its tall windows. Start with smoky ribs or a cup of yellow tomato soup before building up to a New York strip doused with a bok choy peppercorn sauce or grilled salmon with jicama citrus salad and passion fruit sauce.

In addition to participating in the $20/$30 dinner deals, two restaurants are offering a $65 Elite Experience with five-course meals and wine pairings. Both feature Italian fare with four fourth-course options.

Jimmy V’s Osteria + Bar is located in the ground level of the Sheraton Hotel on Fayetteville Street, across from the Raleigh Convention Center. Chef Michael Kuilan’s modern Italian-American menu is meant to capture the spirit of its namesake, the late NC State University basketball coach Jim Valvano.  Choices include lobster mac & cheese and short rib ragout.

Tuscan Blu is a DRRW stalwart located in the Warehouse District. Chef Maurizio Privilegi’s house-made pastas star in a third-course trio of fiocchi (“purses” filled with goat cheese and pear) and oversized ravioli. Main course options include braised ossobuco over risotto and branzino (baked sea bass).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blaze of glory: Pizzeria Toro readies to re-open after fires

This post first appeared in Indy Week.

Gray Brooks at Pizzeria Toro
(Indy Week photo by Justin Cook)
The stink of wet smoke may never entirely clear from Gray Brooks' head. But inside Pizzeria Toro, which closed for repairs last November after a second fire, the air is dusted with the promising scent of rebuilding.
"The biggest change was right here," says the chef and co-owner of the artisan pizzeria. He is pointing to a large, gleaming pipe that will vent smoke and heat out of the restaurant—straight up 32 feet to the roof of the building he's loved since he was a child. "This is why we were closed for so long."
Pizzeria Toro is tentatively scheduled to reopen by July 21. It might be a few days earlier, if Brooks is satisfied with test batches of dough. He promises it will not be more than a few days later if he is not.
Brooks still has not seen a final report from his insurance company, but he suspects the design of the original vent at least contributed to the fire. Building codes are vague about wood-fired ovens, he says, and the original vent zigzagged seven times before it reached the open air. Each bend created cozy pockets for creosote and ash.
Seven months after opening to popular and critical acclaim, the first fire sparked overnight in April 2013. A second, smaller fire started during dinner service in November. It was quickly controlled but forced Pizzeria Toro to close.
The Durham native started crafting upscale pizza in 1988 at Pepper's in Chapel Hill. He later moved to the Outer Banks and ran Pepper's sister operation, Pie in the Sky, in Ocracoke.
Eventually, he needed a change. A friend who lived in Seattle was looking for help with a few carpentry projects at his house. Brooks figured he would visit for a few weeks and take a look around. He wound up staying 15 years.
He planned to spend much of his time writing but soon discovered he didn't like spending hours on end by himself. "There's a connection to people that I was really addicted to," he says. "For me, being in the kitchen feeds that need."
Brooks quickly found a favorite restaurant, Dahlia Lounge, the flagship of Chef Tom Douglas' culinary empire. Before long, he talked his way into a kitchen job. He worked his way up through various positions and eventually was asked to take over Serious Pie, Douglas' then-new artisan pizza place.

"I was planning to open a similar thing in Seattle myself," Brooks recalls. "I had a building. I had investors. But I thought to myself, I could buy a basic car and maybe wreck it, or I could learn how to drive his really nice car. It made sense to me to stay with him."
Brooks rediscovered his passion for making great, slow-rising dough. "It's all about using your brain and the best ingredients," he says. "I was really happy there."
Still, Brooks longed for home. He imagined himself opening a pizzeria in Five Points, a part of town he always loved as a kid. His family used to eat at the Plaza Restaurant, a space now occupied by the Cupcake Bar. On either side, he recalls, was a tailor and a teacher's supply store.
He told his mother that if she ever saw a sign on the building to let him know. She did better than that. At a cocktail party, she overheard Durham architect Scott Harmon talk about updating the property. She jumped right in and staked her son's claim.
"She told him I always wanted to be part of this building," he recalls. "She asked him to wait until I could call him."
The timing could not have been better. Durham's downtown dining scene was on an upswing and artisan pizza was a new concept for the area. Brooks' reputation as a perfectionist was evident from the bottom of his thin, charred crust to the array of seasonal, locally grown ingredients that lightly topped his pizzas. The impressive antipasti and selection of Italian wines and cocktails helped, too. The buzz grew quickly, drawing lines of patrons willing to wait for a seat at the long community table.
At the height of it all, the second fire brought things to a sudden, depressing halt. Still, Brooks says insurance has enabled him and his partners to come back, and the generosity of other restaurateurs gave many of his employees a place to work in the interim.
"We had an amazing team, and nearly everyone is coming back—including Emily Barnard, who made the desserts everyone fell in love with," he says. "We'll open with what we know then get back up to speed quickly."
Several of the red- or white-sauced mainstays from the old menu will be available, including his personal favorite, anchovy with no cheese. They'll also have plenty of the popular Tuscan kale salad.
Brooks is gratified by the excitement that has been building over Pizzeria Toro's return.
"Honestly, the support from people on the street, the kind words is what kept us from falling into a dark place. It was incredible before, and it's even more meaningful to me now," he adds, pausing to shake hands with workers as they walk by. "I really believe it's going to be better than before."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Brunch in Winston-Salem: Sweet Potatoes & Mary’s Gourmet Diner

This post first appeared in Our State magazine.


In the past decade, Winston-Salem’s downtown Arts District awoke from a long slumber to become a vibrant swath of galleries, shops, bars and restaurants. But come Sunday morning, it’s so quiet that you can almost hear an egg crack.

While most business are dark, the hungry are seeking brunch in Winston-Salem. They flock to Trade Street for the kind of down-home, hearty and indulgent fare you can only justify once a week. But oh, it’s so worth it.

The line forms early on the sidewalk outside of Sweet Potatoes, the first restaurant to open in the once desolate district in 2003. Friends and like-minded strangers pass the time comparing notes on intended orders. When co-owner Vivián Joyner ushers them in at 10:30 a.m., it feels like a homecoming.

A few blocks down at Mary’s Gourmet Diner, which opens at 10, diners are already slathering biscuits with apple butter and enjoying their second cup of Krankies coffee. You can easily spot the first-timers by the expression of joyful shock when their generous orders arrive.

 “We don’t want anyone to go away hungry,” says owner Mary Haglund in grand understatement. Haglund says they cook 15 dozen cases of locally-raised eggs each week. That’s more than 2,100 eggs. And they start each day making biscuits from 10 pounds of flour; on weekends, they fix as many as four batches to keep pace with demand.

Popular “build your own” brunch omelets feature four locally-raised eggs and a choice of at least three add-ins – from a list of nearly 40 options – plus a choice of bread. Most dishes come with a side, such as a deep bowl of creamy grits with jalapeno pimento cheese, a mountain of hash browns or stack of apple-smoked crisp bacon. Tempeh, tofu and a true garden variety of vegetarian choices also abound.

While the weekday menu offers smaller and lower-priced versions of house specialties, the brunch-size portions are awe inspiring. Be sure to arrive hungry to if you plan to take on the Crispy Madame – ham and Swiss on grilled sourdough topped with white cheese sauce and a fried egg – or the signature Apple Butter Baby, a discovered-by-accident delight that tucks scrambled eggs, smoked sausage and house-made apple butter between slices of wheat toast.

Inspired by seasonal ingredients, Haglund often offers daily specials. On a recent visit, she riffed on the rich sausage gravy she ladles over biscuits to create a luscious alternative with plump shitake mushrooms. Southern food writer Nathalie Dupree, in town for Salute! The North Carolina Wine Celebration, declared it delicious.

Plump shitake mushrooms provide an appealing twist
on classic sausage gravy at Mary's Diner.
Not surprisingly, sweet potatoes figure prominently in the offerings at Sweet Potatoes, which plows through about 300 pounds of locally-grown tubers each week. There’s the towering stack of sweet potato pancakes (topped with fried chicken tenders, apple marmalade and ginger butter), the Un-French Toast made with sweet potato bread pudding and, of course, flaky sweet potato biscuits.

Not in the mood for sweet potatoes? Try the Uptown Oyster.
Not in the mood for North Carolina’s No. 1 crop? Indulge in the Uptown Oyster, a twist on traditional Benedict that tops Texas toast with gigantic fried oysters, bacon, scrambled eggs and country ham bordelaise. Perhaps the Creole-sauced fish and grits is more your speed? If you arrive after 12 noon, act like an in-the-know local and order the It’s a Sunday Thing! The plate-filling dish features half a buttermilk-brined fried chicken, spicy greens and, of course, a biscuit.

“It’s Sunday in the South. Got to have fried chicken,” jokes Vivián Joyner, who runs the front of the house – often carrying babies to give appreciative mothers a chance to enjoy their meal – while partner Stephanie Tyson cooks in the kitchen. “I’ve tried a lot of fried chicken. Let me tell you: Nobody makes fried chicken like Stephanie.”

Sweet Potatoes only started serving brunch a few years ago to satisfy customers who begged for it. Regulars barely glance at the menu, nodding their orders with the familiarity of one signaling a trusted barkeep. Newbies stressed out over what to order often find comfort from the concierge-like advice of servers, all of whom share a devout passion for food.

Whatever you choose, and no matter how stuffed you think you’ll be, do not skip appetizers. The fried green tomato and okra combo is a classic, and you’ve got to be strong to resist the Three-Cheese Macaroni and Country Ham Soufflé. The Freshly Fried Pork Rind Basket is insanely delicious, perhaps the best rendition you’ll taste this side of Oaxaca.

In the unlikely event you have leftovers,
be sure to get a take-out container.
“A Latin American woman who was here a few weeks ago for a conference ordered it,” Joyner recalls. “She told us that her poppy made them for her when she was a little kid and she hadn’t tasted anything like it since. She meant her grandfather, and she had tears in her eyes.
“We hear that about our biscuits and fried chicken, too,” Joyner adds. “It means so much to us to know that our food really means something so special to people.”

Remarkably, Sweet Potatoes has made this big impact in a very small space. The restaurant has just 13 tables and a small bar with a total of 50 seats. With no room to expand – it is sandwiched between two well-established businesses – it will remain a decidedly intimate space.

Mary’s Gourmet Diner first opened 14 years ago in a different, much smaller location as Breakfast Of Course. It converted a shuttered, former bank on Trade Street into its funky, art-filled space in 2010. Two years ago, Haglund added a large, canopied outdoor patio, increasing capacity to about 150 seats.

Despite this difference, Mary’s Gourmet Diner and Sweet Potatoes have a great deal in common. Both are women-owned businesses that contribute significantly to the growing success of their diverse community. And both feature chefs who are working on new cookbooks projected for 2015-16 release.

Joyner says Tyson is hard at work on her second book, which will focus on soul food. Her first, Well, Shut My Mouth! spotlights recipes from the restaurant, including its legendary biscuits.

Mary Haglund (left) and Nathalie Dupree, via Instagram
“Soul food is comfort food, and that’s something Stephanie really understands. She’s doing a lot of research now, and I get to have the privilege of tasting recipes,” Joyner says with a laugh. “So far, I’ve got to say, I’m pretty happy.”

Haglund’s project, a combination cookbook and memoir, will be her first. The working title is Mary Had a Little Restaurant.

“I’m just a housewife that wanted to run a restaurant,” Haglund says, downplaying her culinary skills. “I’ve been so fortunate to have their experience of watching my dream come true. I can’t wait to see what comes next.”


Mary’s Gourmet Diner

723 Trade St. NW, Winston-Salem
Open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday,
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

529 North Trade St., Winston-Salem

Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
For information about other things to see and do, contact Visit Winston-Salem at 336-728-4200 (toll-free, 866-728-4200) or info@visitwinstonsalem.org. Its office is located at 200 Brookstown Ave., Winston-Salem, and are open 8:30am to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Successful pastry chef started as a line cook

This post first appeared in Indy Week.
Amber Boone at Harvest 18
(Indy Week photo by Jeremy M. Lange)
As the chef-owner of three successful Triangle restaurants— 18 Seaboard and Cantina 18 in Raleigh, and now Harvest 18 in Durham—Jason Smith believes in the importance of using locally grown ingredients in his kitchen.
Recently, however, Smith took this passion for terroir further by making special arrangements to cultivate local talent, too. He realized that his dedicated young line cook at Cantina 18 would have to go elsewhere to complete a required co-op job through the Wake Tech culinary arts program, so he created a challenging new position for her as pastry chef at Harvest 18 (8128 Renaissance Parkway, Suite 114, Durham, 919-316-1818,harvestrestaurant.com).
"I really did not want to lose her," Smith says of Amber Boone, who joined his restaurant group two years as an intern while attending school full time. "I see her as part of the family, much in the way most of my people have stayed with me and grown in their careers. I see her as having a very bright future."
Twenty years ago, Smith was in a similar spot, working at Magnolia Grill alongside Chef Ben Barker, whose mentorship helped to launch many successful chefs. Smith is ensuring that Boone works in nearly every aspect of the business, from checking in deliveries and putting away goods to learning how the front of the house operates.
"I started at the bottom and am working my way up," says Boone, who hopes to eventually open her own bakery. "I learn something every day here."
Boone didn't cook much at home when she was young but was attracted to the industry by an uncle who owns a seafood restaurant in Savannah. "I really like the organization of the restaurant environment. It makes sense to me," she says. "Really, I didn't think much about baking until I was in the culinary program. I had to take general baking and I discovered that I really love it."
Boone changed the kitchen routine in her first weeks. She claimed a larger prep space for her evening work station, which gives her ample room to creatively plate her tempting treats, including a clever twist on a Dreamsicle—bright-tasting navel orange gelée topped with a creamy vanilla panna cotta and served in a canning jar. Summer brings an upside-down cake with naturally sweet Sungold tomatoes replacing old-school pineapple.
Though it only opened in March in a shopping center behind Southpoint Mall, Harvest 18 already is outselling Smith's flagship, the upscale 18 Seaboard, on dessert orders.
"I see Amber's desserts as bringing Harvest 18 to a new level," Smith says. "Customers can expect all kinds of seasonal items they won't find anywhere else; things that are more health conscious, too."
Boone has whipped up several new offerings in recent weeks. Early peaches have been the star attraction in a bread pudding made with scraps from Neomonde Bakery; Meyer lemon from Plant City, Fla., has been turned into a zesty cookie bar and topped with plump blueberries from Michigan's famed Rocky Point Farm.
Not tempted? How about rich, housemade chocolate ice cream smashed between a pair of cookies spiked with Raleigh-roasted Larry's Beans coffee beans?
Boone says access to a vast array of ingredients provides endless inspiration.
"Sometimes I'll get a text message when [Smith] is at the farmer's market, so I start thinking right away what I can do with whatever looks great that day," she says. "I don't have time to be intimidated. I'm doing my best to use my training, and the trust they're showing me, to come up with things that people will really enjoy."