Monday, April 9, 2012

Sheri Castle earns a culinary crown from IACP

A week ago today, Sheri Castle was in New York City attending a glamorous ceremony. She was seated among some of the most celebrated names in the food world, trying to not dwell on what was about to happen, when her own name was announced as a recipient of a 2012 award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
Sheri Castle

On Sunday, however, she was back in Chapel Hill, doing laundry and driving her daughter to the movies.

“Back to reality,” said with a laugh. “It’s OK. I’ll never forget how it felt. It was like that deep down from the center of your core grin. To have an award of any kind is such a pleasure, but to be with a group I admire this much really is very special.”

Castle, a founding member of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOP NC), was honored along with a cluster of writers at Gilt Taste responsible for the “Eats Shoots and Leaves” series. Her story, Apple Core Values, was posted in October.  

“It was very gratifying to be recognized by IACP for crafting good recipes,” Castle said. “They gave us each a certificate – a blue certificate in a blue envelope, suitable for framing. Carrying it around that evening really gave me a great deal of pride. People I have admired for years came up to congratulate me and to say what a big deal it is.”

This was one of several awards earned by Gilt Taste, launched less than a year ago by former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl to fill the culinary chasm left by the magazine’s demise. “To be affiliated with them feels so good, and working with Francis Lam is the best,” Castle said. “I’ve never worked with a better editor.”

A few months after the April 2011 release of her The New Southern Garden Cookbook (UNC Press), Castle met Lam at the Greenbrier’s annual Symposium for Professional Food Writers, a major industry event. Lam said he sought her out become a Gilt Taste contributor.

Francis Lam
“I love her smart, approachable way with food, her humor and her voice,” Lam said by email from New York. “The pieces she's done for us all feel like a friend is walking you through her favorite new recipe.”

Castle recalled being intrigued by the theme of “Eating Shoots and Leaves,” which focuses on using the parts of a fruit or vegetable that usually are discarded. She’s invested considerable research and testing time for her next topic, due this week: potato peelings.

“It may run in a few days or a few weeks, so stay tuned,” she joked. “One thing I can say is I’ve learned is that your average three-pound bag of potatoes yields two firmly packed cups of peelings.”

Castle is gratified by the response that being on the Gilt Taste team has brought – not just the IACP award, but also the broad recognition.

“I’ve written things for other publications that I would have thought would get more notice, but people really read Gilt Taste,” she said. “I considered myself very fortunate. It’s too simple to say I was just lucky, but there was a lot of luck involved.”

Lucky is the last thing Castle feels when she sits down to write. “I think a lot of writers are incredibly neurotic, tortured people. I don’t know which causes which,” she said with a laugh. “It’s not that I don’t think my stuff is good, but I’m not one of those people who get excited about looking at a blank page.

“I work out of lot of things in my head before I ever start writing,” she added. “Even in a round room, I’ll find a way to back myself into a corner. If I have 90 days, I’ll use the last nine.”

Castle's demanding schedule is equally responsible for her writing habits. In the last nine months, she has edited two cookbooks, tested recipes for two more, and logged more than 27,000 miles on her trusty Volvo driving to judge contests, teach classes and sign copies of her book.

“It continues to amaze me how much people enjoy the book,” she said, humbly discounting both her skill as a recipe writer and the book’s resurgent appeal for those who support local growers at farmer’s markets. Castle still does occasional demonstrations at regional markets, including the Saturday Carrboro Farmer's Market where she used to be a fixture a decade ago.

“It’s still fun for me, and it’s wonderful to meet people who are fans of my work,” she said. “Actually, I came home with two resolutions from IACP. One is that I have got to tweet more to stay connected with people who are so kind to support me.”

And the other? “To get a phone from this century, which I think will make the former easier,” she said. “I’m about one step up from Dixie cups and string, but I’m working on it.”

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