Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Go Coastal: Author Paul Greenberg wants you to know more about the seafood you eat

For tickets and more information: about Farm to Fork weekend events, visit

There is a big difference between food found locally and true local food, especially when it comes to fish.

Author and sustainable fisheries advocate Paul Greenberg
will speak Friday and Saturday at Farm to Fork
While it may seem obvious that seafood comes from rivers, streams and oceans, it's not always so simple when consumers are accustomed to seeing it expertly trimmed and artfully displayed in grocery stores. Consider the ruby red salmon, often arranged center stage on a shimmering bed of ice. It looks as if it just leaped from a pristine river, mere inches from the swiping paws of a picture-perfect bear.
But unless it's labeled "wild caught," those posers actually were scooped from a massive breeding tank, some of them no closer to Alaska than Raleigh.

And that bag of bargain shrimp in the freezer case? Probably not from the Carolina coast or anywhere close. Check the fine print and you'll likely find it tagged from Thailand or one of many Southeast Asian operations with dubious environmental records. Mass industrialization has made common the practice of plumping meager shrimp with tripolyphosphate, a chemical that boosts portability but makes it weep milky water and become gummy when cooked.

Remember that the next time you crave "popcorn" shrimp, tiny versions of these same mass-produced creatures, which are made snackably crisp thanks only to deep-fried crust.

Paul Greenberg wants more consumers to learn not only how to recognize locally caught fish, but why purchasing it is so important. Author of American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood, which will be re-issued Tuesday in paperback, Greenberg says choosing fish from local waters not only delivers health and environmental benefits but also supports the fishermen who strive to ensure the long term sustainability of fisheries.

"People typically have thought of local food as land food. Know your farmer, know your food," says Greenberg, a featured speaker Friday and Saturday at the upcoming three-day Farm to Fork event, which celebrates local growers, providers and chefs. "But that circle of concern needs to be widened to include the coast and working waterfronts and fishermen."

Greenberg acknowledges that media scrutiny rightly fell on some fishermen in the 1980s and '90s because of overfishing at-risk species. Today, buying from fishmongers with relationships to fishermen who respect regulations that have improved conditions in the U.S.—and avoiding seafood grown in places that harm the environment by destroying mangrove forests and using bycatch for feed—is good for the whole world, he says.

"Do we want to outsource our fish, buying from countries that don't have good regulations or good environmental stewardship around aquaculture? Or do we want to pay a little bit more to responsible fishmongers by doing something that is good for the local economy and good for the overall environment we're trying to protect?" he says. "To me, the answer is clear that we need to support the work of local fishermen."

Greenberg credits the Triangle for being more savvy about sustainable seafood than much of the nation, thanks in large part to the Walking Fish CSF (community supported fishery), which began in 2009 at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment before taking its current structure in 2011. Its success led to other thriving businesses, notably Raleigh-based Locals Seafood.

"This movement was kind of born here," he says, stating that Walking Fish may have been the first contemporary venture in the nation to unite coastal fishermen to bring fresh catch to interested inland consumers who subscribe to weekly deliveries.

"Of course, once upon a time, we didn't have to call it CSF. It was just fishermen going out fishing and then you bought the fish," Greenberg says. "But because the commodity chain has gotten so long, we've had to create these sorts of things that seem radical in today's marketplace. The more local fisheries and fishermen who are supported, the better off we'll all be."


Friday, June 5, 6:30–9 p.m.: Bestselling author and sustainable fisheries advocate Paul Greenberg is guest of honor at a dinner prepared by five North Carolina chefs: Vivian Howard of Chef and the Farmer, Kinston; Chris Coleman of The Asbury, Charlotte; Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery and Hummingbird Bakery, Durham; Jay Pierce of Rocksalt, Charlotte; and David Bauer of Farm & Sparrow, Asheville. Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St., Durham

Saturday, June 6, 5–8:30 p.m.: A dinner prepared by chefs Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint, Durham, and James Clark of The Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill. Then Greenberg speaks about the state of the U.S. fishing industry followed by a panel discussion featuring North Carolina industry experts. The Rickhouse, 609 Foster St., Durham

Sunday, June 7, 4–7 p.m.: Farm to Fork Picnic pairs more than 30 chefs and 30 farmers for food tastings complemented by craft brewers, wine distributors and coffee producers. WC Breeze Family Farm, Hurdle Mills

This article appeared in Indy Week with the headline "Go coastal."

Monday, May 25, 2015

Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking marks milestone

Carolina Cornucopia, a Conference on Foodways of the Tar Heel State, will be held May 29-30 at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. The conference is free (there is an optional $40 dinner event) but registration is required . For details, visit

At right, 1985 jacket design of Bill Neal’s
Southern Cooking.  Moreton Neal says her
ex-husband used he electric stove below
which still works in the house now occupied by
their son, Matt Neal  of Neal’s Deli in Carrboro.
“I tell people, when they are interested in all
these fancy stoves and appliances, that Bill tested
every recipe for all of his books on a cheap
Sears electric stove,” she says.  “The point is,
it’s not the appliance; it’s the cook.”
If not for an argument, one of the most influential books on Southern regional cooking might never have been written."That book was formulated in his head and he wanted to leave to write it," says Gene Hamer, owner of Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill. "We were so busy with the restaurant. Bill was trying to carve out time to write when we went our separate ways."

Hamer is referring to Bill Neal, the self-taught chef who opened Chapel Hill's La Residence in 1976 with his then-wife Moreton Neal. The book, started a year after Hamer and Neal opened Crook's in 1982, was to become the culinary classic Bill Neal's Southern Cooking.

Hamer recalls that Neal wanted to move to New York for a few months, a notion Hamer deemed unreasonable as he had a new business to manage. Assuming they'd never work together again, Hamer bought out Neal's share of Crook's.

Neal actually returned to Crook's the following year, helping to launch a trajectory that led to the James Beard Foundation presenting its American Classic Award to the landmark in 2011.

"Bill needed a place to show off the book, and I needed his face," Hamer recalls. "The fact is, for the business to work, we needed each other. We renewed the bond of our friendship. I still miss him every day."

When the book was published in 1985 by the University of North Carolina Press, Craig Claiborne, influential food editor at The New York Times, wrote a lengthy article. Claiborne credited Neal for bringing deserved attention to Southern foodways, much in the same way that chef Alice Waters and Chez Panisse steered culinary interest toward newly minted "California cuisine."

Which was exactly what Neal wanted to hear.

"He resented that California was getting all the attention," recalls Moreton Neal, who introduced Neal to sophisticated Southern food in her native Mississippi. “Bill had an uncanny knack for getting ahead of a trend. He felt that if people would just go back to before World War II, before everything was processed and corn syrup and margarine got popular, they’d see that the South had an equally rich food heritage.”

Thirty years after its publication, Bill Neal's Southern Cooking will be the topic of a May 30 plenary session of the Carolina Cornucopia conference at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. The influential book defied the stereotypical beliefs about Southern food; largely, that all proteins are fried and all vegetables greased with fatback.

Shrimp and Grits at Crook's Corner
(photo courtesy @sally_cooks)
A classic example of Neal's enduring legacy is his recipe for Shrimp and Grits, variations of which have become ubiquitous at Southern restaurants. It remains on the Crook’s menu, where it continues to satisfy locals and dazzle diners who travel there for the express experience.

Fans also make pilgrimages to Neal's Deli in Carrboro, where they seek out Bill and Moreton Neal's son, owner Matt Neal. He recalls a chef from Cambridge, Massachusetts, stopping to visit and talk about how Southern Cooking was a touchstone in his own career.

"I didn't think that much about it, because it happens a lot," Matt Neal says. "But earlier this month I saw that Barry Maiden was named Best Chef Northeast by the James Beard Foundation. It kind of blew my mind. It's gratifying to my family that people are keeping this book alive."

Kim Severson
Bill Neal went on to write two more cookbooks and edited Through the Garden Gate, a compilation of columns by garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence, before his death in 1991 at age 41. Food writer Kim Severson of The New York Times says Southern Cooking remains his most important work.

“The book and Mr. Neal himself built the frame on which this latest Southern food revolution was built,” observes Severson, an ardent advocate of Southern fare who lives in Atlanta. “That book codified an elevation of Southern cooking that was quite true to the food.”

Chef Ben Barker considered the book so essential that it was required reading for new kitchen staff at Durham's now-closed Magnolia Grill.

"We felt that, if you were a native, it was a great way to re-visit the food of your region, or examine regional variations of classic dishes," Barker says. "And if you weren't a native, it is a historically accurate, well-written introduction to the larder and the cuisine. We often used the recipes as jumping off points for inspiration, or foundation, for dishes at the Grill."

Nathalie Dupree is a Charleston-based cookbook writer whose lifetime achievements led to her being inducted this month into the James Beard Foundation Who's Who of Food & Beverage. She says Southern Cooking broke new ground in distinguishing regional cuisines within the South and defining unique characteristics with roots in diverse populations, geography, agricultural potential and economics.

Nathalie Dupree
"It was an enormous breakthrough for our understanding of Southern food," Dupree says. "I think it is even more important today, in a sense, as so many of us were slow to realize the vast implications."

Moreton Neal, who wrote the 2004 cookbook/memoir Remembering Bill Neal: Favorite Recipes From a Life in Cooking, says he was thoroughly immersed in testing recipes and writing Southern Cooking. The book has since been revised and expanded by UNC Press.

“Before then, the best Southern recipes came from those little Junior League and church cookbooks, and they had very little detail,” Neal says. “I remember reading one of his recipes and thinking that it just went on and on. I didn’t think people would like it. But I was completely wrong. It turned out that it was quite an achievement.”

This first appeared in Indy Week.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nello's teams with Whitted Bowers Farm and Whole Foods to produce first certified biodynamic tomato sauce in U.S.

From left to right: Rob Bowers, Byrne Huddleston,
Cheri Whitted Bowers and Neal McTighe walk through
the Whitted Bowers certified organic and biodynamic
farm in Cedar Grove. The Whitted Bowers Farm
will produce tomatoes for Nello's Sauce.
(Indy Week photos by Alex Boerner)
The imminent arrival of local tomatoes has long served as a sad reminder of the limits of Neal McTighe's entrepreneurial dreams.
The maker of Nello's Sauce, a line of premium tomato sauces produced and bottled just north of Raleigh, sources his tomatoes from California, where they grow abundantly year round. The volume he needs—currently about 20,000 pounds each month—and North Carolina's relatively short growing season made his goal of using locally grown fruit unrealistic.

Until now. Just weeks after announcing that Whole Foods was expanding regional distribution of Nello's Sauce to 140 stores from Texas to New Jersey—doubling the amount of tomatoes he processes each month—McTighe reveals the chain awarded him a loan to introduce a new product with specific local ingredients.

"It is truly groundbreaking," McTighe says. "It's the first in their business's history to support biodynamic agriculture. The real kicker is that this will be the first biodynamic, U.S.-grown, U.S.-made, tomato sauce ever. And we're doing it right here in North Carolina." Other sauces labeled organic and biodynamic contain non-U.S.-grown ingredients or were produced outside of America, most likely in Italy, McTighe says.

Nello's Biodynamic Marina will debut this summer with both USDA Organic and Demeter Biodynamic certifications. The limited edition sauce, labeled Summer 2015 Harvest, will be sold exclusively at Whole Foods. It will be made from the yield of 6,000 heirloom tomato plants (plus basil and garlic) grown for the express purpose at Whitted Bowers Farm in Cedar Grove. Sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and tomato paste have been sourced from other certified organic providers.

"I am willing to claim this will be the cleanest jarred tomato sauce ever produced in America," says McTighe, referencing the rigorous seed-to-shelf standards with which Nello's has to comply.

In fact, the standards are so tough that McTighe delayed announcing the new sauce several times while awaiting final approval from Demeter USA, the nonprofit American chapter of Demeter International, the world's only certifier of biodynamic farms and products.

Nello's Sauce founder Neal McTighe holds a
Bradywine tomato from Whitted Bowers Farm
in Cedar Grove. Whitted Bowers plans to produce
15,000 pounds of Bellstar heirloom tomatoes
to be used in the marinara sauces
of Raleigh-based company Nello's Sauce.
Established in 2005, the 52-acre Whitted Bowers Farm has been certified by Demeter since 2009. Co-owner Rob Bowers explains that the term biodynamic includes a range of protocols that improve the quality of farm land with fertilizer-free herbal and compost-based remedies. This not only protects soil from being drained of nutrients during the growing process but also discourages development of plant diseases that can destroy crops and devastate animal health. Given agreeable weather, he says the result of such mindful farming is "more and better output."

The stars also play a significant role at the farm, just as they did in generations past, when growers consulted the constellations for bountiful harvests. "It's the axis of biodynamic farming that raises the most eyebrows," Bowers concedes, "but paying attention to the alignment of the moon and close planets works.

"My grandmother once told me, 'Everyone knows you're not supposed to plant potatoes when the moon is in Pisces,'" recalls Bowers, who provides produce to numerous fine-dining restaurants and sells at the Carrboro Farmers Market. "There is a lot of folk wisdom, but it's evolved to the point that we know by the hour what to do. I don't know if it's causal, but there is a construct that works."

The farm's website prominently features the current phase of the moon to assist others who aspire to farm this way.

Since growing produce this way is expensive, the 18-ounce jars of Nello's Biodynamic Sauce will sell for either $7.99 or $8.99, depending on final production costs. The 14-ounce and 25-ounce jars of the current line sell for about $4.99 and $7.99, respectively.

Given the relatively small production, McTighe cautions that Nello's Biodynamic Marinara may sell out quickly.

"We didn't want to go too big this year because we're all a little nervous about introducing an entirely new product to the market," he says. "There is a lot riding on this, but we hope to grow quickly in future years."

This first appeared in Indy Week.

Barker-backed pizzeria likely coming to Carrboro

Chef Ben Barker is talking with Carrboro officials about something diners have been hoping to hear since he and wife Karen closed Magnolia Grill in Durham two years ago this month: They plan to open a pizzeria.

Barker told the INDY in January 2013 that such a venture was possible, so long as their son Gabe was in charge. Gabe has been honing his culinary and business management skills at restaurants on the West Coast.

Gabe Barker
( photo)
Barker is not offended that a growing buzz is describing the place as “Carrboro’s Pizzeria Toro.”

“The Carrboro project is still in the early stages of development. We haven't even signed a lease,” Barker says. “What a wonderful compliment to be compared to Pizzeria Toro, though, a restaurant with operators that we are huge fans of and drive to Durham regularly for.”

This first appeared in Indy Week.

Ben Adams leaves Piedmont, triggering changes in Durham dining scene

Ben Adams (left) and Wyatt Dickson
(Photo courtesy Jennifer Kelly)
It's been two years since chef Ben Adams took over the kitchen at Piedmont. He and general manager and wine director Crawford Leavoy lifted the Durham eatery from a slump to become a hotspot known for creative seasonal fare and spot-on service. Now, Adams has left to launch his own place.

Set to open this fall in North Durham, it's tentatively named Picnic. The name is a nod to comfort food cuisine that can range from beach blankets and icy Budweiser tall boys to silver trays and mint juleps, as well as the picnic shoulder cut favored over the Boston butt by partner and pitmaster Wyatt Dickson of Pig Whistle. Picnic's third partner is Ryan Butler of Green Button Farm in Bahama, whose pasture-raised heritage pigs could practically walk to the not-quite-finalized location.

Meanwhile, Piedmont is continuing with acting chef de cuisine Lorenzo Leon Guerrero. He will stay on to support the next executive chef, Greg Gettles, current sous chef at Herons at the Umstead Hotel, who takes over June 1. Scott Crawford, former executive chef at Herons, hired Gettles when Ben Barker was closing his legendary Magnolia Grill in 2012.
Adams and Dickson met in 2002 as fraternity brothers at the University of North Carolina. Independently, Adams and Dickson moved to New York after graduation, where they worked in “suit jobs” providing legal and financial services.

As they sat in Crook’s Corner last Wednesday, sharing plates of Pig Whistle barbecue and a twist on traditional slaw—red cabbage, green onions and a bright cilantro vinaigrette—Adams and Dickson dressed in the casual, come-as-you-are look they hope customers will wear at Picnic.

"The sides and small plates will be my thing," Adams says, pausing to dip some of chef Bill Smith's Hoppin' John before passing the bowl around the table. "Some will be familiar to Piedmont diners, like my collards with smoked bacon."

The Charleston native, who cooked at Sean Brock's famed McCrady's before being lured to the Triangle, says other dishes under consideration include a mac 'n' cheese starring Chapel Hill Creamery's award-winning Calvander, baked beans with Sea Island red peas, and fresh ceviche served with pork cracklins. A pop-up preview is May 23 at Daisy Cakes.

"This restaurant was always in the back of our minds, but I was glad to wait until [Adams] was ready," Dickson says. "We won't be garnishing dishes with tweezers and micro greens, but the experience he's gained at Piedmont is invaluable. Just wait until they see his rillettes and terrines. It will set us apart from most of barbecue places."

Barbecue figured prominently in Dickson's life while he grew up in Fayetteville. His dad bottled batches of the family's eastern-style sauce as holiday gifts. Dickson, however, says his style weds the best of eastern and western traditions.

"I think of it as the 'Great Carolina Compromise,'" he says with a hearty laugh, referencing Pig Whistle's business motto. "After all, what's a little ketchup between friends?"

Dickson started developing his signature sauce at his UNC fraternity, where he cooked for football games. He didn't barbecue while in New York but started again in 2008 when he returned to Carolina for law school. His focus though became creating a catering business.
Dickson’s first big boost came from chef Andrea Reusing, who invited him in 2012 to cook a whole hog at the 10th anniversary celebration of Lantern in Chapel Hill. It was the first time he used heritage pork (Reusing’s supply is raised by Chapel Hill Creamery on whey, an abundant cheese byproduct). He never went back to commodity meat.

Aside from special restaurant events—Piedmont featured Pig Whistle at a whole hog dinner last July, and Crook's will have it on the menu again June 3—the only way to try Dickson's barbecue is to place a party-size order. Picnic will allow him to serve fresh, affordable portions daily.

Lunches will range from $7-$10, with dinners around $12-$18. Choices other than barbecue will be available. Daily specials will be designed around seasonal availability.

If ribs are your favorite part of the pig, Dickson advises showing up early. “A pig only has so many ribs,” he says. “This isn’t a factory. We’ll serve them one or two at a time to make sure people who really want them can get some.”
Pop-Up Events:

● May 23, 7 p.m.: Ben Adams will serve Picnic-style sides and small plates at Daisy Cakes, 401A Foster St., Durham (919-389-4307). Note: 16-seat limit.

● June 3, 5:30 p.m. (until gone): Wyatt Dickson’s Pig Whistle pork barbecue will be featured on the menu at Crook’s Corner, 610 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill (919-929-7643)

● June 7, 4–7p.m.: Pig Whistle will be paired with Green Button Farms at the annual Farm to Fork Picnic held at WC Breeze Family Farm, Hurdle Mills. Details at

This story first appeared in Indy Week.

Friday, May 1, 2015

IACP-winning cookbook author Cathy Barrow to teach canning class at Southern Season

Cathy Barrow, aka Mrs. Wheelbarrow, will teach at a cooking class at 6pm Monday, May 11, at Southern Season in Chapel Hill. She'll demonstrate her No Pectin, No Fail Strawberry Jam, water bath canning, Strawberry Jam Barbecue Sauce with Pork Sliders, and Mini Jam Tarts from her award-winning book, Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving. To reserve your seat, click here or call 800-253-3663.

Cathy Barrow, aka Mrs. Wheelbarrow
(Photo © Christopher Hirsheimer)
With local strawberries starting to appear at farmer's market, even those who have never canned jam or jelly before find it hard to resist to the tug. "Do it," they seem to say, as dew from early morning picking begins to dry into a sweet sheen.

The timing could not be better, both for those unfamiliar with canning techniques and experienced jammers who want to step up their game. Cathy Barrow, whose debut cookbook, Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry, recently earned the 2015 International Association of Cooking Professionals award for best single-subject book, will unlock the secrets of strawberries on May 11 at Southern Season.

"Every new canner starts with strawberry jam and it's really the hardest one to make," says Barrow, who writes about preserving for The Washington Post and in her Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen blog. "I've got a few tricks up my sleeve to make sure those first-time jammers are successful."

Those tricks benefit experience canners as well. Using her directions, I've produced the most glossy, flavorful strawberry jams and sauces ever. I'm a particular fan of her Double Strawberry Preserves, which uses both fresh and tart dried cherries, and the lightly floral Strawberry Mango Jam.

I had the privilege of being among a group of testers, her Practical Pantry Posse, who made those recipes before the book was published. Trust me, there's just no going back after you've made these flavor-packed treasures.
 The book lists for $35 but often is available for less online. While there's nothing a diehard canner likes better than a jam-splattered cookbook, note that the Kindle edition currently is on sale for just $2.99.
The following is one of her strawberry-based recipes that will not be on the menu at Southern Season. While I'm told that local rhubarb can be found at some farmers markets, you are more likely to find it imported from a cooler climate at a well-stocked grocery store. Local strawberries, however, are abundant and should be your first choice.

Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce 
Reprinted with permission of Cathy Barrow from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving  (W.W. Norton & Co.).
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 pints or 5 12-ounce jars, plus some to enjoy right now
  • 4 pints (48 ounces or 1380 grams) strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and quartered
  • 3 pounds (1350 grams) rhubarb, rinsed and cut into ½-inch dice
  • 5 cups (35 ounces or 1 kg) granulated sugar
  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • Star anise (optional)
  1. Put the berries to a large glass or ceramic bowl and, using a potato masher or wooden spoon, gently crush them. Add the rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice, and star anise (if using) and stir well and completely until the sugar has dissolved. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the mixture macerate for 4 hours, or if refrigerated, for as long as 2 days.
  2. Scrape the mixture to a preserving pot and clip on a candy thermometer. Slowly bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Then bring to a vigorous boil and stir constantly until th sauce thickens to the consistency of ketchup, about 25 minutes.
  3. Turn of heat and discard the star anise. Ladle the sauce into warm (sterilized) jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Clean the rims of the jars well with a damp paper tower. Place the lids and rings on the jars and finger-tighten the rings.
  4. Process in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.
Note: You can skip the water-bath process and tucked the cooled sauce straight into the refrigerator, but processing keeps it shelf-stable for a year. You'll be glad to have some stashed for the holidays, or on a frigid day when you can laugh at the weather with a bowl of warm oatmeal topped with Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce.