Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gather, Part 1

Have you ever heard of an underground dinner?  Sometimes called secret supper clubs, they are invitation-only dinners hosted by chefs in unexpected venues.  Miss Chef first heard of these being done collaboratively by rising young chefs in Charleston and Raleigh, though they are popping up all over the country.

Now Miss Chef is going to do her own.

She is starting slowly, with only about 8 guests so far.  They are a combination of friends, colleagues and guests who have had her food at the restaurant.  And, of course, me.  The paying guests know only that the menu will be designed to highlight seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients.  They are trusting that whatever Miss Chef comes up with, it will be worth the price.

The dinner is not until Sunday night, but since Miss Chef has been working on this for a month or more, I thought I would invite you along to visit a place that I’ve always found fascinating—Restaurant Depot.  Even the most locally-sourced menu is going to need a little help from a restaurant supply store.  Nobody around here farms storage containers or bus tubs, as far as I know.

Only restaurant professionals can shop here.  You have to have a membership—which Miss Chef got when she was working for Chef Adam—or, if you happen to be a Chef Instructor at a local school, you can just show your ID.  Camera-wielding sidekicks do not need a pass, so while Miss Chef was getting her temporary card, I captured some 50 pound sacks of onions and potatoes to share with you.

R Depot 01 (1)

Just like the retail shopping clubs (Sam’s Club, Costco, etc.), everything here is sold in large quantities.  I don’t know if the quantities are larger, or it’s just because it’s food, but I always find a trip here fascinating.  About a third of the store is a giant cooler (Miss Chef didn’t need anything in this section, but she was kind enough to bear with me while I wandered through taking pictures).  Push aside the thick plastic flaps hanging in the doorway, and you enter what is essentially a two-story refrigerated warehouse:

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Brrrrr.  Coats are available for the faint of heart.

First, there’s the produce.  Iceberg salad, anyone?  Carrots are also sold in 50-pound bundles, wrapped in orange plastic.

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Next is the meats section.  Or, to be honest, animal parts.

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Those signs are printed on full 8 1/2” x 11” sheets, to give you some idea of scale.  There are also stacks of hotdogs, three-foot long bolognas and all kinds of giant dried sausages.

A little further on, you enter the dairy section.  Oh, if only we had the storage space for this much cheese!

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Perhaps my favorite picture is of the far wall—eggs by the gross!  These boxes were stacked all the way up to the ceiling.  Just like the poor birds that laid them, no doubt.

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There’s much more than food here, though.  Have you ever stopped to wonder where your favorite restaurants get all the bits and bobs you probably don’t think about?

For instance, the bowls and trays at the school cafeteria or your favorite salad bar?  You too can carry your plate from kitchen to table on your own plastic tray!

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Or the various condiment containers you might find at your local Italian place?  Grated parmesan and red pepper flakes, for everyone!

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I had no idea there was such a market for pizza peels (that’s what they call these long wooden paddles, used to manipulate food in a wood-burning oven).

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If Miss Chef were ever to set up a gift registry for herself, one of these would probably be on it.

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Vitamix blenders start around $300, but nothing comes near to their effectiveness.  They’re probably ridiculously loud, too, so maybe it’s just as well we can’t afford one.

We can afford tongs, though not this many!

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I’ve saved the most important picture for last…back in the produce area, I made a world-shaking discovery.  I can now reveal, for all to see, the true name of God!

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Also, apparently he is a purveyor of cabbage.  And, according to the lower right, Jesus’ real name was Jacob.

I’ll leave you to ponder the theological implications of my finding, but I might recommend you consider making sauerkraut and coleslaw a more important part of your diet.

I plan to take enough pictures Sunday night to write Part 2 of this adventure, the part that will make you hungry.

Friday Night Special

I found these when I arrived home from work yesterday.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

More Snow!

Apparently the last dusting of snow and ice we got was simply a warm-up for the next big storm.  I feel very lucky to have an employer who is free and willing to shut down for this.  And rather generously, too.  We were released at noon on Tuesday, and have all of Wednesday off.  I won’t be surprised if we open late on Thursday, too.  I told Miss Chef last night, between holidays, illness and weather, I think I’ve worked only one solid week since Christmas!

Which means I’m losing ways to entertain myself around the house.  It’s a bit after 9:00 am on Wednesday as I write this, and it has just started snowing again.  I’m sure things will get much more interesting as the day wears on, but in the meantime I thought I’d share some of the photos I took yesterday.  As I said, I was sent home early, and the first thing I did was change clothes and head out the door with Rosie. 

Rosie loves the snow…but not like most dogs.


I did manage to get her attention long enough to put on her leash and head down to the park.

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The snow was just wet enough to cling to the bare branches, and the woods were filled with a lacy brightness on this otherwise gray day.

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I like to take Rosie back into a wooded area behind the pond, where I am comfortable letting her off the leash.  This copse of mostly evergreen trees with their regular, parallel trunks and reddish bark, is very different than the woods I grew up with.

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I couldn’t resist posing Rosie, though she hates having her picture taken.

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This ended up being a short walk, since I hadn’t bothered to put a scarf on, and the snow was finding its way down the back of my neck.  Brrrr!  I’m glad to get some snow and be able to enjoy it.  Because here in the South, spring generally comes early enough to make winter kind of fun.

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Oh, and in case you were curious, McKenna is quite happy being an indoor cat when the weather is cold.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

I am still plugging along at the Better Me in 2014 program I sort-of-officially announced for myself several weeks ago.  Annoyingly I have once again fallen victim to some kind of head-cold that’s not a cold, but sure acts like one.  This time I went to the doctor, and followed directions on taking over the counter drugs, and I suppose it’s helping.  In the meantime, I have a feeling this blog post may not be up to my usual standard.  It’s hard to be clever when you can’t breathe.

Anyway, in the brief couple of weeks between non-colds, Miss Chef and I did manage to get out and have a little fun.  The first was a Slow Food dinner that Miss Chef was asked to cook for, and I was invited gratis (it’s normally a $20 ticket).  Slow Food is supposed to support traditional, sustainable food production…though we’ve found our local chapter seems to be more of a social dinner group.  Still, they do raise money for a local farmers’ fund, which is better than nothing.

This dinner was held in a barnlike warehouse space behind a local brewery, Triple C.  I got there early enough that I was able to get a few pictures, while everyone I knew was busy in the back with the food.

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Looks a bit like a wedding, doesn’t it?  In the back on the left, you can see the very basic bar they had set up, with a couple of selections from the brewery.

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The menu was flat-out Southern, with two kinds of pork barbeque…

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…cornbread and slaw…

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..and a really great kale salad with mandarin oranges hidden in it like juicy gems.

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There were other, less traditional dishes too, like vegetarian chili and roasted root vegetables; as well as some Carolina specialties of Sea Island red peas, and Carolina gold rice with a little saffron for color.

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Somehow, Miss Chef found herself in charge, but somebody had to, and she’s pretty good at it.

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I had a Blonde Boy beer while waiting, which I figured would help me be more chatty with the large crowd of mostly unfamiliar faces.  Once I went through the line and filled my plate, I did strike up several conversations with strangers and friends alike, and pretty much stopped taking pictures.  I did get a shot of some of the culinary students who came out to volunteer beside their chef instructors. 

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Miss Chef was thrilled any time she had such an opportunity during her student days, and it was really nice to see so many turn out.

So that covers the “eat” portion of this post…the “drink and be merry” part was just last weekend, at the Queen City Brewers Festival.

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This was a gathering of brewers from Charlotte and western North Carolina, along with several local restaurants and food vendors. Your entry ticket got you a small glass and free tastes from all the breweries and vendors.  We got there about 10 minutes after the starting time, and there was already a line around the building.  Fortunately, the organizers really knew their stuff, and all the ticket-taking crowd management went very smoothly.

Still, it was pretty crowded inside!

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Surprisingly, we were able to meet up very quickly with the two friends we knew would be in attendance.  The space was kind of weird, and not very well lighted.  But I was amazed at how many good breweries we have in the area.  I would guess there were nearly thirty of them arranged around the outside of the room, and each one offering at least two or three styles of beer—some had five or more.  There were porters, ales of various colors, a hefeweizen or two, hard cider, and of course all kinds of IPAs.  There was also one stand offering another kind of fermented beverages—kombucha, or fermented tea.  Not to my taste, but apparently the beet one was very good.

I don’t know either of these fellows, but I liked the hops-decorated hat enough to ask the wearer if I could snap his photo. 

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Yelp had a stand where you could make your own hot fashion accessory of the day: a pretzel necklace.  I always like a snack handy when I’m drinking beer.

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We rounded out our day by investing in the work of a local artist, David French.  I’d never heard of him before, but enjoyed his colorful renderings of local streetscapes and landmarks. Our friends already had several of his works, and bought several more.  Several of the streetscapes caught my and Miss Chef’s eye, but when we saw this one, it was a done deal.

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This is the historic area of Matthews, where Miss Chef worked for five years at Santé restaurant.  It’s just right of center, in the middle of the brick buildings.  The old VW Beetle on the left side sealed the deal, as Miss Chef has a special fondness for them.

So now this picture is hanging in our living room.  Just one more momento of the good times and the life we’ve built in Charlotte.  Here’s to more merry making in the near future!