Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sneak peek at Passion8



Passion8 Bistro officially opens Friday on Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte, finally relocating after years in a small space in Fort Mill.

How small? When I stopped by for a media preview Wednesday night, chef/owner Luca Annunziata was showing off the sleek, tricked-out kitchen like a kid with a new toy truck he couldn't wait to drive.

"In Fort Mill, I had eight burners and a fryer!" One of his assistant chefs immediately chimed in: "Now we have a walk-in."

That would be a walk-in refrigerator, and Annunziata took me inside to see. He's a big farmer's market shopper -- you can spot him every Saturday morning at both the Charlotte Regional and the Matthews Community markets -- but he could never buy in quantity because he didn't have room to store anything. So he has already filled it with local meat and produce, although there were a few very understandable exceptions: Benton's Country Ham from Tennessee and pristine edible flowers from Chef's Garden in Ohio.
Luca Annunziata (right) couldn't wait to show off his new kitchen

How's the restaurant space? Warm and comfortable, with a lot of stone, wood and natural fabrics in earth tones. There's a mezzanine upstairs that eventually will be used for private event (it's not finished yet) and there's a special room by the kitchen with a chef's table. It seats 8, and will feature small plates in seven ($85) or 12 ($145) course menus.

The regular menu will focus on what Annunziata calls "modernist cuisine with an emphasis on local."

"That will never change. We're working with more farmers than ever."

The official menu wasn't available to peruse Wednesday night, but one of the passed hors d'ouvres was an example: Truffle biscotti topped with a mousse-like foie gras butter and muscadine foam (below).

The new website hadn't changed over by Thursday morning, but the restaurant opens for dinner Friday night. Check back on www.passion8bistro.com or follow Passion8 on Facebook to keep up.

And could I add one more note of support? I try to avoid climbing on a soapbox, but I think this needs to be said:

Elizabeth Avenue between Hawthorne and Charlottetown has shaped up into a terrific food corridor, with Carpe Diem, Customshop, Earl's Grocery, Viva Chicken and Cafe Malay, among others. The business owners have done it while enduring endless construction, first on the streetcar tracks and then, before the paving dust had settled, by a huge road project in front of Presbyterian Hospital. And they've still created a community of locally owned food businesses in all price ranges.

Cheers to them for making it through -- and now it's time for food lovers in Charlotte to pay them back. There's plenty of parking in the free lot across the street and the lots behind several businesses, and it's easy to access despite the detour signs.

Visit, please, and give them support for having the faith to build something lovely for the city.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One more pumpkin recipe you need


I never know how to prepare for appearances on "Charlotte Talks," the WFAE-FM talk show: No matter how many notes I scribble to myself, host Mike Collins will ask what I call the "Mike in the Headlights Question."

That's when he poses something that it never occurred to me to look up, and then says, "Kathleen, what do YOU think of that?" I pause, while the thoughts chase through my brain like a Tom & Jerry routine, and come up with something that I desperately hope sounds somewhere on this side of smart.

Or I just crack a joke and hope he moves on.

Anyway: Here's a link to this morning's show, (it reruns tonight at 9), and here's the story I wrote last week on pumpkin stuff around Charlotte. And here's one more recipe that I had, all marked and ready to share on the air. But I never had a chance to get to it because I was busy trying to come up with an answer to; "Why do we carve pumpkins anyway? Kathleen? Kathleen?"


Pumpkin Syrup

From "Cooking With Pumpkin," by Averie Sunshine (Countryman Press). Yes, this is one pumpkin thing that does have pumpkin in it. You can use it for lattes, smoothies or hot cocoa, drizzle it on pancakes or waffles, or use it to flavor buttercream frosting.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

COMBINE the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is dissolved.

ADD the pumpkin and spices and whisk to mix well. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently so the mixture does not come to a boil. Mixture will thicken and reduce in volume.

TURN off the heat and let the syrup cool in the pan about 15 minutes before transferring to a glass jar with a lid.. (You can strain it through cheesecloth to remove undissolved spices if you'd, but the mixture is thick and will take time to strain.)

REFRIGERATE up to a month.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.



Monday, October 20, 2014

One Great . . . slow cooker dinner

What do you mean, I have to plan ahead? Plan long enough ahead to remember to defrost a batch of beef short ribs?

Sometimes I can handle that, and sometimes, I can't. The beauty of this dish, from Jenny Rosenstratch's new book on home-cooking, "Dinner: The Playbook"? You don't have to make sure the short ribs (or country-style pork ribs) have defrosted.

Throw them in the slow cooker while they're frozen if you want to. You also don't have to run around browning meat before you leave for work in the morning. Just throw it all in and it will turn out fine. Add some mashed potatoes, rice or egg noodles when you get home. Yell, "Dinner!"

Slow-Cooker Korean Short Ribs

From "Dinner: The Playbook," by Jenny Rosenstratch (Ballantine Books, 2014).

3 to 4 pounds beef short ribs or country-style pork ribs
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 fresh, whole jalapenos

COMBINE all the ingredients in a slow cooker. Stir in 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook on low setting for 6 to 8 hours.

YIELD: 4 servings.

Friday, October 17, 2014

We have a cookbook winner

The winner of a copy of "100 Days of Real Food," by Lisa Leake is Jodi Fahey of Fort Wright, Ky.

Thanks, Jodi, and thanks to the many, many people who entered the drawing. Stay tuned, we'll give away another cookbook soon.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who's the new chef at Rock Salt?

High-end oyster bar and restaurant Rock Salt, under construction at Park Road Shopping Center, has been drawing a lot of curiosity. It's a project of Cheasapeake Bay-based Rappahannock Oyster Co., which farms oysters and runs restaurants in Virginia and Washington.

Now the new chef has come forward: Jay Pierce of Lucky 32 in Greensboro is pulling up roots and moving his family to Charlotte, with an opening date of early January.

 "(Charlotte) seems like a bigger canvas to paint on,” Pierce told me Tuesday morning.

Pierce also is an author in the same Savor the South series that includes my two books; his book, "Shrimp," will come out next spring. Pierce is from Louisiana, and worked at two of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants, NOLA in New Orleans and Emeril's Orlando, before coming to Lucky 32, owned by Dennis and Nancy Quaintance of the O. Henry and Proximity hotels.

At Lucky 32, Pierce has gotten known for new interpretations of Southern classics, and for rediscovering old techniques. I ate there a couple of weeks ago and was fascinated by his salt-fermented pickles, a farmhouse method that's being brought back to life. He's also very active with the farmers at Greensboro's Curb Market.

Pierce also is known for his Tuesday night fried-chicken dinners. I've never had the chance to go, but I know some authorities on fried chicken who swear it's worth a 90-minute drive for dinner.

So I was crushed to hear that he's not bringing that with him. OK, OK, he might try to do it occasionally here. But Rock Salt will have a small kitchen, and be very focused on outdoor seating with a view over the creek. It's going into the space at the back of the shopping center that used to be a dry cleaner's.

Pierce says he's focusing on embracing something new, with a focus on seafood. But he's also excited about embracing a new city. For someone from Greensboro, the Charlotte food scene is mystifying, he admitted to me.

"Charlotte is right next door, and it's always intriguing to me. When I go there, I have no idea where I am. It's like Atlanta -- a lot of neighborhoods that have amalgamated. There's pockets of cool things going on and I want to be part of it."

He's also excited about Charlotte's chef community. "I want to participate. I know Marc Jacksina and he's a crazy man."

PHOTO: Eatocracy.com.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cookbook giveaway: 100 Days

This week, we brought you the story of how Lisa Leake's blog, 100 Days of Real Food, became her best-selling book, "100 Days of Real Food." And that means I have a spare copy of the book to share.

So email me at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com and include "100 Days" in the subject line. Please include your name, your town and your mailing address. (I won't share the address, but I may share your town if you win.)

We'll pick a winner by random drawing on Friday.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Southern Season partners with Vivian Howard

If you can't make the three-hour (or so) drive it to Kinston for a dinner at The Chef & The Farmer, you can get a taste of chef Vivian Howard's favorite things from Eastern North Carolina. A Southern Season, the specialty food store based in Chapel Hill, plans to open a Vivian Howard shop in its stores in Chapel Hill, Charleston and Richmond.

Howard is currently appearing in the second season of her PBS show, "A Chef's Life."

Southern Season's Howard section will happen in a couple of stages. First, there will be several collections in handmade wood crate of items chosen by Howard. The items will include products and cooking tools from her area of the state. The crates will range from $44.49 for a cornbread gift set up to $289 for Ben's Birthday Gift, with hand-forged tools and a number of artisan food products from around the Carolinas.

Those will be available later in October. You can find the catalog listing here.

Then, in early 2015, A Southern Season plans to add products inspired by Howard's recipes. Howard will make appearances in the stores in December: Dec. 11 in Richmond, Dec. 12 in Chapel Hill and early 2015 in Charleston.

And yes, that raises the question about the long-awaited Charlotte location of A Southern Season. Sources with A Southern Season say to stay tuned: There will be more news on that very soon.