Friday, February 22, 2013

Alton Brown brings his food science to Charlotte

Sorry I didn't get this posted earlier in the week. Knowing Alton Brown, he could probably tell me all kinds of gross science about the very bad cold that's sidelined me.

Anyway: Alton Brown will be the headliner of a special evening at Knight Theater on April 20 as part of the two-week N.C. Science Festival. "An Evening With Alton Brown" will combine kitchen science, comedy, droll commentary and a Q&A session.

Tickets are $32.50 for regular seating and $150 for a premium pass that includes a shirt,  stage-front seating and a meet-and-greet with Brown after the show. They go on sale at 10 a.m. today at the Blumenthal site here.

Brown also will be in Durham on April 18 as part of the festival. The N.C. Science Festival, coordinated by the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at UNC Chapel Hill, will feature events all over the state from April 5-21. For the whole listing of events, check the calendar (Zucchini 500! Science of Baseball! Reptile Fun!) at

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Have a minute to think about taste?

OK, it's actually 12 minutes. But a worthwhile 12 minutes, I think.

With all the TedX talks going on around the country at the moment, including Charlotte's Ted last week, I stumbled across a video from last year's TedX in New York. The speaker is Mitchell Davis, the vice president of the James Beard Foundation and someone I have the pleasure of working with every year on the Beard Leadership Awards.

The Leadership Awards are given at a two-day event that Mitchell puts together, a sort of think-inar on the latest research on the world's food policies.

Mitchell also is Dr. Mitchell Davis, who teaches food writing at NYU. He's one of those very smart people who introduces me to new ideas and points of view. So when Dr. Davis takes the stage to talk about the very basic concept of taste and how that should shape our food supply, it's worth considering.

See if you agree:

Monday, February 18, 2013

CPCC's bakery wants to feed you

Aspire Bakery & Bistro, the student-supported business at Central Piedmont Community College's Harris Campus, will hold an open house from 4-7:30 p.m. Feb. 28 for the public, faculty, staff, alumni and students (is there anyone that list doesn't cover?).

The idea behind Aspire is that baking and pastry students will sell food they've made including soups, salads, sandwiches, baked goods, desserts and handmade chocolates. Proceeds benefit student  activities, scholarships and extracurricular activities. The bistro also gives students business training, with requirements that they serve one week as an employee and one week as a manager.

Aspire's regular hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Fridays during the fall and spring semesters. The Harris Campus is at 3210 CPCC Harris Campus Drive, near Morris Field Drive and Billy Graham Parkway. Details:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Start training for the Sweet Tooth Festival

While the taste of Valentine chocolate is still lingering in your mouth, it's time to grab your ticket for the return of the Sweet Tooth Festival, 7-9:30 p.m. March 9 at Blacklion, 10605 Park Road (remember, it's the Pineville location, not the Dilworth location).

It's a shopping event that showcases bakeries, chocolatiers and sweets sellers and includes tastings, cooking demonstrations, a photo booth and a red carpet entrance. Confirmed vendors: Cupcrazed Cakery, Front Porch Ice Cream, Secret Chocolatier and La Patisserie.

 Tickets are $30 and a portion of the proceeds benefits the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network.

Details and ticket sales:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Get your barbecue credentials here

There's more to barbecue than knowing bark from burned. And becoming a trained barbecue judge is one path to Hickory-Smoked Zen.

The Memphis Barbecue Network is one of the two main judge-training programs (the other is the Kansas City Barbecue Society) and they're bringing a class to Charlotte on March 16.

To clarify (and believe me, there is nothing harder to clarify than the smoky barbecue world), this is how I understand it from my barbecue sources:

 KCBS and Memphis in May used to be the two poles of the barbecue-competition circuit and both used to certify judges. To judge Memphis in May, you had to be a Memphis in May-certified judge, while KCBS-sanctified events accepted either  MIM or  KCBS certification. But MIM got out of certification. So now there is MBN and KCBS. However, Memphis in May isn't affiliated with either KCBS or MBN certification. My KCBS sources speak well of MBN, though, and accept its certification.

Also, Charlotte's Blues, Brews & BBQ is a MBN event, so you can judge there, although with any other MBN events you find.

Got that? OK, on to the other details: The class is $80, takes six hours, and will be held from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. March 16 at All American Pub, 200 E. Bland St. Seating is limited to 60, so advance registration and payment are required. To register, you can go to (look under "events") or email Mark Miller,

Greetings from the Carnival Triumph

Carnival Triumph, Carnival Triumph. That name is so familiar . . . Oh there it is -- pinned up in my cubicle. My postcard from the only cruise I've ever taken: Six days from Charleston to Nassau on the Triumph.

And yes, I did it in the name of The Observer. Back in 2005, I was approached by an editor who needed someone to take a cruise and write about it for the Travel section. Why me? Well, a big part of cruises is the food. And since I wasn't the type to take a cruise, she thought I could bring a different perspective. And, in the way life sometimes falls, I happened to have my passport up to date and ready to go.

In an early hint of the Triumph's cursed future, I had my own medical incident: Stepping into the locker room at the gym while the ship was docked in Nassau, a heavy iron portal slammed shut on the back of my sandal, sending me hand-first to the wooden slats covering the locker room floor. They summoned the harbor master and sent me to the hospital to put my right hand in a cast.

I had nothing but praise for the medical crew on the ship, though. Most were from Australia and they were all fun to talk to. One of the nurses even got my email address and sent me a couple of notes later that year about her own food adventures.

The whole floating city on the ship has my sympathy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Chili and beer for breakfast

The Davidson Farmer's Market and Summit Coffee are repeating the popular Breakfast of Champions this Saturday. This time, a $10 ticket will get you two samples of chili made by market vendors and samples of four N.C. beers, provided by Summit Coffee. (They'll have hot cider too, if you can't rock the beer before noon.)

Tickets go on sale at 9 a.m., with only 60 available, and the chili and beer commences from 10:30 a.m.-noon.

The Davidson Farmers Market is a producer-only market next to Davidson Town Hall between Main and Jackson streets. Parking is available behind the buildings off Jackson; look for the red truck signs. Get details, schedules and the rest at

Bobby Deen signs books in Charlotte Wednesday

An early one from Wednesday's food section, 3 Questions For Bobby Deen:

Bobby Deen used to be mad at his mother. He was a senior in high school when his mother divorced and moved Bobby and his brother Jamie from Albany, Ga., to Savannah, where she started a lunch delivery service, The Bag Lady.
Deen was 18, and he thought the move was awful.
And then, it worked out: The timing, the city, the luck. With the three of them working together, The Bag Lady grew into a restaurant, The Lady & Sons. Bobby’s mother, Paula Deen, wrote a little cookbook and became a worldwide sensation.
“I never could have imagined it,” he admits. “But what it tells me and what my mother has proven to me is, you really can do anything you want to do.”
Today, Bobby Deen is host of “Not My Mama’s Meals” on the Cooking Channel and author of “From Mama’s Table to Mine: Everybody’s Favorite Comfort Foods at 350 Calories or Less.” And his mother Paula has lost more than 40 pounds after being diagnosed with diabetes.
He’ll sign copies of the new book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Barnes and Noble in the Arboretum, 3327 Pineville-Matthews Road.
And yes, it’s OK to ask about his mother.
“We’re very close, our lives and what we’ve done doesn’t need defending. It’s a true, honest story.” Kathleen Purvis
Q: Every kid has a food battle. What did you battle with your mother about eating when you were young?
“Liver! I didn’t like it. I still don’t love it. My mama would do beef liver. It was Paula Deen cooking it, so it was good, but it was still disgusting.”
Q: Between your home in Savannah and your show in New York, you’re on the road a lot. How do you handle airport meals?
“It is difficult. In most airports, there’s a Starbucks where you can get a fruit cup. But I make sure I don’t show up hungry at the airport. It’s a trap.”
Q: Are there any sacred Deen family recipes you wouldn’t or couldn’t lighten?
“There is one – but I did it anyway. My favorite is goulash, a glorified beef-a-roni. I try not to make it because my mama makes it on my birthday. I did a lighter version and used it in two books. But I’ll be the first to admit it’s not nearly as good as my mama’s.”

Yes You Can Mac and Cheese

From “From Mama’s Table to Mine,” by Bobby Deen (Ballantine, $22). By making a changes, Deen lowered this from 30 grams of fat and 584 calories per serving to 7 grams of fat and 293 calories.

4 cups whole-grain elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups nonfat milk
1 cup grated low-fat cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 ounces low-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

COOK the pasta in boiling salted water for 1 minute less than the package directions suggest. Drain well.
RETURN the empty pasta pot to the stove and melt the butter over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and simmer until bubbling and slightly thick. Whisk in the cheddar, Parmesan, cream cheese, Worcestershire, dry mustard and pepper.
STIR the pasta back into the pot and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with more salt and pepper and serve.
YIELD: 8 servings.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Maker's Mark cuts the alcohol level in its bourbon

I took a week off from food world last week and look what happened: Maker's Mark, maker of the bourbon with the red wax top, has announced an Impending Bourbon Shortage:

"Demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we’re running very low on supply." That's from a letter to Maker's Mark "ambassadors," people who sign up on the distillery website to receive information and occasional offers like ice cube trays shaped like bottles of Maker's Mark. (Yes, after touring distilleries last year to work on a book on bourbon, a member of my family is on the Ambassador list.)

The letter, from Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels and Chair Emeritus Bill Samuels Jr., goes on to announce that Maker's Mark will decrease the alcohol by volume of its product by 3%.

From the letter: "This will enable us to maintain the same taste profile and increase our limited supply so there is enough Maker’s Mark to go around, while we continue to expand the distillery and increase our production capacity. We have both tasted it extensively, and it’s completely consistent with the taste profile our founder/dad/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr., created nearly 60 years ago.  We’ve also done extensive testing with Maker’s Mark drinkers, and they couldn’t tell a difference."

This, of course, raises a few questions:

Will Maker's Mark lower the price by 3% to reflect the lower volume of alcohol?

Will the alcohol return to its previous level when the distillery is expanded?

And: In a world in which 1-quart mayonnaise jars no longer hold a quart and 1-pound jars are 12 ounces, is nothing sacred?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Got ideas to end hunger?

If you're a student in the first through 12 grades and you live in the U.S. or Canada (but not Quebec), you can win a $2,500 savings bond and a three-day trip to New York from the Olive Garden.

All you have to do is write a winning essay of 50 to 250 words on how to end hunger in your community. Olive Garden also will give a $5,000 grant to support your initiative in your town.

The contest is the 17th annual Pasta Tales essay contest by Darden Restaurants, the owner of Olive Garden. Essays are judged on creativity, adherence to theme, organization, grammar, punctuation and spelling by the Quill and Scroll Society of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Iowa. Winners are picked by Olive Garden.

Entries must be postmarked by March 22 and sent to Pasta Tales, PMB 2000, 6278 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308-1916. Get the full rules and entry form at