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Monday, April 14, 2014

American Meltdown wins big at Grilled Cheese Invitational

Posted by on Mon, Apr 14, 2014 at 11:22 PM

Paul Inserra was right to feel confident about his American Meltdown entries at last Saturday’s Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles. He competed in three categories and was honored in each one.

“All of the melts had some ingredients from North Carolina, which is great,” says Inserra, who called from LAX Monday while awaiting his flight home.

Inserra was especially pleased to have snagged a Judge’s Award for excellence in the Kama Sutra, or “anything goes,” category for American Meltdown’s Hangover Melt. The signature sandwich features homemade pimento cheese, a runny egg and salsa verde in bread from Durham’s Guglhupf Bakery.

In the Honey Pot dessert group, where he had minimal expectations, Inserra took third place for a not-too-sweet combination that tucked sheep’s milk ricotta, toasted pecans and a peach-balsamic compote between slices of buttery brioche from La Farm in Cary.

He also claimed second-place honors for a still-unnamed entry in the Missionary group, which allows just bread, cheese and butter. Inserra amped up his original plan by melting Durham Jack cheese from Cultured Cow inside Guglhupf bread— with a game-changing slice of grilled Havarti seared to the outer crust. “I’ll have to come up with a good name for it because we’ll sell it now,” Inserra quips. “Maybe, Grilled Cheese of Champions.”

Fans get to share the love when American Meltdown resumes its mobile food truck schedule on Tuesday. New award-winning melts will debut on May 1 at the Stuff Your Face Food Truck Dinner in Raleigh. The five-course meal, to be held at City Market’s Cobblestone Hall, will spotlight several vendors and raise money to defray costs of staging Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo events. Mint Julep Jazz Band will perform.

Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance writer in Raleigh who blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.
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    Food truck's Hangover Melt receives Judge's Award for excellence; two other sandwiches snag second and third places

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Bull City Food and Beer Experience a marriage of craft beer and fine food

Posted by on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 2:43 PM

The second annual Bull City Food and Beer Experience expressed its name admirably on Sunday as hundreds of patrons enjoyed the experience of thoughtful food and craft beer pairings that put the flavors of food first.

During a panel discussion on the state of craft beer in North Carolina, Sean Lily Wilson of Durham’s Fullsteam brewery said that’s exactly how it ought to be. “The point is not to make a wacky beer that takes like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” says Wilson, who admittedly makes a seasonal fruitcake beer, “but to make a great beer that takes a back seat to really enhance the flavor of food and encourage conversation. I really think that’s where the industry is going, and it’s exactly where we want to be.”

While some offerings did not stray far from typical pub fare, exceptional food and beer pairings abounded at the event, which filled two floors and spilled onto the stage of the Durham Performing Arts Center. A portion of proceeds from each $75 ticket will benefit the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association.
Without a doubt, the most ambitious and delicious presentation came from Durham’s G2B Gastro Pub and Unibroue brewery of Quebec.

“For an event like this, it’s go big or go home, right?” says G2B Chef Carrie Schleiffer, who presented four upscale nibbles – pork rillettes with fig chutney; Scottish salmon ceviche with walnuts, red onion and cilantro; pear agrodulce; and sugar dough chocolate ganache – to complement the complex light and dark beers poured by a representative of the Canadian brewery.

Other strong pairings included 21st Amendment Brewing of San Francisco, which offered its full-bodied Back in Black and the crisp Sneak Attack to complement the hearty smoked pork belly, sauerkraut and potatoes provided by Vin Rouge. End slices of the massive pork bellies – they started with 60 pounds’ worth – tasted like the best salty candy you could imagine.

The experience of walking upstairs to the second floor was like entering a cartoon in which a snake charmer draws you in. Fortunately, the first station was operated by Billy and Kelli Cotter of Toast. They were steaming mussels in Carolina Brewery’s Tripel  elgian. The mollusks were served in little cups with spicy, buttery broth that made a great shooter on its own.

Spicy seafood also was on tap at Saltwater Seafood Joint’s table, which paired a savory chowder with with Founder’s Brewing Co  of Grand Rapids, Mich. “Durham’s got a reputation now. We’ve got to bring it,” quips chef Ricky Moore. “No more bolgona sandwiches for these folks.”
Patrons were dazzled – and some a bit tipsy – after sampling the fare offered by 30 Durham eateries and 50 brewers. Food was offered in bite-sized portions, with providers happily offering seconds to swooners, and beer was poured as samples in short souvenir glasses.

Courtney Whilden of Chapel Hill had just a sip or two the whole evening. “I’m pregnant but didn’t want to miss this because it was so much fun last year,” Whilden, who was toting a water bottle. “We learned so much about craft beer. I think we drank more beer, really good beer, last year than we ever did before.”

The opportunity to sample a diverse assortment quality beer also was irresistible to Debbie Lidowski of Durham. “I thought beer was just disgusting when everyone was drinking it in college,” says Lidowski, who despised beginner brands like Miller Lite but was glad to stand in line for a pour from New Holland Brewing of Holland, Mich. “I’m so happy there’s been a whole movement of craft beer that’s being celebrated right here in our town.”

Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance writer in Raleigh who blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.
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    "Durham's got a reputation now. We've got to bring it."

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Andrea Weigl's Pickles & Preserves gives food its staying power

Posted by on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 11:03 AM

As surely as the college basketball’s Final Four leads to the return of Major League Baseball, the reappearance of farmers markets is about to spark the season of canning.

Those seduced by the magical transformation of fruit and sugar, or vegetables and pickling salt, know that early spring is a time of joy in North Carolina. Canning jars emptied over winter stand ready to be filled with long awaited rhubarb and strawberries, followed by peaches and berries and, of course, the cornucopia of all things pickleable.


A wonderful new resource is available for home canners, Pickles & Preserves, a book by Andrea Wiegl, food writer for The News & Observer. Perfect for novices and loaded with recipes that experienced canners will enjoy, it is part of the Savor the South series of single-topic cookbooks published by UNC Press.


Weigl will discuss her book Wednesday, March 12, at 7 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. Weigl is the guest speaker of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOPNC) Wednesday, March 19, at 7 p.m at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. For a full list of events, go to UNC Press.

While she remembers Grandma Weigl canning all sorts of practical foods, Weigl herself started preserving only about eight years ago. “It’s something I always wanted to do, and I was determined to teach myself,” says Weigl, who spontaneously purchased a canning pot and some basics at a hardware store. “I can’t remember now if I made strawberries first, or maybe peaches, but I was hooked.”

Weigl regrets disposing of a stash of her late grandmother’s canning jars—the aged contents had spoile—but says that generous neighbors came to her aid when she was testing recipes for the book. “We have a neighborhood garden club that is more of a social club, and so many of the ladies gave me jars,” says Weigl, who figures she filled hundreds of them as she mastered the featured recipes. “That was so encouraging.”

Weigl felt like she needed the boost. Her daughter was not quite a year old when she started the labor intensive project, and it sometimes was a challenge to make pickles and preserves while balancing the baby’s needs and working a full-time job.

“I look back now and can’t even fathom how I did it,” she says. “I asked for a year to write the book because I need that to work with what was in season.”
Despite constant testing and a weeklong visit from her mother, during which they made more than a dozen different recipes, Weigl discovered at the end that she somehow managed to miss some key produce. That’s when she picked up the phone.

“I asked people for recipes,” Weigl says. “Sheri Castle was nice enough to share her corn and sweet pepper relish recipe.”

Weigl has nice friends. The book includes recipes from several acclaimed canners, chefs and cookbook writers, including Andrea Reusing of Lantern restaurant; April McGreger of Farmer’s Daughter; fellow Savor the South writers Debbie Moose, Kathleen Purvis and Sandra Gutierrez; and Jean Anderson, whose 1987 Green Thumb Preserving Guide was reissued by UNC Press in 2012.

Weigl is especially proud to include Anderson’s summery Yellow Squash Pickles, which she admits she can’t live without. “I absolutely love that recipe and never came across anything like in my research,” she says.

The book includes a useful guide to canning safety, which Weigl presents in accessible terms meant to encourage new canners to take up the practice.
“Canning can be intimidating, which is why I think I waited so long to try it myself,” she says. “If you have a better understand of the why we do certain things, there’s less reason to be afraid.”

Weigl is eager for the return of spring fruits and summer vegetables but admits that the short window in fall when Damson plums arrive is her favorite part of the canning season.

“I also look forward to honeysuckles coming back to make honeysuckle jelly,” she says, referencing the very first recipe in the book. “There’s something about finding your patch of honeysuckle and taking the time to pick four cups’ worth to make jelly that is really satisfying.”

Continue reading…

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    Those empty canning jars aren't going to fill themselves

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Friday, February 21, 2014

The Science of Eats: An excuse to play with your food

Posted by on Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 12:03 PM

The science of cotton candy: spun sugar - ALL PHOTOS BY LISA SORG
  • All photos by Lisa Sorg
  • The science of cotton candy: spun sugar

If you've ever wanted to see adults play with their food like 3-year-olds, then you might have attended The Science of Eats at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham Thursday night.

One of the most popular guys at the event
  • One of the most popular guys at the event

Here food lovers and science geeks learned about enzymes that neutralize the lactose in milk; the mysteries of Maltodextrin and the protein content of a tarantula, which, pound for pound, is greater than that in hamburger. You just have to get past the idea you're eating an hairy arachnid.

Tarantulas are eaten in Thailand. Rosita, pictured here, is not destined for the dinner plate. She is also well-socialized.
  • Tarantulas are eaten in Thailand. Rosita, pictured here, is not destined for the dinner plate. She is also well-socialized.

Read more about the event in next week's print edition of the INDY.
The spiny stick reportedly tastes like a leafy green.
  • The spiny stick reportedly tastes like a leafy green.

Pizza master from Pie Pushers taught people how to toss dough.
  • Pizza master from Pie Pushers taught people how to toss dough.

The N.C. Food Science Club had several exhibitions, including one on stuffed peppers.
  • The N.C. Food Science Club had several exhibitions, including one on stuffed peppers.

Good cheese starts with a happy cow.
  • Good cheese starts with a happy cow.

Psychedelic, man
  • Psychedelic, man

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    Tarantulas and cotton candy meet at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

James Beard nominees include eight Triangle restaurateurs

Posted by on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 3:12 PM


Giorgios Bakatsias was caught off-guard when a longtime employee called to congratulate him this morning.
“It’s a great honor and I didn’t expect it at all,” says Bakatsias, who learned from Vin Rouge General Manager Michael Maller that the James Beard Foundation had nominated him in a national category as Outstanding Restaurateur. “I take the moment to be truly overjoyed and grateful,” Bakatsias adds. “At the same time, the credit goes to the people around me. We have a great team.”
Giorgios Hospitality Group owns several popular and critically lauded restaurants in the Triangle. The group includes Bin 54, City Kitchen, Kipos and Village Burgers in Chapel Hill; Café at the Nasher Museum of Art, Local 22, Parizäde and Vin Rouge in Durham; Georges Brasserie in Charlotte; and Gatehouse Tavern and Girasole Trattoria in Wake Forest.
Bakatsias hints that more may be in the works. “I don’t sleep early so I’m always working on something,” he says with a laugh. “Maybe in a couple of weeks there might be something to talk about.”
Like Bakatsias, Phoebe Lawless was nominated in a national category, Best Pastry Chef, for Scratch Baking in Durham. It is her second consecutive nomination.
In an omission that recalls past Academy Award conundrums, The Fearrington House Restaurant in Pittsboro was nominated in the national category of Outstanding Restaurant, but Chef Colin Bedford is not listed among the nation’s Outstanding Chefs. He is, however, among the semi-finalists named to the Best Chef Southeast category.
Last year’s Best Chef Southeast finalist group included list included just one name from North Carolina, Ashley Christensen of Raleigh’s Poole’s Diner. She is a semi-finalist again this year, along with Bedford and six colleagues:
• Scott Crawford, Herons at the Umstead Hotel, Cary
• Vivian Howard, Chef & the Farmer, Kinston
• Scott Howell, Nana’s, Durham
• Meherwan Irani, Chai Pani, Asheville
• Matt Kelly, Mateo, Durham
• Aaron Vandemark, Panciuto, Hillsborough
While North Carolina was shut out of several major categories – including Best New Restaurant and Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional – Katie Button of Cúrate in Asheville is one of 25 people nominated as Rising Star Chef of the Year.
Finalists in the restaurant and chef categories – as well as nominations for book, journalism, broadcast and restaurant design awards – will be announced on March 19. The 2014 James Beard Awards will be presented in New York City on May 2 and 5. 
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    Giorgios Bakatsias, Phoebe Lawless, Ashley Christesen vie for top honors

Thursday, February 13, 2014

SnOMG! Time to make snow cream

Posted by on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 3:10 PM

Cabin fever due to snow is a rare, practically once-in-a-decade experience for us in the Triangle. But with minimal effort and ingredients from your pantry, you can turn your winter blues into a bowl of creamy snow cream.

The recipe for this simple treat is very forgiving, so don’t feel like to you need to risk an icy drive or sloshy hike to a store. I happened to have half-and-half in the fridge, but you also can use regular milk or, better still, condensed milk you’ve had in the cupboard for the pie you forgot to bake at Thanksgiving. If you’re lucky enough to have some creamy Maple View Dairy buttermilk, give that a try.

You can turn this into chocolate snow cream by mixing in syrup or cocoa mix before adding into the snow. I topped ours with some homemade strawberry sauce canned last summer.

Get a spoon. - JILL WARREN LUCAS
  • Jill Warren Lucas
  • Get a spoon.

SnOMG Cream

Make four servings

6–8 cups fresh snow

1–2 cups half-and-half, milk or canned milk (divided)

1–1½ cups sugar (divided)
2–3 tsp. vanilla (divided)

fruit jam or topping, optional

Collect fresh, ice-free snow in a large bowl.

Measure 1 cup liquid, 3/4 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla in bowl. (If using chocolate syrup or cocoa mix, add now.) Use a whisk or fork to combine, ensuring that the sugar is dissolved. Pour over snow and use a wide spatula to fold and combine into an ice cream-like texture. Snow will significantly reduce in volume.

Taste to determine if the mixture is sweet and creamy enough for your taste; note it will be a little crunchy in comparison to traditional ice cream. If needed, prepare more of the liquid-sugar-vanilla mixture, quickly adding and stirring until it’s just right.
Serve immediately, topped with your favorite fruit jam or ice cream topping.

Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance writer who blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.
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    Think of your front yard as a giant bowl of ice cream

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Blind Pig underground supper club arrives in Raleigh

Posted by on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 9:11 AM

It takes a good bit of faith to drop $85 on a dinner ticket without knowing the menu or location, but the Blind Pig underground supper club has held two dinners in Raleigh in the past month and both sold out fast.

The Blind Pig is an Asheville institution that brings together area chefs to prepare a multi-course menu for more than 100 guests. Proceeds benefit local charities, and the events have been so successful it’s likely the mountain tradition will catch on here in the capital.

I called my source Sunday afternoon (ticket holders receive an email) and he instructed me to go to the newly opened Merrimon-Wynne house on Blount Street at 5. The attire was black-tie and B.Y.O.B., he said.

The communal dining experience promises new friends and good company. My companions, a Richmond couple, had attended the first Blind Pig event in Raleigh at the restored Gethsemane Seventh Day Adventist church downtown. It was “a little grubbier” than the majestic Merrimon-Wynne, but the food beckoned them back, they said.

The seven-course menu, themed “Seven Degrees of Separation,” was prepared with local seasonal ingredients by Asheville chef Brian Canipelli, with Matt Kelly of Mateo Tapas and Vin Rouge in Durham and Danielle Centeno of Escazu Chocolates in Raleigh. (Vegetarians are welcome; servers will give you a meat-free plate if you ask.)

A team of around 10 prepped and cooked the food onsite. I caught Stanbury co-chef Drew Maykuth doubled over a charcoal grill on a back patio, frying vegetables and kumquat for okonomyaki, while prep cooks ladled dips onto long planks of wood.

The “mezze board,” the first course of the evening served on a 2-by-4, was not conducive to self-control. I tasted and re-tasted the rainbow of dips, a smoky hummus to a tangy babaganoush, a sweet beet yogurt and a hot chili sauce. The board was sprinkled with cups of olives and pistachios, collard green leaves stuffed with currants and spices and slices of radish.

“It’s cool to see such a raw, organic presentation,” said fellow diner Timothy Myers, an N.C. Opera conductor, while some of his colleagues serenaded us with piano music.

Next, the scallop crudo was an unexpected explosion of flavor and texture, with blood orange, more beet, white asparagus and trout roe. Then came the okonomiyaki: topped with country ham and flakes of bonito, it was every bit as good as the charcoal grill portended.

The fourth plate, foie gras, was fried into a French-toast like pastry, served with a bittersweet marmalade, ham, sherry, maple and peanuts. The veal cheek Blanquette came in a salty, creamy broth, with cauliflower, shimeji mushroom and onion. The final plate, duck leg, was cooked to perfection with mole, winter squash and celery root.

For once, I saved room for dessert, spicy ice-cream (read chocolate and chili) and éclair.

Fully sated and entertained, I know I’ll be back to the Blind Pig, though the next event may not be until April. Keep your eyes and ears open.
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    The Asheville institution brought together Durham and Raleigh chefs for seven-course meal

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The Cupcake Bar accepts the Bull City Vegan Challenge

Posted by on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 9:05 AM

Vegan s'mores  cupcakes from The Cupcake Bar - LISA SORG
  • Lisa Sorg
  • Vegan s'mores cupcakes from The Cupcake Bar

When you bite into a vegan s’more cupcake from the Cupcake Bar, remember it took two weeks to perfect that marshmallow.
One recent morning, owner Anna Branly wielded a miniature torch over a tray of square marshmallows, toasting them to an optimal color of copper. When finished, these egg- and dairy-free sugar bombs will land atop vegan s’mores cupcakes, the bakery’s dessert entry in this month’s Bull City Vegan Challenge.

The Cupcake Bar sells vegan versions every Saturday, but for the challenge, they will be available every day.
The frosting is made with a vegan butter substitute, but Branley says, “The science is in the eggs.” In lieu of ova, Branly uses vinegar and baking soda.
As for marshmallows, traditional versions contain sugar, flavoring and gelatin, which is derived from animal products—the boiled down bones, tendons, ligaments of cows or pigs.
After a fortnight of experimentation and, Branly says, “a lot of steps,” she and her fellow bakers found the right combination of soy protein, cream of tartar, sugar and agar agar, the latter of which thickens the mix that is beaten like a meringue.
“We just kept trying,” Branly says. “I knew it could be done.”
The Bull City Vegan Challenge runs through Feb. 28. Other participating eateries are The Parlour, Hummingbird Bakery, Taberna Tapas, Dos Perros, Parts & Labor, The Refectory Café and Beyu Caffe. The Cupcake Bar is at 101 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham, 919-816-2905,
Info about the challenge is at —

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    The secret of a vegan marshmallow

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Now Serving: The latest in Triangle restaurant and food happenings

Posted by on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 6:12 PM

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Celebrating Lowcountry cuisine with Jay Pierce of Lucky 32

Posted by on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 4:35 PM

Senegalese gumbo - JILL WARREN LUCAS
  • Jill Warren Lucas
  • Senegalese gumbo

A distinguished group of academics, chefs and farmers converged last Friday to both examine the foundations of South Carolina’s Lowcountry cuisine and celebrate its sustainable resurgence during the Atlantic Foodways Conference at UNC Greensboro.

This was the first year that the annual conference —which also examined the native foodways and transatlantic impact of Italy, France and Spain—featured high-profile chefs who are influencing contemporary cuisine through their commitment to restore fading traditions. The Lowcountry was ably represented by Sean Brock of Charleston’s acclaimed Husk and McGrady’s restaurants.

“I’ve been lucky enough to watch and be part of the rebirth of one of America’s first cuisines,” said Brock, who grew up in rural Virginia before moving to Charleston during a low point in the city’s now-booming food scene. A decade ago, he added, “People came to this beautiful city from around the world with romantic ideas about great food in their minds, but the rice was Uncle Ben’s and the grits was Quaker instant. They were not satisfied and the cuisine was dismissed.”

As in other historic food communities, Brock and other concerned chefs worked closely with local and national growers, cultural anthropologists and food scientists to identify heirloom plant species that could be restored through seed projects. Some are now thriving, like the Carolina Gold rice, Sea Island red peas and juicy Dancy tangerines used in a four-course dinner curated by Brock.

Keynote speaker David Shields, a prolific author and president of the influential Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, commended Brock on his leadership in sustainable restoration of Lowcountry foodways. “This is not a cuisine of re-enactment,” he said firmly. “What’s been brought back is the ingredients, and those ingredients give permission for creativity.”

The Lowcountry dinner was prepared by Greensboro and Cary chef Jay Pierce of Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen and served at the elegant Proximity Hotel. It started with a benne (sesame seed) oyster stew, a Lowcountry classic that was punched up with glossy bacon from Allan Benton’s legendary Smoky Mountain Country Hams and creamy Old Mill grits from Guilford County. It was followed by Senegalese fish gumbo, whose unexpected spice profile provided a flavorful nod to slaves whose culinary achievements generally were attributed to white plantation hostesses who rarely stepped inside their own kitchens.

Pierce took the lead on a “Roots & Shoots” plate that featured braised pickled turnips and greens alongside the red peas from Anson Mills, which had been simmered in a luscious ham hock broth. Some diners regretted the lack of cornbread while others contentedly slurped the soupy remains. The meal finished with cakelike chocolate and a tangy orange sorbet distinctively drizzled with natural birch syrup.

The Lowcountry sessions featured key voices in the efforts to more fully document the abundance of antebellum Charleston’s farms and kitchen gardens. Shields delivered a powerful discourse that tracked the ways foods migrated and changed – some to the point of extinction through aggressive manipulation meant to adapt to local conditions. He also linked the seemingly “magical” ability of slaves to excel in plantation kitchens to specific marketing of those procured for that very purpose from rice-growing regions of Western Africa.

Marcie Cohen Ferris of UNC Chapel Hill presented a preview of her new book, The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region, which is scheduled for fall publication by UNC Press. Her remarks focused on the cultural politics of Charleston’s “culinary brand” during the growing tourism economy of the 1930s through the 1950s.

“No city packaged and sold the ‘Old South’ better than Charleston,” said Ferris, noting the port city fashioned itself as the epicenter of all things great and Southern. “Masterminded by white elites, they rewrote the city’s history.”

As represented by an ever-present demure Southern belle, this imagined history ignored slavery by depicting black men in romanticized field labor and women who spoke in vernacular while deploying “culinary wizardry” in well-appointed kitchens. It also dismissed a large Jewish community that established the nation’s second oldest synagogue building, which today is the oldest in continuous use.

By the late 1930s, popular national magazines were printing Lowcountry recipes and touting the appeal of culinary vacations. Some homes near the historic Battery were converted into boarding houses while others attracted Northern socialites like Claire Booth Luce, who became the “invented mistress” of her plantation.

The fascination with the South and its air of high society extended to New York City, where the flagship B. Altman’s department store featured a Charleston garden restaurant complete with a Tara-like courtyard setting.

Recent scholarship has revealed such whitewashed depictions and dumbed-down food as creations of a powerful public relations campaign, but many people still cling to the myths.

"Lowcountry tourism really transformed the flavor and racism of the culinary South in a way that still has resonance and power today," Ferris said.

Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance writer from Raleigh who blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.

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    Lowcountry foodways: "not a cuisine of re-enactment"Cele

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