Birmingham, you have my heart.

From here on out, let it be known that I travel mostly by taste. My experience of a city relies not on the sights and sounds, but the flavors and scents that waft from food trucks and restaurants. Before I came to Birmingham I fretted over the food. I assumed I’d have access to great BBQ (a myopic, though not unkind, judgement) and knew of a few top-notch restaurants (hello Bottega), but wondered how I would find the local dives, the outlying ethnic spots and seasonal produce.

As I approached my hotel for the first time I drove down a long lane of uninspired boxaurants. Landry’s, O’Charley’s, IHOP, Chili’s, it was an assault on my admittedly narrow-minded way of eating. Perhaps more frightening was the enthusiasm spouted by my car-mates as we passed each food cemetery. They simply shuddered with delight at the nearby variety. Sweat flushed my face, were these to be my eating companions for the next 7 weeks?

That first night I scoured the interweb for something owned by a family rather than a corporation. With a bit of luck I came across a Vietnamese restaurant not more than 5 miles from our hotel. I called a castmate and told him of my plans, inviting him on an adventure; he gladly jumped in the car.

Upon opening the menu I learned this would be David’s first foray into Vietnamese food, perhaps his first Southeast Asian meal altogether. I attempted a slight explanation of the entrees and he ordered intrepidly. Over dinner we discussed our personal eating habits. I told David I’d be looking for local grub, ethnic or otherwise, during my stay in Birmingham. Might he want to accompany me on my quest?

After nearly two months of eating through Birmingham, David and I have a few favorites. Should you find yourself here for a few days or a few weeks, let me be your escort for a couple of meals. I promise to be gentle.

Many thanks to Jane Lerner for pointing me in the direction of numbers 1 and 2 on this list, without her advance recon I’m not sure I would have ever found these gems. Additional thanks to Erin Street andStephanie Gibson. These two saints found my twitter handle in the program for Legally Blonde and invited David and me out for a drink that led to a most serendipitous friendship.

#1 Saw’s BBQ

Alabama is indeed, ripe with BBQ establishments. There are large chains (Dreamland, Jim ‘n Nick’s), and then there are the local joints (Saw’s and Miss Myra’s). Let me be clear on one thing: you can’t go wrong. All BBQ we ate was delicious. Do we have a preference? Yes. Saw’s is utterly local and uniquely spiced. Their eponymous sauce is bright and peppery, a perfect match to the smoke-charred ribs and the melting pulled pork. Best Q I’ve had? Yep. Get on it.

Ribs+slaw+turnip greens=HEAVEN.

#2 Korean Barbecue Restaurant

Opening the door, we are welcomed with a chime and the eerie theme music from The X-Files. The show continues on in a Korean translation as we wait at the front counter to be seated. No one is in the restaurant, not a diner, not a waiter, perhaps we should leave? No. Next door is the Asian market, owned by the same family, sharing a wall. We leave the restaurant and enter the market, hoping we might see someone there. Strike 2. No one in the market. We wander the aisles for a minute and then see an elderly woman poke her head out of the back kitchen. She darts inside again without a word. We stroll a few more aisles then go back into the restaurant side, assuming this time she’ll be there to greet us. Strike 3. Still no one at the counter. We open and close the door a few times to activate the digital chime in a machine-gun rhythm. Still no host. Should we leave?

No. More credit to David as an intrepid eater, we walk into the restaurant and all the way through the dining section to the back, where a window indicates a kitchen. The old woman pokes her head out again and then sends an even older man to help us. We ask if the place is open, could we eat?

He leads us to a table and gives us two menus. Again, I explain the food to David and we order.

I’ll keep this short: More hijinks ensue, the food arrives, AND I EAT THE BEST BI BIM BOP OF MY LIFE.

You must eat here. It will be the most awkwardly private dining experience of your life, and you will leave with a full belly and a giant smile.

Bangarang Bim Bop

#3 Gordo’s Taqueria

My castmates all proclaim their love of Mexican food, then they eat at Chuy’s and Chili’s and I realize they might not have ever had Mexican food. Proper Mexican food, not Mex-Am food, not watery salsa over grilled chicken breasts, but striking street food. Gordo’s is the real deal. The family owns a whole strip of stores, a panaderia, carniceria, and finally, the tremendous taqueria. The meats change on a daily basis, so ask for the list when you go to order. My suggestions? The chorizo, house made, spicy and deep red. The lamb, pungently gamey, tender and outstanding. The al-pastor, roasted on a spit and sliced to order.

Perfect flavors, tons of salsas to pour on (at your own discretion), and best of all? Tacos are $1.90 each. This is fast food I can get behind.

Video, Summer

IACP 2011

IACP 2011.

I was in Austin, TX for a week at the beginning of June with a collision of foodniks. The International Association of Culinary Professionals. We talked, we ate, we drank, there were some fantastic panels and there were reasons to play hooky. IACP is at an interesting crossroads (so say I). The organization has been around for over 30 years and acts to connect food professionals from all corners of this industry-photographers, chefs, food stylists, producers, bloggers, authors, eaters, etc. But in an ever more youthful food industry it seems that IACP struggles to bring in the under 35 demographic. Indeed, I was one of a handful of attendees under the age of 30. This was my second year as an IACP member. I joined because it put me in direct contact with people who knew more than me, plain and simple. I started this website in my imagination (honestly, I told people it existed but “was down for service” for a good 6 months before I even launched). It was an idea bubbling in my head and when the bubbles started to burst I found myself with questions questions questions. I needed to meet people (face-to-face, not pixel-to pixel) who had done this before, who had started a website on a whim and turned it into something more. For me, IACP is the place to get face time with peers you’ve known online for ages. It’s a deep resource and I’m happy to have it at my fingertips.

So why is it so hard to get us young folks in the door?

Face time is a hard sell. And with a $600-800 ticket price (not including travel expenses), we have to prove a return of equal or greater value. For people starting out in the food world, be they young chefs or baby bloggers, this is a major expense. Hell, for people not starting out in the food industry this is a major expense. And when I’m about to drop serious cash I look long and hard at the product before I write that check. At the relatively minor cost of $100 I decided not to attend the regional conference in NYC this year. What kept me away? A quick demographic breakdown of the speakers instantly deterred me. I believe that we are drawn to speakers for one of two reasons: 1) They are like us 2)We want to be like them. The average panelist at the regional conference was certainly not like me, late 40′s to early 50′s, but the real struggle I felt was that I didn’t see panelists I wanted to be. Sure there were fascinating speakers, and there were even some people talking about what’s happening in the digital world. But those people were not my people. These were not speakers I’d have picked to talk about food in the digital age. Let’s get the folks behind Foodzie on a panel. I want to hear from the team. I want to meet the people my age who are game changers in the online food world. And more than that, I want action. As someone under the age of 30 (and I know many over-30 year olds who’d agree) I don’t want to sit in a room while someone talks at me for 2 hours. Even if it’s a topic I’m enthused about, I lose interest when my participation isn’t necessary.

If we want to change the demographic of our attendees at the national conference we need to change the demographic of our speakers.

If we want to prove value to a younger generation we need to build active programming.

One place IACP really does it right? The Kids in the Kitchen committee hosts an event each year that is both active and youthful. This year we went to the excellent UT Elementary school and gardened with the kids. We then drove to Whole Foods and showed these funky eaters how to cook what they grew. I left with dirty hands, as sure a sign of value as anything. The best face time at IACP is there, working with culinary peers to educate a new generation. Second best face time? Eating and drinking with new-found friends and old-school cronies while you ditch a few panels and make connections that will last a lifetime. We have to find a way to showcase this value, this nebulous, unplanned, off-campus “networking” that changes your career.

I want IACP to grow, to change, to be the best it can be. It has played a major role in my professional development and I want it to do the same for my peers. I made a video highlighting the Kids in the Kitchen event this year, it encapsulates the energy, passion and integrity that I see in IACP members.

There is great value in knowing people who know more than you. Thank you IACP for another great conference.

Video, Summer

IACP White House Event

Did this really happen?

Just over a week ago I found an email in my inbox from the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) asking if I would be interested in attending an event at the White House. Michelle Obama wanted to launch the next phase of her Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity with a lawn packed full of chefs. I couldn’t (and still can’t) think of anything that would stop me from going, so I sent in the requested security information and hoped for the best. Would there be a selection process? Was I eligible? Could I bring my camera with me?

I bought a ticket on the excellent Bolt Bus (plugs at every seat and wifi on the bus, it’s like Virgin Airlines hijacked Greyhound) and tried to pack wisely. I knew we’d be required to wear our chef’s coats on the White House lawn, so that took care of the tricky part (I dread to think what I would have dared to wear without a requirement). And then I received another email, this one from our White House contact. We would be allowed to bring in phones, cameras, video cameras…technology! I was surprised at the time, but I shouldn’t have been: more press=more press

The morning of the event we were invited to a sponsored breakfast from Share Our Strength. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke about the challenges we face when it comes to overhauling the school lunch program, but more importantly, he focused on the danger of doing nothing. He said, “What keeps me up every single night is that we have a dropout rate in this country that is staggering. We have 1.2 million students leaving our schools for the streets each year. We have to do everything we can to reduce that dropout rate and increase the graduation rate. But we can’t do it if we don’t start to address their health. We can’t do it if we don’t improve the quality of the food they’re eating.” I couldn’t agree more. Food is powerful.

I love hearing politicians discuss the connection between academic achievement and our current food culture. The processed foods that have taken over school lunches (not to mention the general American diet) don’t set students up for success. I’d love to see more relationships between local farms and schools. Is there a financially feasible way we can get fresh and local produce into cafeterias? I know a number of schools have started gardening programs, not only as a way to bring in unprocessed foods, but also as a learning tool for the students. Science classes can teach plant-life biology in the garden; English classes can discuss the various ecological influences in some of our most famous works of literature (When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden daffodils). This weekend in D.C. showed me how badly our food system needs overhauling, but also how much our education system stands to gain from that change.

And then we walked to the White House, where we mingled in the garden until Michelle Obama’s speech. It was hot, I was wearing a black chef’s coat (poor choice of color), and I could not have been more excited. I didn’t know what to expect (my favorite state of being). Among the guests were a number of chefs from The Food Network (Anne Burrell, Aaron McCargo Jr.) and a few past Top Chefs (Carla Hall, Ron Duprat). Everyone in the crowd (celebs and civvies alike) was simply charming on camera and I thank you all for lending me your time and voices.

As the crowd started to move from the garden, I realized it was time for the speech. We made our way to the South Lawn and sat down in sweaty anticipation. Sam Kass (assistant executive chef at the White House) opened for the First Lady and then it was showtime. Michelle Obama spoke to us about the Let’s Move campaign and our collective opportunity to change the future. I could paraphrase her, but I’d rather quote:

“We are going to need your time and talent to solve the childhood obesity epidemic and I am calling on our nation’s chefs to get involved by adopting a school and working with teachers, parents, school nutritionists and administrators to help educate kids about food and nutrition. You have tremendous power as leaders on this issue because of your deep knowledge of food and nutrition and your ability to deliver these messages in a fun and delicious way and I want to thank you for joining the Chefs Move to Schools campaign.”

Thank you, First Lady Obama, for letting me be a part of this. I’m thrilled.

Of course, I also made a video:

Dinner, Fall, Holiday, Video, Summer

Dinnergeddon 7

Dinnergeddon, I shall miss you. This was the seventh incarnation and by far our largest gathering. As usual the menu was Paleo friendly: tamarind-citrus chicken, poblano plantains and cilantro-jicama slaw. With the new TechStars teams in attendance we reached full capacity and spilled out onto the patio. Thankfully Boulder held back her Springtime tears and rained down only perfect sunshine and clear skies.

This will be my last dinnergeddon for a while; I’m moving back to New York in a few days. I want to send hearty thanks to Andrew Hyde for letting me cook and bringing me into his fold. Dinnergeddon will always be one of my favorite memories of this past year in Boulder. I am lucky to have met so many people through these parties, and I’ll miss the laughs.

Cheers to all!

Summer, Video

Farm City Fair 2010

This is totally meme-worthy.

My sister (heretofore known as Therese) forwarded me some info on a local food event that she would not be able to attend. Fortunately it fit perfectly into my schedule. The Farm City Fair is a celebration of urban fooding, local farming and agricultural artmaking. Sponsored by the FI:AF (French Institute:Alliance Francaise), it took up a few blocks of Cobble Hill as well as the interior of the Invisible Dog Gallery. The crisply witted @kthread was my date and we ate, laughed and reveled in the blissfully weird event.

We arrived to find a fair somewhat smaller than we had imagined. Maybe it was the grey sky, but from a distance the tenting along the block looked sparse. Maybe this would be a short adventure.

And then music.

Asphalt Orchestra was playing, dancing, shouting, grooving and bumping the fair into a capital event, it was now a full fledged FAIR. Grinning from the music (well, that and terribly attractive horn players) @kthread and I ran an initial lap around the booths to see who was there. Hydroponics advocates, local restaurants, kombucha breweries and local love all over the place. Ducking inside the gallery we finished our preliminary lap around the vendor tables to find Wylie Dufresne plating up some poached eggs. Obviously we would be back to sample.

The short story here is this: homegrown fairs are fabulous. We left the block filled to the brim with good food and giant smiles, more than enough to carry us home through a light mist.

You should watch the video through to the end. We made a very special friend.

There are many hats under this hat,

Dinner, Summer, Holiday


Testing recipes leaves me with an abundance of food. I eat a lot of it. Really. But sometimes, there’s one too many cakes in the freezer, and/or I have to make two batches of dinner back to back to unwind a kink in the works My fridge can only take so much. I could buy another refrigerator but they really have shown very little capacity to digest the food I feed them. They’re horrible pets. My food just sits there, deep in a cold belly taking a slow nap to decomposition.

And so, instead of investing in an icebox companion for my current GE monolith, I invite friends. They have shown propensity not only in eating my food but also in regurgitating compliments to the chef, something, I assure you, that soothes the belly better than the finest digestif.

I’ve been back in New York for almost two months now and the dinner party craving has taken strong hold. I owe much to Andrew Hyde but chiefly among my debts lays a passion for opening my door to friends and sharing whatever food I have. We had a wonderful habit in Boulder called Dinnergeddon. The premise? Food for an army, wine supplied by the soldiers, laughs, hugs, chatter, challenges and smiles the explosions of our war. The measure of the night taken not in warrants and arrests but in the negative space withing out pots and pans, the line of empty bottles standing guard on Andrew’s sill. 

I couldn’t imagine doing this without him.

And yet, it was time.
This is DinnergeddoNYC

The kitchen is challenging, the humidity oppressive and the gathering smaller. But-the laughs are still here, the chatter infectious and the hugs at the end of the night just as strong. It was my first dinner party in NYC.

Everything tastes better with company.