Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Curtis Stone Seeks Local Grub Secrets at Hotel Indigo

Posted By on Tue, Aug 9, 2011 at 8:21 AM

Curtis Stone and a buddy (photo courtesy of blogger Lindsay Landis, loveandoliveoil.com).
  • Curtis Stone and a buddy (photo courtesy of blogger Lindsay Landis, loveandoliveoil.com).
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to sit on a panel with Lindsay Landis, one of the organizers of the Nashville Food Bloggers website, and television celebrity Chef Curtis Stone. We were brought together as part of a promotion by Hotel Indigo to identify some of Nashville's favorite dishes served at neighborhood restaurants. A bevy of Stoneheads sat all a-twitter at the front tables waiting for Chef Stone to make his appearance while other attendees noshed on samples from some local food and beverage providers including Jack Daniel, Arrington Estates, Provence, Drew's Brews and Yazoo. As fond as I am of wine, beer and booze before noon, Lindsay and I had a job to do, so we abstained.

When Curtis did arrive, he was as friendly and charming as you could imagine, visiting with the local purveyors, taking pictures with his fans and even an adorable service dog (pictured at right — awwww) and addressing the assembled crowd about his passion for local foods. On his show Take Home Chef, Curtis used to prowl the produce section at grocery stores to find women who would take him home with them so he could cook for their families. Invariably as part of the interview to figure out what sort of food to shop for and eventually prepare, Chef Stone would ask, "So what does your husband like?" Not once did I ever hear the expected answer, which would be, "Well, I'll tell you what he doesn't like: For me to bring home big, tall handsome Australian surfer dudes."

The promotion, which you can still participate in on Hotel Indigo's Facebook page until mid-October, seeks to solicit input as to what makes a great local dish great. Winners of the promotion will win a trip to New York City to discover that local cuisine; and one of last year's winner actually came from Nashville, so we have a good track record.

One by one, locals lined up to tell Curtis what their secret favorite dish in town was. Interestingly, a pattern emerged. You all really like Mexican takes on sweet potatoes, as the the first two participants raved over the sweet potato enchiladas at Mad Donna's and the sweet potato tacos at The Wild Cow. Budding food truck entrepreneurs, take note.

The Fried Green Tomato BLT at Whiskey Kitchen was also recognized as a winner, after which Curtis turned to us and said, "That sounds good. Is it?" Pretty soon, Chef Stone moved aside for some media interviews while Lindsay and I answered questions from the audience about where we suggested they should try. You can imagine the usual suspects we mentioned, but we were surprised that so many people hadn't considered some neighborhood gems where they lived which we thought were no-brainers. I guess they weren't Bites readers.

Later, when it was our chance to interview Curtis, we asked him where he got his information about where to eat in a strange town. He had the advantage of being able to ring up other famous chefs for advice, but stated that he depends more on the word of cab drivers and hotel clerks over other celebrichefs. So where did that get him in Nashville the night before when he first arrived? After a failed attempt to get into Jack's on Broadway for barbecue, he ended up at Rippy's for ribs and music. As a tourist staying downtown, he certainly could have done a lot worse.

We asked him if he was going to try to grab a bite on the way out of town, and this is where we were actually able to give him some advice. He said he might like to try a little chicken joint he'd heard about — Prince's. We unfortunately had to veto this idea because he only had a short time before his flight and Prince's notoriously slow service would never have allowed him to make it to the gate on time. Plus, I let him in on my steadfast "No hot chicken within 24 hours of plane flight" rule. He should thank me.

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