Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rock the Back of the House: Nashville Chefs Name Favorite Music To Cook To

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2012 at 5:49 AM

It's been said that chefs are the new rock stars. Heck, there are even a number of former rock stars who've become chefs. (Check out this Saveur article on the topic, titled "Kitchen Punks.")

There are parallels between the chef and rock-star vocations: long hours, years of apprenticeship and often low pay. Changing “set lists” from night to night. Performing to the best of one's ability, whether the paid crowd that night is 30 or 300. Oh, and there's this: Chefs, like rock stars, seem to really love music.

“Yeah, we listen to music here in the restaurant,” says Josh Habiger of The Catbird Seat (pictured right with co-chef Erik Anderson, far right). “I think part of the experience here is that people [are in] our kitchen. We choose what they eat, what they drink, and what they hear. We definitely listen to the music a lot louder before we open. The content is not always noisier, though.

“For service, we put together playlists that are intended to correspond with the pace of the room at the time, so generally we start off with some quieter stuff: Americana, Tom Waits, Vic Chesnutt, Will Oldham. And then we move into louder and faster stuff. The busier part of the night will get to Fugazi, The Minutemen, The Pixies, The Hold Steady, and such. Then we sort of wind back to mellower things like Andrew Bird and Tortoise," Habiger adds.

“I think I have listened to music in every kitchen I've worked in except Bouchon in Napa,” says Ashley Quick, formerly of Flyte, who now works in the kitchen at the Capitol Grille. “At the Fat Duck we had one radio for two kitchens. The first person in would have to steal the radio for the day's tunes.

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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,
  • Curtis Stone and a buddy (photo courtesy of blogger Lindsay Landis,
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.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

F. Scott's Promotes Ramquist to Chef de Cuisine

Posted By on Tue, Oct 26, 2010 at 10:39 AM

F. Scott's Restaurant & Jazz Bar, the venerable fine-dining spot in Green Hills, has named Kevin Ramquist to be the new chef de cuisine.

Ramquist, who has worked at F. Scott's for five years, was promoted from sous chef to replace Will Uhlhorn. However, Uhlhorn is staying in the company and the neighborhood. He and F. Scott's co-owners Wendy Burch and Elise Loehr have opened a sister restaurant, Table 3, in space next to the Green Hills 16 movie theater. Table 3 is an ambitious French-influenced bistro/brasserie.

A graduate of Johnson & Wales culinary school in Virginia, Ramquist says he plans to keep F. Scott's on the path set by Uhlhorn. But he also hopes to begin "trying some new things, expanding our local sources even more and pushing the envelope a bit,” Ramquist said in a release.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Meet the Man Behind Benton's World-Famous Bacon

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 1:06 PM

Allan Benton in the smokehouse
  • Jude Ferrara
  • Allan Benton in the smokehouse
The City Paper put a little sizzle into its cover story this week, profiling bacon virtuoso Allan Benton, whose Benton's Bacon has become a national sensation. It's nice to read that a smart, hard-working Tennessee ham and bacon man has gotten props from high-brow folks like The New York Times and Gourmet.

Benton makes a mean country ham at his Madisonville, Tenn., smokehouse, but it's his bacon that gets the most notice. Restaurants in Nashville and New York treasure his frilly strips of genius. Benton's Bacon even played a prominent role in an episode of HBO's New Orleans-set drama, Treme.

My favorite Benton's Bacon story is something I heard from a female server at a local restaurant that fries up pounds and pounds of the popular bacon every day — and where the delightful smoky smell anoints everyone who works there. She said that if they happen to stop in a bar after work, the bacon aroma is a powerful pheromone for attracting the attention of men. Who needs perfume when there's bacon in the air?

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nonna Chef to Cook at Le Creuset, Whole Foods

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 8:01 AM

Nonnas Gourmet Foods spicy marinara sauce
  • Photo via
  • Nonna's Gourmet Foods' spicy marinara sauce
I called Dan Maggipinto of Caffe Nonna for a completely different reason, but he was so full of news.

First of all, he'll be doing a big cooking event at Le Creuset in Hill Center Green Hills on Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m. The menu wasn't set, and really, it's a demonstration, not a cooking class, using his Nonna's Gourmet Foods Marinara and Spicy Marinara and Chianti Jelly.

Attend the event free, and once you try the sauce, you can buy it. Maggipinto has been making and selling Nonna's Gourmet sauces from his grandmother's recipe for seven years. You may have seen them at Publix. The proceeds all go to a brain-cancer research foundation named for his late daughter Zoe Marie, benefiting St. Jude's Children's hospital. Maggipinto guesses he's raised around $25,000 so far.

Food Network Magazine will be featuring Maggipinto and his products later this year, he says, so buy before the stampede. The sauces are available on his website,, and at Produce Place, Turnip Truck, and coming to Whole Foods (and possibly still a few jars at Publix). Nashville Cash and Carry has the whopping huge food-service size jars.

Maggipinto will also conduct a cooking class at Whole Foods on Oct. 27, 6:30-8:30 p.m. It's called Fall Italian Feast with Cafe Nonna. The menu is exceptionally bountiful and varied and promises to be pretty unforgettable:

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Want to Help Arnold Myint Win $10K? Vote for Top Chef Fan Favorite

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 4:27 PM

If, like me, you stopped watching Season 7 of Top Chef the minute Padma Lakshmi told Arnold Myint to pack up his Louis Vuitton knife bag, you might want to resume your viewing — at least until the voting for Fan Favorite is over.

The cheftestant who earns the most votes in an audience poll stands to take home $10,000. Not bad for a Miss Congeniality-style honor. That chunk of change would be a pretty penny for Myint to put toward his goal of starting a foundation with an international focus on children, education, food and the arts. Or he could buy some more hats.

According to the omnipresent media rep assigned to Myint by Bravo network, Fan Favorite voting will take place in August. More details to follow. (And remember, you can't vote on your DVR. Doh!)

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Garden to Go: Teen Farmer Eschews Miley Cyrus for Seedlings

Posted By on Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 11:46 AM

Alexandra Reau, 14, in her financially lucrative backyard garden.
  • NYT
  • Alexandra Reau, 14, in her financially lucrative backyard garden.
Statistically speaking, there's nothing all that spectacular about Michigan teen Alexandra Reau. She's 14; she lives in a rural part of Michigan on land her family farmed for generations, so she, too, knows a thing or two about working the land. She's a 4-H member who lives in an area where seniors can ride their tractors and four-wheelers on the last day of school. She raises bunnies on the side.

As the New York Times put it in a story about Alexandra: "While her peers are hanging out at Molly’s Mystic Freeze and working out the moves to that Miley Cyrus video, she's flicking potato-beetle larvae off of leaves in her V-neck T-shirt and denim capris, a barrette keeping her hair out of her demurely made-up eyes. Who says the face of American farming is a 57-year-old man with a John Deere cap?"

This is the sort of thing that a teenage me would have scoffed at. Ag classes, 4-H, country roads, dilapidated barns, quilting lessons: Been there, done that. And there was nothing more boring to me than embracing my own roots and doing what was expected of me. My solipsistic teenage mind was sure there was nothing for me within 500 square miles of what I knew. Take that, bluegrass festival on the square!

I spent my earliest memories in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Byrdstown, Tenn., where everyone has a garden in their backyard, and the idea of going to the store to buy produce is practically unheard of. But gardens need tending, and so my sisters and I were drafted to pick green beans, shuck corn and can vegetables every summer — child labor paid for with bushels of corn or cartons of blueberries to take home, something that, at the time, seemed like a royal rip-off. To me, it was indentured servitude, a country way of life best departed for the city.

Little did I know, the joke was on me.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Green Start in the Heart of the City

Posted By on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 8:06 AM

Taking a shortcut to bypass Charlotte, I stumbled on the community garden of the John Henry Hale homes, the “Seaside” inspired housing bordered by the I-40 inner loop on one side and 17th Avenue North on the other.

It was the first I’d heard of it, and I jumped out to snap pictures of the tidy raised boxes behind the locked gate.

A white BMW pulled up, and a gardener walked over. “You with the paper?” he asked. I said I was, and that the garden had taken me by surprise as I rolled past on Jo Johnston Avenue.

MDHA granted funds for the John Henry Hale Community Garden, and the project began this spring. (Read more about it on Gloria Ballard's blog, Turning Toward the Sun.) You can see it from the air on Google Maps, in the earliest days when the boxes were being filled with dirt.

The friendly gardener had brought along sets of elephant garlic and watermelon plants for his box. He let me into the locked enclosure. It’s just a gardener’s dream of well-built boxes brimming with well-tended plants, a handy water pump in the center. Tomatoes are already ripening, eggplants are coming along nicely, and yellow squash is ready to pick.

But the gardener was most proud of the okra. Rows and rows of it, planted in the dense hills of someone who's clearly never experienced the full majesty and exhausting abundance of a single 7-foot okra plant.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Who Was That Guy? Recapping Nashville's Minute With Fieri

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 4:41 PM

From left: Carmelo and Maria Savarino, Guy Fieri, Corrado Jr., Corrado Sr. and Francesca Savarino
  • From left: Carmelo and Maria Savarino, Guy Fieri, Corrado Jr., Corrado Sr. and Francesca Savarino
It’s been a week or so since the Guy Fieri furor died down, and we can now give a full accounting of all the restaurants that the chef and his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives crew are known to have visited. Arnold’s, Athens Family Restaurant, Café Rakka, Martin’s Bar-B-Que and Savarino’s were the first round of local eateries the spike-haired Food Network star and NBC game show host descended upon. Later we heard about two more: the excellent Jamaicaway in the Farmers Market and the venerable Bro’s Cajun Cuisine on Charlotte Pike.

As polarizing a figure as Fieri is among foodies (some chafe at his “regular guy who just likes to stuff his gut” image and theatrical trappings like the aforementioned blond-on-black Sonic the Hedgehog hairstyle), he seemed to have made a good impression around town.

At Savarino’s, he tried to keep up with chef-owner Corrado Savarino’s deadpan sense of humor and generally charmed the whole family, including Corrado Jr., who got an autographed hat and a Guy Fieri wristband. Scene editor Jim Ridley, who chatted with Fieri during that shoot, said the super-chef seemed genuinely interested in Nashville and asked a lot of questions about the Hillsboro Village neighborhood and concentration of restaurants.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Iron Fork Competitors Named -- Barlow Fights To Keep Title

Posted By on Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 3:02 PM

The Scene's annual spectacle of culinary combat, Iron Fork, has a pugnacious passel of five chefs this year, including Jeremy Barlow, last year's winner.

Typically, the past winner would serve as a judge, not a contestant, but it's hard to keep Chef Jeremy out of the center ring!

The other fearsome contenders are (in alphabetical order): Chris Cunningham (Sunset Grill), Hal M. Holden-Bache (Eastland Cafe), Andy Hunter (Acorn) and Jason McConnell (Red Pony, Sol, 55 South).

Don't miss this terrifically fun event, which is 6-10 p.m. April 21 at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Tickets are $30 in advance, $40 on the day of the event and at the door.

The nonprofit beneficiaries this year are Second Harvest Food Bank and Manna-Food Security Partners.

Tickets can be purchased at or at both Whole Foods locations and at Le Creuset in Green Hills.

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