This, our 29th neighborhood letter, is food focused. What’s more fun than that? We asked Chefs Leigh Hesling (GVG and PWB) and Jay Pierce (L32SK) to jot down some of their thoughts about this culinary season and to share some of their favorite summer recipes. On a separate page, I ramble on about how we employ our “Frame of Reference” program (decoded: taking wonderful trips to visit great hotels and restaurants). In January, Leigh, Jay, Nancy and I went to London with the mission of not just expanding our frame of reference, but of having—at least partially—a common experience. (In case you are wondering, yes, the restaurant food in London is good…although many say it didn’t used to be!)
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- The red cantilever awnings at the O.Henry: the Plaza Athénée in NY (and Paris)
- The nine-light 7’4” square windows at the Proximity: a pre-war eight-story warehouse in South Chicago
- A hotel front desk that doesn’t go to the floor, like at the Proximity: The Mondrian in Beverly Hills
- Using the word “bespoke” rather than “custom-designed and/or made”: – We noticed this word being used in NY and Boston, but in the UK it has spread its wings beyond haberdashery. – Since events and catering at our hotels are always custom-designed, we refer to them as Bespoke Events. – Starting soon, beyond the custom-made Kew Double Ewe™ wines (sounds like QW, too silly?) that we serve at some of our catered events, we’ll have five delightful varietals that will be called “QW Bespoke” that will feature whimsical label sketches by Chip Holton, QW’s Artist-in-Residence.
- French fries so good they make your eyes roll back in your head: Bread Line in Washington, DC
- The center allée like we used at Print Works: Annabel’s, Berkley Square, London
- Huge windows in some of the guest room bathing rooms: Opus Hotel, Vancouver, BC
- Food pickup window assembly: South City Kitchen, Atlanta
- Restaurant service that’s authentic and professional, yet not self-important: Il Latini, Florence (not the one in South Carolina)
- Don’t try to notice things. Instead, notice what you notice. Respond to what you respond to. Just be a guest. Have fun. Relax. If you find your brow furrowed and your eyes squinted attempting to notice every detail, you’ll miss what typical guests notice. If something catches your eye or palate, zero in on it. Make a note or take a photo, then move on; revert to being a guest.
- Be careful with your expectations. Don’t have many. Drop those you have when you arrive. Stay in the moment, enjoy it. Avoid thinking things like, “Shucks, this place isn’t as great as I’d thought. I wish we’d gone to the other place we considered.” I liken this to romance: It seems that if a person has too specific of an idea about what is happening and too precise of an expectation, the opportunity for spontaneity, joy and delight often is missed. There ain’t much bad romance, just varying degrees of good! And there isn’t much bad expansion of your frame of reference. Why not go for optimal?
- Endeavor to be “in the moment.” There are lots of methods for doing this, so use whatever works for you. The important thing is to plug into your technique any time you notice yourself NOT being in the moment. (To me, this “in the moment” notion is one of the most valuable things in life if a person wants to experience being a human being rather than a human doing. Like Ram Dass taught us years ago, “Be Here Now.”)
- The best way to expand your frame of reference is to travel alone or with one other person of whom you don’t have expectations or vice versa (two is more fun!). The idea is to give your “soft eyes” of attention to what is happening: the flavors, textures, aromas, transactions and—very important—sights without being distracted by your companions. Employ your “unfamiliar” eyes. It seems that when you see something for the first time, you notice things that you might not notice otherwise. For reasons that I think Malcolm Gladwell summed up well in his book Blink, we tend not to notice things with which we are familiar. We call this mindset using our “Oklahoma Eyes.” (Of the lower 48, Oklahoma is the state that I’ve been to the least, just one quick fully clothed streak through. Since I’ve seldom been there, I pretend like I’m in Oklahoma when I want to notice things—so that I’ll notice more without trying to notice more. Clear as mud? Works for me.)
- Do your homework. Research is 12.5% of the fun and 25% of the benefit. The Internet makes it easy. For London, the Guardian’sreviews are particularly helpful.
- Zetter Townhouse, Clerkenwell: avant-garde cocktails and environs without that snooty thing, plus inventive accommodations.
- Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell: – Tiny, competent, clean, Scandinavian minimalism without being cold. – Friendly and tasty food that isn’t self-important, yet they serve many things that are au courant. – Inspirational for general competence.
- The Shoreditch House, Shoreditch: avant-garde cocktails with a hip bar vibe that’s still friendly.
- St. John Bread, Spitalfields – The bacon butty sandwich for b’fast is to die for. – Their primary restaurant in Smithfield was also great; they serve a lot of offal, not my favorite stuff, but I avoided it and was satisfied with meat that wasn’t an organ and loved the baked-to-order madeleines.
- The Wolseley, St. James: a room that knocks your socks off with food and St. James ambiance to match.
- The River Café, Hammersmith: They do it all well!
- The Harwood Arms, Fulham: – A Michelin-starred pub! – Our favorite lunch—cured trout and scotch eggs similar to theirs will show up on our menus.
- The Boundary, Shoreditch – This is Sir Terrance Conran’s 2008 restoration of a late Victorian warehouse. – The rooms, restaurants and rooftop are fantastic. – We love it! I’d spend my entire word count budget on this place if I went on.
- Ottolenghi, Notting Hill – Amazing light Mediterranean fare. – This is mostly takeout, with only one communal table and no wine service, heaven forbid (but their Islington spot is a proper restaurant).
- Barrafina, Soho – This tiny, impeccably run tapas place is off the charts. – The Iberico ham will change your life and your bank balance. – Their motto: “Sourcing Not Saucing.”
- José, Bermondsey – Another fantastic Spanish place. We loved it! – The meatballs, Patatas Bravas, lentils with chorizo and baby chicken were fantastic.
- Le Cercle, Sloan Square, Chelsea – Small plates of southwestern French dishes. – Sort of a sleeper place with lots of lessons in flavor, presentation and hospitality.
- The Wapping Project, Wapping Wall – This is what you get when you put Australian Jules Wright, whom The Guardian calls “the clever and slightly scary theater director and curator,” into a fantastic 1890s industrial building and turn her loose. (This building was used to produce high-pressure water that was piped all around to run elevators and stages and such, including the elevators at Claridges.) Jules is amazing. As fate would have it, we struck up a conversation with her without knowing it was her and spent the better part of an hour chatting. – This is part restaurant and part art venue, but without any of that practical stuff like space planning or logistical studies. We watched a provocative film after our late lunch. – The food was fantastic, but the inspiration gained from Jules with regard to not accepting the conventions of traditional restaurant design was worth the airfare.
May brings garlic scapes from Plum Granny Farm. Scapes are the flowering stalks of the garlic plant, and they are awesome grilled and chopped up in salads or omelets. The season for garlic scapes is short, so I’ll special them like crazy. As always, the Carolina strawberries have been so delicious. People can’t wait for PWB’s Strawberry Bibb Salad with roasted pecans, farmer’s cheese and rhubarb vinaigrette.
Every summer, guests absolutely freak out about the Moroccan Spiced Tilapia over a Greek salad of fresh peppers, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese at GVG. Seriously, it’s life-changing stuff! The summer fruit crostata—also at GVG—is always a hit, changing depending on what fruit is at its peak. I’ll visit the market three to five times a week to find the best peaches, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. We will be making all kinds of jellies like they’re going out of fashion! One of my favorites is Concord grape jelly. Fresh corn is another highlight of summer, and GVG’s smoked paprika scallops with creamed corn and spinach is an absolute must.
Now I am going to dedicate a whole paragraph to tomatoes. I could write a book, I love them so! Our guests could definitely taste the difference if we didn’t use locally grown tomatoes. Carrie, the “godmother” of the Triad Market, is my main tomato supplier. I use her gems in as many things as possible. At both restaurants, the tomato sampler will return, changing according to what varieties of tomatoes I can get at the market. There are so many different types, shapes and sizes of tomatoes, but hands-down my favorite is the Cherokee Purple. PWB will have a savory tomato bread pudding and tomato basil tart with zucchini chips. GVG lunch-goers really dig the grilled cheese sandwich made with homemade bread, heirloom tomatoes and vintage aged cheddar.
Last year, the coolest thing that happened to me was my apple guy selling me chicken of the woods mushrooms. Surprise! When I find something interesting, I create a special, like the wild-foraged mushroom risotto at PWB. I hope we’ll get to do that again at the end of summer and in early fall. However, Mother Nature’s calendar doesn’t always mesh with our six-week menu cycle! That really used to wig me out, but now I roll with the punches when it comes to my finds at the market. And I’ve realized that the farmers and our guests are really appreciative of this mentality.
Another cool story is that I buy a whole cow about every two weeks from Bobby at Bradds Family Farm. It’s a sustainable relationship, because we don’t leave Bobby with parts he can’t sell. The reason the Darn Good Burgers at GVG are so darn good is because the meat is from a single-origin, happy cow that comes from right down the road. We also make our own pâté at PWB and use the prime cuts over at GVG for wood-fired rotisserie specials.
I’m like a kid in a candy store at the market! I can’t wait to see how the season unfolds.See some of Chef Leigh Hesling's favorite Summer recipes + many more: Green Valley Grill | Print Works Bistro Back to top
- Take in world-class performances at the Eastern Music Festival from June 24-July 27. More than 100 music-related events (some are “fringe”) ensure that the festival suits most everyone’s tastes. SP: The EMF Package at O.Henry includes concert tickets and stylish transport to and from!
- See the premiere of Tennessee Playboy at Triad Stage on June 9-30, written by Triad Stage’s extraordinarily talented Boone native Preston Lane. He calls it a “redneck romance.” SP: The O.Henry has a package deal on all Triad Stage performances.
- Stroll along Elm Street downtown on the “First Friday” of each month. There’s such a great vibe, with the shops and galleries open late (until 9 PM) and folks enjoying street music, art openings and the Indie Market. And don’t miss the amazing International Civil Rights Museum, also on Elm Street and open Monday-Saturday. New this summer will be “Pop Up Promenades” next to the museum every Friday and Saturday night in May and June, featuring light displays, seating, music and greenery.
- Green Hill Center for NC Art, as the name implies, shows art only from North Carolina artists. Speaking in Species: A North Carolina Perspective runs June 14-August 18, featuring 25 artists working in wood.
- SP: Lounge by the pool at either hotel with a book in one hand and a refreshing drink in the other!
- Explore a variety of special exhibits at the Weatherspoon Art Museum at UNC-G, which has one of the leading collections of 20th- and 21st-century American art in the Southeast.
- Take home some great locally grown goodness from one of two nearby farmers’ markets: the historic indoor Greensboro Farmers Curb Market near downtown and the sprawling Piedmont Triad Farmers Market on I-40.
- Stop and smell the roses and other flowers at the nearby Tanger Family Bicentennial Gardens, Bog Garden and Greensboro Arboretum. Bike the greenways.
- Celebrate July 4th at Greensboro’s Fun Fourth Festival with a parade, festival and fireworks!
- Go to a Grasshoppers baseball game downtown, and enjoy an impressive fireworks show after every Friday and Saturday home game.
- SP: Two weeks after summer officially ends, join us October 4-5 for our Chocolate Lovers Weekend at Proximity.
- We are looking forward to getting even more herbs from local farms. Screech Owl Greenhouse (Pittsboro) will help supply our Cary restaurant, and Missing Willow Farm (Patrick County, VA) will help stock Greensboro.
- In early summer, we get wonderful hothouse tomatoes from Screech Owl, but that doesn’t assuage my hunger for Sungold and Black Cherry tomatoes from Schicker’s Acre (Pleasant Garden); those go into our Garden Pea and Tomato salad. (FYI: Farmer Schicker doubles as a server at L32.)
- Korey at Guilford College Farm (Greensboro) always has interesting stories and seeds, and I can’t wait to get my hands on this summer’s New Zealand Spinach and some new kinds of pole beans.
- The garlic is coming on “strong” from Plum Granny Farm (Capella) near Hanging Rock. We plan to get more of their fingerling potatoes this year, since they went so quickly last year. We also get salad turnips (a Japanese variety called “Hakurei”) and dandelion greens from them. I can’t wait to figure out some cocktail recipes using their hibiscus…maybe a margarita or a rum-based cooler?
- In Cary, we are excited about buying from Farmhand Foods (Durham). They bring us fantastic pork from small, family-owned farms down east. In Greensboro, Bradds Family Farm rules!
- Please follow me on the “Farm to Fork” blog. Again this summer, I’m writing a “Locavore’s Delight” series, exploring regional farms and local foodways, complete with recipes and cooking tips. See many of the past features and “follow” the blog at lucky32southernkitchen.comto receive email alerts about new posts. If you tweet, follow me @L32SK.
- Living in the Piedmont Triad, there are plenty of opportunities to pick your own fruits, starting with strawberries and moving on to blueberries, blackberries (watch out for poison ivy!), peaches and apples. It’s a great way to pass a day, and you’ll dig through your cookbook collection to find inspiration for your bounty. Check our “Farm to the Fork” blog to find some of my favorite recipes.
- Who can ever get enough grilled summer vegetables? Zucchini, squash and Japanese eggplant are delightful with a splash of fruit vinegar.
- We are excited to see the return of Lemon Chicken Bowties, featuring the most amazing tomatoes and fresh basil, which is a dish near to the hearts of many of our advocates. Also ahead, the Peaches and Cream dessert, which has legions of fans; the peaches are out of this world! My personal favorite doesn’t make an appearance until the end of summer, but the Whimsical Watermelon is well worth waiting for.
- SP: Save the date for some “Beer Schools” in Greensboro on June 27 and July 25 and “cooking classes” in Cary on June 29 and July 27. More info at lucky32.com.
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