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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Cheers! Dennis Quaintance & Nancy King Quaintance
by Dennis Quaintance, CEO, CDO (Chief Design Officer)
Tough work… but somebody’s got to do it!
Our frame of reference trips are on my mind because in January, Leigh Hesling, the Chef at Print Works Bistro and Green Valley Grill, and Jay Pierce, the Chef for both Lucky 32 Southern Kitchens, joined Nancy and me in London for a marathon of dining and hotel visits. We find London to be a great place to focus on the European culinary roots of both Green Valley Grill and Print Works Bistro. Clearly, we would have gotten to experience even more authentically Spanish food in Spain or Greek food in Greece, but we didn’t have two months or that kind of budget.
If the primary focus of your day job, as mine is, is to “cause delight” for the folks who choose to visit restaurants and hotels for which you have responsibility, it makes sense that you’d seek to broaden your frame of reference. Doing so allows you to bring what people respond favorably to in other cities back to the communities you serve. I see this as a key ingredient to delivering what our guests deserve. Our idea is to contextualize what we learn when we travel; then adapt the recipes, design concepts and service standards from our trips to the tastes and sensibilities of the guests we serve here in the Piedmont. As a testimonial, in the 24 years since we started QW, we’ve brought home thousands of ideas from our travels. Sometimes I’ll get in a zone, and if anyone is willing to listen, I can rattle off the inspiration for almost every aspect of our places—from a piece of furniture to a menu item.
Note: Not all of the frame of reference inspiration comes from Nancy and me. We get it from all around when our friends and colleagues share their experiences. Don Rives heaped it on and taught me its value. Bradshaw Orrell, who helps with all things design oriented, visited London after us to experience many of the same places we did so that we can have a common frame of reference.
Here is a quick list of just a few examples of where we’ve found inspiration:
- 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 get me started—this list could go on and on! BTW: We don’t go for copying. We go for experiencing something and using it as inspiration.
Here are a few of the techniques, methods and mindsets that we employ to get the most out of our visits to hotels and restaurants (BTW: I often employ these mindsets when I visit QW places.):
- 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.
Back to our January trip to London… Yes, we saw some snow and got soaked a few times, but on balance the weather was fine. The four of us walked from place to place, so the cool air was perfect. We reckon we averaged more than 10 miles of walking a day. We learned a ton… and just walking down the street can be a great education!
We dined, or had smaller bites, at more than 50 restaurants and visited at least another 70. We stayed in seven hotels and visited about 30 others. A bonus for us is that going on these sorts of trips all but assures that our stock in Weight Watchers will go up. Many think that the UK is still a culinary wasteland. It isn’t…but it probably was. London and many other places in the UK now have extraordinary restaurants serving a multitude of cuisines. There are a lot of reasons for this relatively new culinary competence. Whatever the reason, we find great places there to dine and stay. Most will be glad to know that Nancy and I escaped after two weeks without eating kidney pie once.
The following list includes some standouts. We recommend all of these places…and this isn’t a travel guide. We were looking for specific things with the restaurants and hotels we selected.
- 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.
This really is the tip of the iceberg, but I think it demonstrates that these “frame of reference” jaunts are no joke. They’re fun and exhausting, but not a joke. As Bruce Mau says in his Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, “Take field trips, the band width is wider.” Indeed it is.
Growing up on a farm in Australia definitely spoiled me. I grew up in the tropics, and my family had a crazy amount of homegrown goodness. Anything grew—from peaches to persimmons—and where food came from was never a mystery. Looking back, I can now appreciate being sent to the garden to pick beans. We also raised a variety of animals, including cows that provided plenty of fresh milk. I watched my mother and grandma make jams and can vegetables and fruit, which taught me the importance of food preservation. So, this trendy local food movement isn’t foreign to me. It’s sort of like déjà vu all over again.
Farming is in my blood, so I love being with farmers. Luckily, we have more than one great farmers’ market nearby. At the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market, farmers set up daily, so I’m able to score great finds all the time. The cool stuff I find gets to ride back in comfort and style in my London “veggie” taxi. Give a wave if you see me scooting around town in this iconic jalopy…it’s really slick!
While the growing season got a late start this year, the markets finally are rocking! Strawberries have been here, and peaches, squash, zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes are starting to come in. I bet I’ll work with at least 20 farmers this summer, and I’ve built some special relationships with awesome folks like those at Burton Farms, Little River Produce, Parker Farms and Whitaker Farms.
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.
New! Weddings Blog: See photos, videos and details about the magical weddings held at our hotels at greensborodreamweddings.com.
It’s a must-have guide for tips and ideas for the big day…or a wedding voyeur’s delight. If you feel inspired to renew your vows, celebrate an anniversary, or get hitched, give our sales team a call at 336-544-9615.
Cooking Classes:Chef Leigh Hesling has five more cooking classes scheduled in 2013: at Print Works Bistro on July 13, September 28 and October 12; and at Green Valley Grill on June 15 (sold out) and September 14. Tickets are $75 per guest or mix-and-match a three-class package for $200. Enjoy a seasonal beverage during a cooking demonstration, and then savor the food during a three-course meal with wine. For tickets, contact Lee Healy at 336-478-9126 or email@example.com.
Mussels-Wine-Music: Reservations are recommended for Wednesday evenings at Print Works Bistro when we feature our mussels special for $15, five wines from $10 to $15 a bottle and live acoustic music by AM rOdeOfrom 7-10 PM, showcasing the extraordinary talents of Evan Olson and Jessica Mashburn.
Skillet-Fried Chicken: From 4 PM until we run out on Wednesdays in Cary and on Tuesdays in Greensboro, indulge yourself with cooked-to-order Skillet-Fried Chicken, in addition to our regular full menu. We have some beers and wines at special prices. On Tuesdays in Greensboro, the chicken is topped with amazing live music by the very talented Laurelyn Dossett, some of her friends or both, from 6:30-9:30 PM (no cover charge).
Here are ten great reasons for a romantic escape or to share some quality time with family and friends in our fair city…even if you live here. Just pretend that you traveled farther than you did! (Note: SP=Shameless Plug)
- 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.
Summer Weekend Getaway at O.Henry: Travel back to an era of Old World hospitality. Use the $30 voucher toward afternoon tea in the lobby or dinner with the European flavors at Green Valley Grill. Sleep in late and awaken to a hot, delicious Southern-style breakfast buffet. Bask in the sunshine by our pool, then shop next door at Friendly Center. This getaway is available most Fridays and Saturdays, June 1-August 31. $219 plus taxes. To reserve, please call 336-854-2000 or book online at ohenryhotel.com.
Sustainable Summer Getaway at Proximity: Check out one of our bikes and ride on the Greenway or just lounge by the pool. Use your $30 voucher toward an al fresco sunset dinner at Print Works Bistro. Toast your memorable getaway at the bar before taking the elevator “home” to your Loft King Room. Sleep in with our late checkout! This getaway is offered most Fridays and Saturdays, June 1-August 31. $219 plus taxes. To reserve, please call 336-379-8200 or book online at proximityhotel.com.
As summer is right around the corner, our thoughts turn to the bounty of this fertile region we call home. All year long, we serve locally sourced food, but the truly tasty stuff really starts to roll in about now. You can see (and buy) some of it on the Veggie Cart near the front door at both Lucky’s (or inside, if it is raining). Here is a list of some of my “summer thoughts,” plus some news about our upcoming seasonal menus:
- 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.
See some of Chef Jay Pierce’s favorite Summer recipes + more.
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