Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Chef, a TV Show and Flash Fried Collards

My daughter loves Master Chef. It’s charms are somewhat lost on this old curmudgeon. I haven’t been excited about a TV cook since Julia Child - until I was introduced to the award winning public broadcasting series “A Chef’s Life” featuring an eastern North Carolina girl, a Yankee husband*, and a backwater called Kinston that has a real Civil War ironclad the CSS Neuse washed-up in the center of town. Does this sound like the makings of a fabulous TV show? Honey, it’s a cracker.

I was introduced to “A Chef’s Life” by my friend Mase who would send to London DVDS and internet links and promises to take me to Chef and the Farmer, the restaurant featured in the show, the next time I was in North Carolina. And he did.

We arrived on a Tuesday night in July after a long journey with great expectations. Chef and the Farmer sits right across from that famous sinister ironclad across a large parking lot already filling with cars. It was an exciting start. We were early hoping to grab a table before our 7:45 reservation as Mase had a 3-hour drive home. So we started out in the wine bar and shop, had a lovely glass of red, got to study the evening’s menu and met some nice folks who had driven all the way from Raleigh. In my usual “sotto voce” I let it be known that I had come all the way from London and Mase all the way from Greensboro. That impressed the Raleigh folks.

It also caught the attention of Susan, a member of staff from the show who took wonderful care of us. Such is the charm of “A Chef’s Life” that we felt like we already knew her before she appeared, in real life, at our table. And there was a film crew all over the place shooting Season 2. How fun was that.

Throughout the night, Mase and I would spot all our favorite folks from the program. “There’s Vivian!” “Look, it’s Ben.” “Oh, her parents just arrived.” I acted like a complete idiot and boy did I have a good time. The lovely Susan realized we were besotted and brought Vivian and Ben over to the table. We were shameless in our praise. They were just as wonderful as on film.

And what about the food? Reader, it blew me away. Describing the cooking as a farm-to-table symphony of local classics just doesn’t do it justice. We had country ham with peaches, pork belly, flash fried collards (incredible), gazpacho (also incredible), squash casserole and tomato pie. We ate our way through the summer gifts of eastern North Carolina. We ate our way through the filming of our favorite TV show. We ate our way through an inspiring direction for a town that had fallen on hard times.

And as the sun set over the ironclad and vast parking lot of Chef and the Farmer, I asked myself, not for the first or last time, what the hell I’m doing in London when my tribe – and flash fried collards – are here in North Carolina. Well, I’ll always have Season 2 of a “Chef’s Life”.  

It’s not home, but for now, it’ll have to do.

* Mase says that since Ben is from Chicago, Illinois, he doesn't really qualify as a Yankee. I say that hailing from the land of Lincoln qualifies him for sure. The Yankee description stands.

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