On The Road…Again

I am happy to report…no…THRILLED…to report that I have left my home town of Charlotte, NC once again! On my birthday, April 6, I began as Executive Chef at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Jonesboro is the 5th largest city in Arkansas and one of the most progressive. We are in the northeast corner of the state about 70 miles from Memphis, Tennessee. Nestled among hundreds of thousands of acres of rice, corn, cotton, and soybeans, Jonesboro is a home to Riceland Foods (the world’s largest rice grower and manufacturer) as well as many other well known companies. Nestle and Frito Lay also have a large presence.

I work for Sodexo, one of the largest contract foodservice companies in the world. I must say that so far I am quite impressed with my company’s commitment to excellence and to its employees. They’ve sure been nice to me!

Arkansas State has a student population of around 11,000 and specializes in agriculture, but offers a comprehensive list of education programs and has an active athletic program.

As is usually the case with my many travels and relocations, I have spent some time during the move checking out some well known eateries and getting my fill of yummy Americana.

My last couple nights at home featured mom’s amazing chocolate cream pie and a goodbye dinner with half a dozen close friends at one of Charlotte’s few decent Thai restaurants (Thai Taste). The little Thai people lit me up with Red Curry Crispy Duck (#6 heat on a scale from 1-5). My hair began sweating and I went into hallucinations. Why the Chinese place around the corner couldn’t do that for me I’ll never know.

Day one of the journey led me to my old friend Joe Scully’s place in Asheville, The Corner Kitchen. Joe and I were at CIA around the same time, though we never met until years later. He returned after graduation and did a fellowship at the Institute. He worked for Mark Ericsson, CMC (Certified Master Chef) at Cherokee Town and Country Club outside of Atlanta where he and the Chef developed a company called Woodsmoke Provisions (and the country’s best smoked salmon), and he served as Executive Chef at the United Nations building in NYC.

Today Chef Scully is co-owner of arguably the top restaurant in Asheville, NC where he changes the menu daily and feeds more people than he can seat. He fed me an Italian Cuban Sandwich with Joe’s Veggie Chips and Pea Salad, and a nearly authentic Key Lime Pie (he’s made a couple small liberties that add a little pizazz to the original).

The sandwich featured turkey, prosciutto, smoked mozzarella, chimichurri aioli, tomatoes, and arugula (sorry, no pickles on mine) layered between two pieces of foccacia and pressed on a hot grill. Perfect!

My server talked me into the pea salad. I knew it would have mayonnaise in it (another no-no for me) and I hesitated. Boy was I glad I went for it! Green peas that I’d swear were freshly shucked are tossed with sugar snaps, sour cream, red onion, and bacon…oh…and just a little mayo. What a simple and fabulous way to kick off spring!

I knew Joe’s chips well. Remember Terra Chips, those overpriced crisps made from a variety of tropical root vegetables? Joe does the same thing, but his are made fresh a couple times a day. Sometimes you can get ’em still warm. Thin slices of roots like potato, plantain, and taro are slow fried in clean oil to make them light and crispy without darkening their color or adulterating their delicate flavors with too much caramelization.

I left The Corner Kitchen feeling so healthy, and it was great to see Joe. You should stop by an see him too next time you’re in the NC mountains. You’ll be glad you did. Tell him I sent you.

Next stop Memphis, home of barbecue and blues! Stop back soon to see what happened!