Friday, March 11, 2011
Can we call the James Beard Foundation? Seriously, I want them on line 1!
You all have read my blog, and know I come from a strange religion, wore glasses as a kid, and hated the south for the small towned mindedness it exerted on my freewheeling soul. My wife now talks of moving to North Carolina...yeah, we live in Annapolis, I know it's not technically the north, but I have reticent feelings on going back home...
"You a Yankee now? Think you're better than us?" (Say it in Southern...cringing)
The south = my worst nightmare...cold sweats, nightmares, banjo music....ughghghgh!
Then we went to our mountain house. "The Hillbillies" my Swedish Grandfather called them...."Mountain People"...back in the day, Cashiers, North Carolina was never the bustling center of culture. Even the surrounding areas, you couldn't hope for much. Now you can see where this blog is headed. And I am eight years too late, as that was when Cypress opened. Cypress gave me hope, quelled my night sweats, it is the Ambien with a Valium chaser to my horrific flashbacks of ridicule.
The shit has changed, and I was the one who was small minded. Cypress is the beacon of hope that has helped open my eyes to see I am now 32, not 5 years old with glasses and unable to keep Christmas and birthdays. As I have changed so has everything and like the mountain terrain, Cypress is perhaps that seed that somehow sprouts into a beautiful tree growing off the side of the cliff. "How did that grow"? Everyone says? It had no chance...we have all killed more plants in our back yard with the best fertilizer and soil...how the hell did that tree grow?
Chef Nicolas Figel had a dream just like everyone I guess. He consummated that dream in Highlands, North Carolina...about 30 minutes from our mountain house on Lake Glenville. Listen, before I start telling you about his hopes and dreams let me just say he cooked for us, and we sat at the chef's table of sorts...an open aired kitchen. Between artful dances with his staff and sous chef as he cooked, he talked with us, shared philosophy, and got jazzed that we took pictures like Japanese tourists. We didn't ask him soul searching questions like Matt Lauer and Larry King. But what he told us, he spoke with his food. We said, "We would be honored to have anything you would fix us, you have Carte Blanche to make us what you like."
He makes peasant food from around the world. That is what drives my wife and me. Comfort food...the chef's eyes lit up when I told him my last meal on earth would be my grandmother's pot roast or Swedish Meatballs. That is my blog. I don't have much more to add. Chef inspired me through his example of cooking for "Small Minded Mountain People"...he said, "Hell, I'm taking a chance, maybe just maybe this place will fly".
He opened in 2002, and he stayed open through the "Twitter" and "Facebook" era...wireless, direct tv, digital...you get the point. A pioneer, a hero who makes me feel about this big when I think about how small minded I have been about where I come from.
We walked into the restaurant and the ingredient du jour was featured. Fresh Tilefish...clear eyes, red gills, julienned green papaya (How the hell did they get that into Western Landlocked North Carolina?). The dishes were completely complex, something reminiscent of any great James Beard award winning restaurant we have ever been to. However, that seems like such a left handed compliment. This was different, original, clean tasting and a concept we have maybe thought of in dreams, but have never seen it carried out.
Okay Okay...here's the deal, this is what Meghan had, in pictographical order:
Malaysian Coconut Dumplings filled with Spiced Beef on Grilled Mango
Tilefish Over Lobster Salad with Green Papaya, and a Mint Cashew Sauce
On to my dishes: Spanish Tapas; Calabras Blue Cheese, House Made Spanish Flatbread, Roasted Roma Tomato, Olives, Serrano Ham
Korean Hot Pots....Tomato, Thai Basil, and Mint Broth, Beef Jerky set with Smoking Oak Chips, Jasmine Rice and Fried Shallots (Oh my god, mini Onion Rings!)
Not Pictured because we ate it too fast:
Lavender Ice Cream, Shortbread Cookies, Drizzled with Honey
Mexican Chile Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sauce...this is a horrible description to the beauty we ate, it's like saying, "Yeah, the Mona Lisa is a picture of this plain looking lady from a long time ago." The slow burn on the back side of the throat as we ate this cake was amazing...holy shit...I wanted to be on television...in my mind we were on television...the meaning of finding this gem and the epiphany it gave me was something that comes around a handful of times in someones life.
A peasant food menu? A skeptic would say, "That's too many dishes...it's like a restaurant with 50 menu items, but only 3 things are palatable".
I'm sure they are the same skeptics who thought things in the south would never change...
God Bless you Chef Figel for giving me an insight to a bigger world.