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Episode 15 of Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons.

11846638_1134587746607477_7827747681294854603_nEpisode 15 is live! Available at Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons, on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and your regular podcast outlets. What’s it like to be a female chef in an industry that doesn’t always recognize women with awards and accolades? What are some of the assumptions made about women chefs with regard to how they run a kitchen, prepare their food, present themselves?

Melissa Close-Hart is a celebrated chef with decades of experience under her belt. The only woman on Charlottesville’s “Mount Rushmore” of chefs, Melissa has been nominated four times as a James Beard semi-finalist during her tenure as Executive Chef of Palladio at Barboursville Vineyards. More times than any male chef in this area combined. What does she think of the Time magazine “Gods of Food” debacle that occurred a few years back? Do women just not pursue accolades? Or is that a generalization? In 2015, why do folks still assume men are line cooks and women are pastry chefs?

We discuss this at length during the episode as well as what it feels like to leave a kitchen after 14 years to pursue the dream of building something you can call your own. Her new venture, Junction, will open early next year in Belmont and feature cuisine with a Tex-Mex flavor, a tequila bar, and a much bigger dining room.

What one-word piece of advice does she give to young chefs just starting out to gain invaluable experience? How did working at McDonald’s prepare her for fine dining? What’s it like to not only change kitchens, but your whole cuisine? Why are Duran Duran and Kraft Mac and Cheese some of her favorite things? All this and more in Episode 15. I had a fantastic time talking with “Mama Mel” and I know you’ll enjoy it.

This episode is sponsored by In A Flash Laser Engraving.

SHOW NOTES – Links to items discussed within the episode:

There Oughta Be…A Glamping Cookbook.

In this new semi-regular, not so serious feature, I put to paper the random ideas about food I have on a daily basis. As a chronic insomniac I find myself lying awake more often than not, listening to the fan and the snores of my husband and cat, going over my day. Inevitably thoughts wander to what I would create if I had: 1) the money 2) the energy 3) the gumption.

Yeah, I’ll brainstorm until doomsday about the next great food trend or product idea. Way more productive than actually bringing it to fruition, right? During one particularly epic period of insomnia lasting two years, I planned and laid out an entire restaurant, including the menu, architecture, seats, and glassware. It was Italian seafood. I called it Luna di Mare. I was teaching middle school at the time and had such fun, I ended up doing a multi-genre restaurant writing project with my 8th grade students. They loved it.

You could say I’m an overthinker. I’ve got ideas aplenty, and zero desire to ever implement them. Take camping for example. There oughta be a glamping cookbook. A book of lowbrow recipes presented in high style. Now sure, if you go to Amazon there’s a plethora of camping cookbooks to choose from. Except they’re all paperbacks, with little to no photographs, and full of recipes resembling dishes you’d create at home, with a few camping puns mixed in. S’moradillas anyone?

Plus, the ingredients list makes my head spin! Who packs their entire refrigerator into a cooler? Who opens their spice cabinet and sweeps the entire inventory into a bag with a giant wave of the arm? I’m not going camping so I can make crown roast of lamb. I want to throw a few basics in a cooler and MacGyver it so I’m still eating like a king over open flame.

I want my glamping cookbook to be off-the-cuff. Less recipe driven. Give me approximate amounts, general ideas. It should be a jumping-off point, not a hard and fast rule. What three or four ingredients can I throw together, stuff you might not expect, that will still taste amazing? Because no way am I going to be attempting to read measuring amounts with my granny glasses as I’m stirring the stewpot like a Macbeth witch. If I’m hauling a cookbook to a campsite, I’m using it to start a fire because we had five hours of rain and I forgot to cover up the kindling.

Give me a cookbook with a list of ten items. Okay 15 tops. Like the express lane at the market. Wine and beer don’t count. They’re a given. Give me 30 ways I can cook it over a fire with either 1) a pan, 2) a griddle, 3) a skewer, 4) wrapped in tinfoil, or in a Mountain Pie maker. In fact, give me an entire section of Mountain Pie recipes. Strange weird taste combinations hidden between two slices of bland white bread. Are Mountain Pies the greatest invention or what? Our last camping trip I created one with port wine cheese spread and half a curry mango sausage link. YUM! There’s nothing like that last morning in camp, when supplies are low, you still need breakfast, and all you’ve got left are two heels of bread, a scraping of cream cheese, and the last of the apricot jam. And yes, that’s a damn good Mountain Pie.

A section of S’more recipes? Goes without saying. Some of my fondest memories involve experiments with Reese’s cups and Rice Krispy treats as S’more ingredients. Not adverse to doing a little prep work pre-camp. But when I land I want to be ready to roll up my sleeves and make like Bear Grylls. Without the urine beverage.

Fried chicken, grits, hot dogs, all have been given the fancy food makeover, garnering their turn under the food stylist spotlight. Sean Brock’s Heritage took beans and made them sexy. Camping grub deserves the same treatment. Even though the recipes are lowbrow, present them glamorously. With gel lighting. Worthy of Diana Vreeland. Or Martha. Make my glamping cookbook full of drool-worthy, ooey gooey photographs. Stunning layouts of S’mores, Mountain Pies, and baked potatoes in foil dripping butter. Food porn for campers. It should resemble a Taschen retrospective in scope and color, approximating the weight of a healthy infant.

Maybe include a history of camping food, how different types of camping cuisine overlap or don’t depending on region. Does camping cuisine differ depending on the culture? Although this is secondary and only included to make the tome seem more important than it is. It’s really food porn. I want to flip through its pages all winter, dreaming of my camp site cooking laboratory and all the magical combinations I’ll dream up come spring. In full living color. Technicolor like in vintage cookbook classics. Sure, it’s ironic. Sure, it weighs 30 pounds. I’m not hauling that shit to camp. It’s purely for inspiration. A Pinterest board I can use as a doorstop. Or to take out a burglar.

It’s a simple request really. Not much to ask. There’s only two million cookbooks in circulation. What’s one more? Camping cookbooks are low rent. It’s time to raise them high. Make them stylish. Vogue worthy. Instead of middling quality paperback books full of fancy recipes, why not a fancy full-color tome full of low-rent ones? Glamping food. I’d totally buy that.

Episode 12 of Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons.

11265012_947589145292940_401786430629120687_nEpisode 12 is live! Available at Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons, on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and your regular podcast outlets. Remember how our grandmothers created different flavors of cake simply by mixing up whatever was in the pantry? Apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg would become an Apple Dapple Cake. Add black walnuts and it’s Nutty Apple Dapple. After talking with Laurie Blakey of Pearl’s Bake Shoppe in Charlottesville (and Richmond), I’m convinced this needs to become a thing. The next dessert trend.

Laurie’s love of cake comes from her grandmother, Pearl, who had a farm in Greene County. Laurie herself is from Albemarle, and first opened a Pearl’s in Richmond with partner Laura Condrey before tackling another shop here on West Main Street. Her commitment to quality and her concept of “Pearl’s Perfect” stems from her grandmother’s passion for baking and attention to detail.  And it’s not just cupcakes. Pearl’s creates scrumptious pies, tarts, macarons, cakepops, you name it! The “Yam Ham” biscuits (country ham and sweet potato) are not to be missed, and Pearl’s wedding cakes have won awards. Virginia Living named Pearl’s cupcakes the best in the state. Laurie firmly believes if you cannot do a perfect vanilla cupcake, you might as well not do any others, and after tasting it, I wholeheartedly agree.

Pearl’s is also dedicated to making sure customers with dietary needs enjoy her cupcakes by spending countless hours researching ingredients for her gluten-free and vegan options. One of the first awards earned was “Most Accommodating to People With Dietary Needs” and this award remains the most precious to Laurie. Her gluten-free and vegan options go beyond just meeting the requirements, but taste sinfully close to something loaded with butter and flour.

We spent so much time talking about our grandmothers, sharing stories, and pouring over old cookbooks some of which are pictured below. Laurie is an awesome storyteller in her own right, and her tale about her 7th birthday is one not to be missed. I hope you’ll join us!

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This episode is sponsored by In A Flash Laser.

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