I have a neighbor who is a kindred spirit: We both have roots in North Carolina. (An even deeper connection: We also both believe that barbecue comes from a hog and is properly dressed in a thin vinegar-based sauce.) Recently we were talking about North Carolina, and of course, the food. He told me he was planning to make turnip greens with dumplings, and a few days later he called me. “Hey, come over and get some dumplings!”
Amanda Storey knows her kitchen. And she’s very comfortable in it. She already had a wine glass and a bottle of an Oregon Pinot waiting for me when I visited her. (Totally awesome!) And right away she says, “Okay. A few things. First, this is one-butt kitchen. There’s just no room for two.” Next to the Pinot, she’s got her Mac set up, with the recipe she’s making in the browser window. My job, she says, is to sit across the counter from her and tell her the next steps in the recipe as she cooks. All her ingredients are prepped and in bowls, a perfect mise en place. And I don’t think she asked me to look at the recipe more than once.
If you know Amanda, you know she’s incredibly passionate about food. The posts on her blog, Food Revival, are bursting with it. She stays busy as the coordinator of the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities project, working to reduce childhood obesity in Jefferson County (HKHC is one of the sponsors of this weekend’s Food Summit, Friday and Saturday, November 12-13; $25 registration). And, there’s the signature Amanda Storey pose (which has been mimicked, lovingly, by some of her friends…): Embracing a bunch of locally-grown produce with a Sesame Street smile. During our conversation she says, “I am so over cookbooks—I have too many, and I really just need one.” (Something I’d expect to hear from someone who’s been cooking and collecting cookbooks for decades.) All of this, and here’s what made my jaw drop: This food-focused Amanda, queen of her kitchen, master of any CSA box you give her, and on a mission to change the world’s food for the better (or at least, the food in Jefferson County) has only been around two years. Two years!
“The Food Summit and the Barefoot Contessa made me who I am,” Amanda says.
A lot of people in this town bake cookies. But when Emily Nabors opened a closet in her kitchen to reveal two dozen plastic tubs of cookie cutters, organized into categories like “Halloween (not pumpkins)” and “Animals (not bunnies),” I knew I was dealing with a different kind of cookie-baker.
Last week, some of the people in my downtown Southside condo building were trying to figure out who The Cook on the third floor is. Every place has one. Y’know, there’s The Cook in the office who brings homemade cookies to work (and bless their darlin’ hearts when they bring them on Mondays). Or The Cook in your congregation. And The Cook in the family who makes all the holiday feasts deliciously memorable.
“Don’t know who’s doing all the cooking, but the whole floor smells so good all the time!” my third-floor friends said.
I had a suspicion that The Cook on the third floor was a friendly young woman named Alexa. When we run into each other, we usually end up talking about food and food sites like Chow.com, and we keep promising each other that we’ll have dinner together. I saw Alexa Sunday, and told her people were raving about her cooking.
“Oh, it’s not me, it’s Jason!” she said. Jason’s her boyfriend. “He cooks everything. When it’s my turn to make dinner, we have cereal!”
Meet Jason—The Cook of the third floor.
Jason Horn is an adventurous cook: Honestly, how many home cooks do you know who would risk a tumble down a steep hill for a few jars of jelly? We’ve been friends for at least three years now, and he’s still an adventurous cook (keep up with him at themessyepicure.com). Shortly after I met Jason, he started baking sourdough bread made from a 160-year-old Oregon Trail starter he got via mail order from a group called Friends of Carl. He baked and brought bread to work every week. He played with adding cheese to the bread (never a bad idea, cheese), and I think more than once he added white chocolate. Earlier this year, he invited me over for a Frank Stitt vs. Thomas Keller Challenge: He found similar recipes for stuffed roast pork loin and coconut cake from both chefs, spent two days brining, prepping and cooking, and then had a group of people over to decide whose cuisine reigns supreme.
If you’re like me, you look forward to Foodimentary tweets from John-Bryan Hopkins: The facts he packs into 140 characters are fun, informative, and occasionally provide an excuse to indulge. (Tell me you aren’t looking forward to National Chocolate Cupcake Day on October 18.) Any wonder why he won a Shorty? He also blogs at Foodimentary.com, which is packed with so much that you can easily lose an hour or two exploring it. John-Bryan invited me over to his house in Homewood’s Hollywood neighborhood, and I soaked in all the beauty of his to-die-for kitchen.
He is a former interior designer turned food advocate who is devoted to the South, and to much more than food trivia. He tweets, blogs, does TV segments for Grow Alabama in his own kitchen, and he’s working on a TV series pilot and three books (including a children’s book). We talked about everything from farming, to why he thinks he might turn into a food-world bad guy, to what he’s afraid of. And, of course, he shared a favorite recipe.
This is how big a production Birmingham’s Annual Greek Food Festival is: Between today and Saturday, people will buy 27,000 plates of food (half of that, drive-thru), 6,500 gyros, 300 full pans and 600 half pans of pastitsio (that’s a Greek lasagna made with tube pasta instead of pasta sheets, topped with bechamel sauce), and about 16,000 cookies.
All of it is made primarily by home cooks—most of them, members of Holy Trinity, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The Greek Food Festival takes an entire year of planning, and the cooking starts about a month in advance.
I got a behind the scenes look at part of the process: Cookie baking!