A Tale of Two Chefs

The Elizabeth City Boys’ Club, circa a million years ago.

One day, a nine-year-old Petey was hanging out at the Boys’ Club in Elizabeth City and met a kid named Chrissie.  He didn’t know it at the time, but they lived right across the street from each other.

They immediately became best friends, forever after.

One day, a nine-year-old me was playing at a new friend’s house in Puerto Rico and met the older brother, a teenager named Chrissie.

We immediately hated each other, fortunately, not forever after.

Puerto Rico, circa half million years ago.

It took 16 years, but we’re now as close as family.  He’s also a professional chef who is my walking, talking kitchen reference and culinary sensei.

One night when we were on the phone talking about food, and I was listing all the stuff I don’t like.  He listened quietly for a few minutes, then asked me a question.“Debbie, where did you try this?  Unless it’s been well-prepared, by somebody who knows what they’re doing, you can’t know if you like it or not.  So, knock it off.”

Oh, Chef Chrissie.  I can’t get away with anything with him.

But (and I hate to have to admit he’s right—about anything), he’s right.  And it’s brought home to me over and over again.  The most recent lesson was only a couple weeks ago.

Chef Trey Bell

Chef Trey at Euphoria.

The Kid and I went to Greensboro to check out the restaurant and new bar owned by Chef Trey Bell, one of the participating chefs of the South Carolina food fest, Euphoria.

Our first stop was his sophisticated watering hole downtown, Rue-Bar.  The space was art deco, and the bar manager Greg was laid back and welcoming.

Greg at Rue-Bar.

After a couple of really delicious and interesting cocktails, we headed to Chef Bell’s eatery, LaRue Elm.

The Kid and I were intensely honored to be diners at the restaurant’s very first chef’s table.  This is a table set up in the kitchen to watch the food being prepared and talk with the chefs.  It was only the four of us, Chef Trey and his Chef de Cuisine Kevin Cottrell, The Kid, and me.

We asked them to choose our menu.  The very first course was proof of Chef Chrissie’s philosophy: braised, marinated octopus tentacle.  My child was thrilled.  I was nervous. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut I liked it.  It was cooked perfectly.  And the flavor was pleasant, and not fishy in the slightest.

There were two other fish courses and two desserts that almost made me weep with joy (popcorn ice cream on a bed of brown butter powder and maple-bourbon crème brule).

My very favorite course of the meal was seemingly simple but in reality, risky.  Many chefs agree that the true test of a chef is how he handles that most basic of foods; the egg.  Chef Bell’s egg got whatever grade is better than an A+.

It was a perfectly soft-boiled egg yolk, returned to the shell, then topped with savory whipped cream flavored with malt vinegar and maple.  I could’ve eaten a carton of those eggs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd you can make the cream yourself.  Flavor it however you want, and beat it to soft tender peaks.  Serve it on fish, chicken, veggies, or if you want me to move in with you, soft-boiled eggs.  I’m serious; please give this stuff a try.

This stuff is so simple but delicious and unexpected.  My mission is to preach the gospel of savory whipped cream.  I will travel the world with cow, sea salt, and whisk.

Tentacles that I enjoyed, and life-changing, perfectly cooked eggs.

I think Chef Chrissie would definitely approve.  I sure do.

NOT Chef Chrissie, but there are similarities….

Thanks for your time.


…and Trey makes three

Euphoria, the Greenville, SC food, wine, and music festival is coming up in a week and a half (September 21-24).  And today we have come to an end of our chef chats.

This week Chef Trey Bell is under the culinary microscope.  Chef Trey is a Columbia SC native who has spent time in the kitchen of Wylie Dufresne.  Chef Dufresne is famous for spearheading the molecular gastronomy phenomena.  Currently, Chef Bell can be found in his Greensboro eatery LaRue Elm paying homage to Southern cuisine.  In August, he opened RueBar which uses unique, artisanal components.

What follows are my questions and his verbatim answers.

1.) For your tomato sandwich: Duke’s, Hellmann’s or homemade?  What kind of bread?  Dukes, Cheapest white bread I can buy – Wonder bread2.) What is your “Can’t wait to get your hands on” seasonal ingredient, and what’s your favorite treatment?  Chanterelles; Confit & jar them and serve on toast

3.) What is your guilty pleasure?  Mcrib, big mac, large diet coke and a large French fry

4.) What do you make when you get home from La Rue and it’s late, and you’re hungry?  Shin black ramen noodles with a raw egg cracked in

5.) What five tools can you not live without?  Tourne knife, circulator, combi-oven, deep fryer and food dehydrator6.) What five ingredients can you not cook without?  Salt, butter, garlic, shallots, olive oil

7.) What is one dish that a novice cook should learn for entertaining that’s easy, impressive, and inexpensive?  (Any recipe you care to share will be highly appreciated)

Frittata:                                                                                                                                          Chanterelles, San Marzano tomatoes, poke greens, eggs & cream and gruyere

8.) What in the culinary world angers or disappoints you?  Terms like mixology and farm-to-table … because they’re so misrepresented9.) What in the culinary world pleases you and gives you hope for the future?  Influx of small producers that we’re seeing more and more of… a lot of farmers are more interested in old, heirloom varietals…

10.) What’s your birthday dinner?  Oysters & bourbon on the coast in SC (Feb birthday so oysters are still so good at this time) – my SC birthday dinner

11.) What do you take on a picnic?  Epoisse, Spanish red wine (tempranillo or rioja), crusty bread

12.)  What food trend or ingredient are you totally and completely over?  Kale13.) What is the best way for passionate but not affluent people to discover fine dining?  Pour over cookbooks in a book store – new stuff by Phaedon (new Nordic cuisine, Peruvian cuisine)

14.) You worked with Wylie Dufresne, who by anybody’s yardstick is an imaginative, innovative chef.  What’s the most ambitious, mad scientist idea you’ve had, have you tried it, and if so how did it work out?  We made a layered terrine out of pigs’ ears… sous vide them and packed into terrine mold… sliced cross cut and fried one side and served with toast points/crostini… it was absolutely ridiculous! Served at LaRue Elm upon opening… we may even have a photo!15.) What is one thing about you that nobody would ever guess?  I rebuild typewriters and old brass blade fans… I know how to restore them and Brittany Spears TOXIC is a top 10 favorite song and I’ve seen the movie CLUELESS more than any other movie

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as I have.  Despite the different personalities, philosophies, and even geographic locations, these chefs, and almost all chefs have two necessary traits in common.

Creativity and generosity.Thanks for your time.