The Mayo Caper

If, Gentle Reader, you call North Carolina home, I promise you are familiar with the subject of this week’s essay. 

I guarantee it.

You might not know her name (although you probably do), but I’m absolutely certain you know her face.  She is the woman who never fails to lift you up.  But, as she will confess, she also lets you down.

Her name is Cherie Berry, and she is the friendly face you see in every public elevator in the state.

After seven years serving the 45th district in the North Carolina House of Representatives, in 2001 she became the first female Commissioner of Labor.  The department is responsible for safety inspections of public elevators.

Each one has to display its Certification of Operation.  And since her second term, the photo of Ms. Berry AKA, the “Elevator Queen” has been on every one of them.

It has made her something of a state mascot; the sweet Southern aunt that looks out for the safety of every one of us.

Two years ago I asked her to participate in an annual holiday article that I write for another publication.  She agreed, and I discovered something.

 The woman is a certified, card-carrying hoot. 

The hoot herself, Cherie Berry.

Last year while speaking about mashed potatoes, she told me that she puts mayonnaise in them (actually not as strange as it may sound, it makes them creamy and rich.  Many restaurants do the same.).

Like many Southern folk, her mayo of choice is Duke’s (even though all sensible people are team Hellmann’s).

Them Duke’s folks ain’t right.

This led to her recounting of a hilarious story about the depth of her Duke’s devotion.

Ms. Berry and her sister used to have a little holiday place in Mexico.  When they visited, they would cook.  Like me, she loves potato salad.  But Duke’s in not sold south of the border, and the mayo that was available just didn’t taste right in her dishes.

So, one year, she decided to purchase some Duke’s to take with her.

She wanted it near her to keep it safe during the trip.  But this was post-9/11 and even the NC Commissioner of Labor can’t carry a big old jar of mayonnaise onto an airplane.

So, the determined woman contacted the Duke’s parent company, Sauer Brands in Richmond.  She purchased a box of 200 individual packets, like the kind you get at a drive-through when you ask for “Extra mayo.”

They were small, but even small, 200 packets take up space.

She had a brilliant idea.  For the flight, she’d wear her late husband’s fishing vest and divide the packets up into its many, many pockets.

Picture it, if you will: a genteel Southern lady dressed for traveling with not a hair out of place, and probably a string of pearls, sporting an old-school fishing vest with pockets full of packets full of Duke’s.

Security gave her the furry eyeball, but she wasn’t breaking any rules, so they let her board.  Ms. Berry thought she was home free.

Until the plane took off.

Then, when the pilot pressurized the cabin, the sealed packs reacted and began to swell. 

And swell.

And swell.

The NC Commissioner of Labor sat, looking like the Michelin man on summer vacation, with the vest pockets getting tighter and tighter.  She waited for the explosion while imagining the humiliating headlines that would be generated by this mortifying experience (“NC official tries to hijack plane with condiment”, “Mayonnaise Mishap at 20,000 feet”, “Airplane forced to make extremely greasy landing”…).  She wondered what airplane jail would be like.

Luckily, the blast never occurred.  The cabin pressurization ended just in time, and Ms. Berry spent her Mexican vacation opening packet after packet of Duke’s to make her NC-style tater salad and other tasty mayo-based treats.

Thanks for your time.

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…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.

Things I learned in class


“What did we know from scallions?”

She may not have known a whole lot about scallions, but Nathalie Dupree is a walking encyclopedia of culinary knowledge and history.

Friday night I went over to the Southern Season in Chapel Hill, and attended a cooking class given by the Grande Dame of Southern Cuisine; Nathalie Dupree.  And boy, was I taken to school.  Below is just a few of the many, many things I learned.

1.)Nathalie is kind, and very funny.  And she absolutely does not believe in giving yourself a migraine by stressing in the kitchen.  The history of Southern cooking is not fancy and fussy, it’s making do with what you have on hand.

2.)When you’re cooking a large meal, write a list of everything you need to do, so you’re not sitting down to dinner and realize you forgot the rolls.  Order the list by cooking time.

3.)Okra.  Cut it lengthwise, and toss in olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until colored and crispy.

To dice okra, treat it just like an onion.  Leave on stem, cut width and length-wise.  Then slice it into a dice.

4.)Thomas Jefferson, who was an accomplished and curious farmer, is the reason why there are so many varieties of peas and beans available to us.  Using a couple types, our first course was this delicious salad.

Corn and butter bean salad

corn and bean salad

1 pound shelled butter beans, butter peas, speckled peas or any combination, fresh or frozen

6 ears corn on the cob, preferably Silver Queen, kernels and juice scraped from cob

1 green onion or scallion, sliced, white and green parts

8 slices bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled

¾ cup mayonnaise (Good Southern girl Nathalie has a strong preference for Dukes)

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Add the beans to boiling salted water, reduce heat and cook about 3 minutes.  Add the corn and cook 1 minute more.  Drain the beans and corn and run under cold water to stop the cooking and refresh them.  Drain again.

Gently toss together the beans, corn, onion, bacon, mayo, vinegar, and thyme.  Taste, then season.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour before serving for the best marriage of flavors.


*Variation: Substitute one pound package frozen white shoe peg corn or other whole kernel corn (see, I told you she doesn’t believe in getting all crazy in the kitchen about ingredients or technique).

5.)This is absolutely genius: Because it’s a summer crop in the north, and a winter crop in the south, flour grown in Northern climes are harder, ie; contain more gluten, which makes for stretchier bread dough (a good thing).  Southern flour is softer, which is much better for flaky pie crusts and biscuits with crispy crusts, and tender insides.

WhieLilly, Martha White, and Southern Biscuit are all from the south and therefore better for cake, pastry, and biscuits.

King Arthur flour is from Vermont, and thus is a much harder wheat, and really good for bread making.

Gluten is protein.  So, if you’re not sure how much gluten is in a particular brand of flour, check the nutritional label.  Flour with higher protein content per serving has more gluten.

Nathalie Dupree is my kitchen hero.  To illustrate her laid back cooking philosophy, I will leave you with one of her best lines from class.

“If it turns out great, serve it.  If it doesn’t; make a trifle.”

It doesn’t matter what the original plan was…anything can be a trifle.

Thanks for your time.