by Nicole Crews
Me: I asked Diedre’s mother how she stays so thin and she said, “I only eat on weekends.”
Mother: We barely ate at all in the ’60s and ’70s. We weren’t like you girls today. Curves weren’t in vogue.
Me: Curves have always been in vogue. Mother. What about Sophia Loren or Bridget Bardot?
Mother: Well, not in Vogue. Just ask Diana Vreeland.
Writer and gourmand extraordinaire Jim Harrison once described himself in his Esquire food column as “a multiple-entrée kind of a guy.” His book editor at Knopf, Gary Fisketjon, confirmed the description over lunch one day at one of midtown Manhattan’s myriad swank restaurants.
“When I take him to lunch, it’s an all- day affair,” said Fisketjon, who seemed to speak for all of us swept up in a torrid romance with food when he added, “and probably the best affair I’ve ever had.”
Like Harrison’s editor, I can invoke memories of sublime meals much more quickly than I can summon the details of far lengthier romances. Daydreams of dinners long gone float like love letters through my consciousness. And I, too, have had the sometimes vicarious, sometimes visceral experience of eating well and cooking with people far more schooled in the gastronomical world than I could ever hope to be.
From the influences of well seasoned fry cooks to haute cuisine aficionados and world-class kitchen gods and goddesses all the way to the Triad’s own awesome array of restaurateurs and chefs, a bona fide foodie was born sometime in the ’90s.
Mother: I think it was earlier than the ’90s. When you went to Italy in college you rolled off the tarmac when you arrived home.
Me: I also had fleas, remember?
Mother: That’s what you get when you lay down with dogs and eat with Italians.
Stateside and visiting friends in Vermont, I’ll never forget six hours of lamb stuffing, basting and spit-turning while Julia Child’s former assistant read from her personal notes on the process and laughed at my own body’s marinade of sweat, ash and lamb fat. Watching Mr. Robinson of Greensboro’s own Robinson’s Restaurant (now Smith Street Diner) flip a dozen burgers, chop an onion, read the newspaper, serve a “T-Bone with a Tall Can” special, exchange barbs with his crew of sassy waitresses and make change still remains a marvel to me.
And how could I delete from memory — or my odometer — all the back roads I trekked while writing a column for Country Inns magazine entitled “The Inncredible Gourmet”? In those days my interview notes alone probably had a higher caloric count than the average entrée. Back in the Triad, reading and nibbling an afternoon away at Winston-Salem’s West End Café or the now defunct Rainbow News & Café have always been favorite forms of playing hookey. And sneaking out for a solo dinner at Greensboro’s 1618 Seafood Grill or appetizers and drinks at Undercurrent are personal rewards I’ve come to rely on.
Mother: You girls today eat out way too much. You don’t know how to cook.
Me: I know how to cook. I’m just single, and going out is a part of that. That’s true for a lot of “young people.” People don’t start picking out china patterns at 21 the way they used to Mother.
Mother: No, you just travel to China.
Attending cooking school in Thailand at Bangkok’s famed Oriental Hotel was a stolid exercise in humility as I feebly butchered the Thai language and practically melted an ice sculpture with my overly spiced duck curry. I still enjoy torturing myself in the Triad’s array of Thai, Indian and Vietnamese joints by ordering everything five-star hot and feigning indifference.
Summer always brings to mind the pounds accumulated during those years before light fare replaced the heavy traditional sauces and ooh la la! desserts of days gone by. Through it all, the Cajun invasion, the Pacific Rim revolution, the Russian resurgence, taco Tuesdays and food-truck fads, the scales of culinary justice have always weighed heavily in favor of the diverse cuisines of the Triad. And no matter how weighty the menu, what I’ve never minded is gaining new appreciation for the most civilized art of eating well. Bon appetit, Triad.