Perks of being me

When celebrities are interviewed and asked what the best thing about fame is, many of them say all the different people that they meet.

And I used to say, “What a load of malarkey!  The best thing about their lives is the free shoes, preferential treatment, and truckloads of cash!”

Please, spare a thought for these poor souls.

But the funny thing is, the best aspect about this Herald Sun gig is all the terrific folks that I get to meet.  Life is crazy, isn’t it?

The readers of this column are without exception, kind and supportive.  Many readers have written to me (which I absolutely love), with stories, questions, and encouragement.

I’ve met quite a few local chefs, and every single one of them has been kind and generous.  They have all fed me delicious, original food, and answered every single one of my questions.

But perhaps because we have some things in common or maybe because he, like me, lives to feed everyone he comes across, Chef James Clark of the Carolina Inn (211 Pittsboro St, Chapel Hill) and I have become friends.  The first time I met him, the very first thing he asked me was if I was hungry.

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My friend, Chef James.

There are foods that previously I was convinced I didn’t like.  Oysters are just weird, slimy, and gross.  That’s what I thought until I ate his crispy oysters.  Chicken wings; they were just too much work for too little food that tastes awful.  That was until I ate his smoked wings with mustard sauce.

The biggie though, is grits.  I never was a fan.  Then I ate Chef James’s shrimp and grits.  A host of Southern angels parted the skies and sang Southern lullabies just for me.   I was a complete goner.  I began ordering them from the same small South Carolina mill where he gets his; Anson Mills.  But because I could eat barrels of them in one sitting, and they’re kind of expensive, I ruthlessly ration them.  I was heartbroken when I ran out last fall.  I love them so much I put them on my Christmas list.

It still surprises me, how good these things are.

Last Saturday night I hung out in the kitchen of the Carolina during the hotel’s 90th anniversary celebration.  I met two other food people that are awesome—Chef Brian Stapleton and Chef Jimmy Reale, former executive chefs that came back for the night to collaborate on the special dinner.

I also got to spend some time with head pastry chef, Sara Thomas, and get to know her a bit better.  Her contributions to the dinner were a bracing palate cleansing tangerine-lime sherbet, and dessert.

It was a chocolate & salted caramel hazelnut torte with chocolate Frangelico ganache.  It was gorgeous, delicious, and should only be attempted by a trained professional.  But the salted caramel sauce with it made me weep.  It was the best caramel I’ve ever had—and I eat a lot of caramel.

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The treat in question.

Chef Sara kindly gave me permission to share the recipe.  I know I gave out directions for making dulce de leche a couple of weeks ago, but I really wanted you to be able to have this astonishing sauce.

Chef Sara in her natural habitat.

Chef Sara’s salted caramel sauce

2 cups sugar

½ cup water

1 cup heavy cream

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ teaspoon salt

Bring water and sugar to a boil.  Brush down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush, but don’t stir; it will seize up (you can gently swirl pan).  Cook until it’s a deep amber color.

Remove from heat and slowly, carefully, add cream (it will bubble volcanically—be prepared).

Return to heat and stir until it’s incorporated.  Then add butter, vanilla, and salt.

Place in a container and chill before using.  Sprinkle more salt when plating if desired (I like mine on the saltier side).  Makes about 2 cups.

I feel kind of bad disbelieving celebrities when they say that people are the best thing that’s come from fame, because the folks I’ve met through this column have been amazing.

Of course, nobody’s offered me expensive shoes, or truckloads of cash yet, so I might have to get back to you.

Thanks for your time.

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