Hail to the chef

In 1939, when King George VI and Queen Mary visited the US, President and Mrs. Roosevelt had a picnic for them at Hyde Park and served hot dogs.

People were shocked, but the king and queen loved it.

In 2016 when the pampered and privileged visit Chapel Hill’s Crossroads restaurant in the Carolina Inn, they can roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and eat roasted peel & eat shrimp; covered with spice and served with green tomato cocktail and comeback sauces.

People are charmed, and everybody loves it.

The surroundings are beautiful and historic, the service is warm but faultless, and the ingredients are top quality and thoughtfully sourced.  But James Clark, executive chef of the Crossroads has no patience for fussy fine dining and the atmosphere it creates.

The Carolina Inn-I kind of expect the Tarleton twins to be lounging on that porch.

I’ve known Chef James since he was hired, about 3 ½ years ago.  When I heard about him, I was very interested in meeting him.  He’s from Elizabeth City, as am I.  And, he attended culinary school at the New England Culinary Institute, in Vermont, which is The Kid’s alma mater.

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The Kid–trying to look demented and done up in NECI gear.

We ultimately met at a reception introducing him as executive chef.  True to Chef, he catered his own wing-ding.  Luckily for every guest in attendance, he catered his own wing-ding.  The first thing he ever fed me was a fluffy, buttery biscuit, and nestled within was a piece of perfectly slow-cooked and rendered pork belly (I stuck one in my pocket, and took it to Petey—who loved it).

Last week he invited Petey and me to the Carolina to celebrate my birthday and sample his new spring menu.  Instead of ordering, I asked the chef if he would choose for us.  Our palates and bellies would be in his talented, capable hands.

Chef divides his menu into “Sharing Plates”, “Small Plates”, and “Large Plates”.  Dishes were set in front of either Petey or me, but we shared everything.

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Clam frites.

The first course was clam frites and his peel & eat shrimp.   The clams were cooked in their own shell and flavored with bacon and fennel.  Also included was a big vessel of fresh-cut fries spiked with tangy yet mellow Carolina Bleu cheese. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, delicious, and messy fun.  They were served with a green tomato cocktail sauce which was developed by his Chef de Cuisine, Jonathan James.

It’s great for all sorts of things.

Green Tomato Cocktail Sauce

Green Tomato Ketchup Base:

green ketchup

4 Cups Green Tomatoes                                                                              

3 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce                                                                     

1 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar                                                                          

3 Tablespoons Texas Pete                                                                                          

½ medium sized onion (julienned)                                                                                 

2 Tablespoons garlic (minced)                                                                                  

¼ cup brown Sugar                                                                                       

¼ cup granulated Sugar                                                                                        

2 tablespoons salt                                                                                                       

1 tablespoon pepper                                                                                                                            

½ cup water

Combine all ingredients in medium heavy bottomed pot, bring to a boil reduce to a simmer. Reduce in volume by half. Cool and blend on high until smooth. If the base is not bright you can add a drop or so of green food coloring to bring back the color.

Cocktail Sauce:

green cocktail

3 ½ cups Green Tomato Ketchup Base                                                            

¼-½ cup Horseradish, depending on taste

Juice from 1 lemon

5-8 dashes Texas Pete                                                                                            

Salt & Pepper to taste

Stir ingredients together.  Makes approximately 4 cups.  Store leftovers in the fridge, or place in zip-top bags and freeze flat.

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The peel & eat experience.

Space prohibits me from divulging more about our meal in this column.  But next week is the sequel with another delicious, do-able recipe from the kitchens of the Carolina Crossroads, and the minds of Chef James and his uber-talented staff.

Thanks for your time.

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