Bringing Food to Life

Published July 30, 2021

Dear readers,

We hope everyone’s summer has been going well- full of fun, sunshine, and, of course, food! We’ve missed you in June but are glad to be back for our bi-month 50+ page edition packed with articles, interviews, recipes, a new living locally episode, and more! This is our longest issue so far! 

Before reading the magazine, we want to tell you about our order and formatting, which is meant to enhance the reading experience. We have formatted it to represent the cycle of food. The magazine starts with the seed and ends with a story. We’ve begun with an article about how farms help to bring ingredients to life. Next, we move on to an article and graphic organizer about the Art of Space, before continuing to an interview about how COVID-19 affected restaurants (specifically Wye Hill). Leeya wrote an article about her experience eating at the downtown Raleigh restaurant Garland and how those dishes reminded her of her loved ones and memories, inspired partly by an interview about food storytelling and Southern Food. Finally, Adalia’s article What You Eat Matters ties the effects of the food industry today together as a conclusion for this edition.

Lastly, don’t forget to check out our Bringing Food to Life: The Food Discussion documentary, premiering on August 7 at 7:00! Go to this link: We’ve worked really hard to put together this documentary that we hope captures the ideas of this magazine and more. Keep reading to find out more details on this special event!

-Leeya and Adalia

Bringing Food to Life: The Food Discussion

Food is often seen as fuel, but it is so much more! When we look at food through a broader lens, it can be art, entertainment, inspiration, money, culture, industrial factory farms, storytelling, power, connection, compassion, love, history, animal treatment, family…We could go on and on and on about what food represents, so we’ve put together a magazine that skims the surface of our thoughts, opinions and ideas. We are bringing these topics to A and L’s dining table (pun intended) to get our readers interested and conversations started!

We’ve interviewed a farmer, several restaurant owners, a food writer, and a pescatarian to learn more about bringing food to life.

Furthermore, we’ve put together a documentary, Bringing Food to Life: The Food Discussion, premiering on August 7 at 7:00 pm as an A and L + readers virtual “movie night.” This is a compilation of our interviews, experiences, and other segments from this edition. Go to: to watch!

If you want to watch the interviews separately, watch a few recipe videos and more, we will have a YouTube playlist linked in the description to the documentary in the upcoming month.

We hope to see everyone at the documentary premiere!

Bringing Ingredients to Life: Our Experience at Coon Rock Farm + An Interview with Jamie DeMent

This month, Jamie DeMent of Coon Rock Farm invited us to dinner at her white 17th century farmhouse, nestled beneath Occoneechee Mountain, which is the highest peak in North Carolina, east of the Appalachian. We were greeted by barking dogs and thunder clouds threatening to unleash their terror upon us. DeMent welcomed us in her denim-like apron and navy spaghetti-strap dress. We followed the dogs inside and were drawn to the kitchen counter by the aroma of fresh cheese. Despite our desire to try the various textures and forms of these delicious milk proteins, our need to see the farm before the clouds unleashed the rain drew us back outside. We were so excited to run free on the 55 acres of land after a year of Zoom interviews and online school, cooped up in our bedrooms. Adalia gravitated towards the clucking eggs “machines” (what we thought were egg machines later turned out to be meat chickens), while Leeya hastily started up her drone, her speedy technical expertise being tested by the looming threat of rain. We chased after Neel, Leeya’s brother, who had disappeared in the direction of the greenhouses. Inside, we found rows of purple peppers growing amongst the green.

DeMent soon came outside to show us around. We learned that the greenhouses were a better way to control the temperatures for the “royalty” vegetables who couldn’t handle certain seasons or weather. Next, she pointed out the difference between the chickens meant for meat and the egg laying chickens. She explained that the egg-laying chickens’ coop rolls around, which allows for the chicken’s poop to be used as fertilizer in the garden, while the meat birds don’t move as often. These egg “machines” often produce hundreds of eggs every week with each chicken laying about an egg a day! However, these eggs aren’t sold in the supermarket; they are sold directly to customers. To order some of these delicious farm-fresh eggs, go to

These birds aren’t the only animals on the farm. Coon Rock Farm also raises beef and lamb, who live on remote farms because there isn’t enough room on the farm for all of them. They are 100% grass-fed. DeMent said “Cows and sheep who eat grain, it’s just not natural.” Coon Rock Farm also raises sheep, who live on solar farms. Regular lawn mowers spray rocks and dirt at the expensive solar panels, which can break them, while these “living lawn mowers” don’t. The solar panel farm gets their grassy tidied up and the sheep get their nutrients. It’s truly a win-win! Finally, the farm raises a heritage breed of pig, known as Mangalizta. DeMent explained, “They look like the love child of a sheep and a pig because they have curly hair!” Additionally, the flavor is different from that of a regular pig due to the beta-carnitine they get from foraging for colorful foods. Closer to fall, the pigs are moved to the big vegetable patch to help clean up the “ugly” cabbages.

During the interview, there were lots of things in season, including heirloom tomatoes, squash, zucchini, corn, potatoes, melons, cucumber, peppers, eggplant, herbs, and summer lettuce. There are 1000+ caged tomato plants at Coon Rock Farm! Soon, they will be getting ready to plant things in flats so that they can be moved to the greenhouses for fall.

Thereafter, DeMent went in to check on something for dinner but we continued to look around the farm chased by Ava, one of the farm dogs.

The clouds began growing ominous so we headed back inside to try the beautiful cheese we had so desired to taste before. The first of the cheeses was a hard block of yellow American cheese from a nearby local farm. The next was a fresh and creamy goat cheese from the same local farm. The final cheese was a gooey cheese all the way from Italy! It was the one of only food items we had during the entirety of the meal that we ate that wasn’t from Coon Rock Farm or a nearby local farm. We ate all of these cheeses with delicious thin, salty crackers and salted and dried Southern ham slices from Coon Rock Farms. As hard as it was, we paced ourselves on the cheese, in excitement for the delicious dinner ahead.

As we munched on the scrumptious appetizer, DeMent told us about her time on Hallmark’s Home & Family channel and her cookbooks: The Farmhouse Chef and Canning in the Modern Kitchen. (Be sure to check out our Plethora of Recipes section below to read and try some of her recipes from these cookbooks). She told us about the movie sets and famous actors she got to see during her time in Orlando, Florida. She mentioned how some sets were just facades, while others were built to be reused. One of the actors she met even FaceTimed her mom, who was a huge fan!

While we waited for dinner, we watched DeMent’s husband and co-founder of Coon Rock Farm, Richard Holcomb, grill the meat that they had put in a suvee prior to our visit. A suvee is a water circulation process where you season your meat and put it in a bag at 131 degrees (Fahrenheit) for 24 hours. Then, you can, for example, sear it on a hot grill for a finishing touch. The end result is a melt in your mouth, perfectly tender piece of meat, no matter the animal. While the meat grilled, we learned about their pig smoker, grapevines and special African grill. Their pig smoker is used mostly for bigger, public events like the annual pig pickin. The grapevines were six weeks away from being ready much to our disappointment but were exciting to see anyway. One of their many grills was an open fire grill inspired by the South-African tradition of “braai.” What makes this grill unique is its elevation bars that allow for precise temperature control and it’s movable grill grate which allows for rotating meat on and off the grill efficiently.

Just before we went inside to eat, Leeya’s mom, Sejal, drew us towards the enormous bed of herbs lining the main patio with the promise of $20 if we could name all the herbs. With a little help from Neel, some close saves by Leeya’s excellent memory for the herb names no one else could remember, and a lot of help from Adalia’s expertise in herbs from working in her garden, we managed to name everything. Some of the herbs we found in the garden included rosemary, thyme, lavender, oregano, sage and chives.  

We sat down at the dinner table set with everything from beautiful monogrammed napkins to a variety of tiny salt shakers filled with mineral salt from the flats of Utah. A colorful heirloom tomato and local buffalo milk mozzarella salad lay on the side of the table setting with a lapis-lazuli colored glass vase of water sitting beside it. Potatoes cooked with olive oil, fresh herbs, and garlic and a bowl of DeMent’s favorite peas filled our line of vision. These field peas are very labor intensive to pick and shell, which made us truly appreciate ALL of the work that went into the whole meal. DeMent told us “When you are the one who is planting them and caring for the plant and harvesting them and shelling them and cooking them (which I do all of those things) you’ll look at something (a little tiny bowl of a very humble pea) and appreciate it in a whole different way.” Lastly, the star of the show: the grilled grass-fed beef, sat on a wooden cutting board, sliced into thin, juicy pieces. Almost everything was local, either coming straight from Coon Rock Farms or other nearby local farms. Those items that were not, were ungrowable in North Carolina, such as the olive oil. Even then, the olive oil was imported from a local farm in Italy. When we took our first bites we were in awe. Seeing the farm and all of the vegetables and labor that had gone into this dinner, made us appreciate the hard work of farmers everywhere.

Surrounded by the great company and food, the conversation turned to the DeMent’s house. DeMent told us that Holcomb had originally bought the farm as a place for his children to play and grow up at. She told us that when she met him, the house was extremely messy with moving boxes everywhere because of his new move. When we heard this, we couldn’t imagine it as disorganized, because the house was so clean and well decorated when we were there. DeMent’s cookbooks sat on the coffee table, which she later gifted to us, and the bathroom was full of travel pictures, which fascinated us!

While Holcomb prepared fresh Virginia cherry ice cream for dessert, we learned the backstory to those cherries. DeMent told us that there was a cherry orchard in Southern Virginia run by an old man. For a low price, you could pick all the cherries you wanted. DeMent said she was like a “kid in a candy store” at that orchard because there were thousands of the gnarly cherry trees, ready to be picked by the visitors. DeMent’s excitement at these cherry trees caused her to pick hundreds of cherries! She froze the extra cherries and to this day, they are still eating them! In fact, these are the cherries that were in the ice cream we would eat after a short interview. 

We centered the interview around bringing ingredients to life, how DeMent plays a role in that and the importance of local food. DeMent started out by telling us a little bit about her background. She explained how she grew up loving the comadory of food, and although she always has loved food, she never thought food would be her life. DeMent was a Morehead-Cain scholar and attended the University of North Carolina. 

We then asked about local food because we felt it is a term that gets thrown around a lot without a concrete definition. DeMent defined local as, “…a product that is coming from an actual farmer, a human, an individual farmer, who raised it on their land and they are selling it directly to a customer or to a restaurant or to a family. There is a direct connection.” Some products you can’t get from within a 30 mile radius, however; oysters from NC’s coast, for example, could still be considered local if you can make a personal connection with the person who grew them, according to DeMent.

Organic, on the other hand, has a pages long definition in federal terms, which has strange rules dealing with things like chemicals and pesticides. For example, you can use nonorganic chicken manure to spread on your organic garden, even though it probably has antibiotics and other chemicals in it. This is why DeMent doesn’t believe in organic farming. As we talked, she joked that Coon Rock Farm is “more-ganic.” Coon Rock Farms is not actually certified organic because they don’t sell on a national level. DeMent summarized organic by saying “If you are looking at it on the most basic level, organic should be that you are farming in the most natural way possible – that you are not bringing in outside inputs, that you are not you are not using harmful chemicals or pesticides or fertilizers or herbicides.”

The interview then shifted to the importance of sharing and cooking food with friends and family. Coon Rock Farm helps with this because they have a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture program in place. People who sign up get 12 weeks of fresh produce boxes. If you want to order a Coon Rock Farm box that arrives at your door every week, full of fresh farm produce (meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruit) go to:

Before we finished the interview, we learned that Coon Rock Farm is named after the large rock on the face of Occoneechee Mountain, which has had its name changed several times. The farm was named Coon Rock Farm before Holcomb bought it.

We finished our visit with bowls of the delicious, creamy and surprisingly sugar-free Virginia cherry ice cream before heading off. DeMent wouldn’t let us leave empty handed, though, and gifted us with bell peppers, eggs and two copies of her cookbooks. Thinking back on the experience, the weather must have played a trick on us, because it didn’t rain for the entirety of the visit!

A Plethora of Recipes

Since this issue is all about food, we knew we had to “beef” up (pun intended 🙂 our recipes section. In order to do this, we added 7 delicious recipes from a variety of people. Some of these recipes even have interesting anecdotes or memories behind the recipe. We encourage everyone to try making one of these tasty concoctions during A and L “virtual” movie night which will take place on August 7 at 7:00 PM!

Sejal Mehta’s Egg Salad Crackers Topped with Extra Crispy Cracked Pepper Bacon 
Jamie DeMent’s Tomato and Fresh Herb Pie

Sejal Mehta’s Egg Salad Crackers Topped with Extra Crispy Cracked Pepper Bacon 

*Makes 4 servings

I’m from New York. The egg salad sandwiches from the deli, across from the Queens Criminal Courthouse, where I worked, were my favorite. This recipe is especially delicious if you use farm fresh eggs where you have practically had a conversation with chickens and good quality extra crispy cracked pepper bacon  because “everything tastes better with bacon.”


  • 8 eggs
  • ½ cup mayonnaise 
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard 
  • ¼ cup chopped green onion
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika 
  • cracked pepper water crackers
  • 5 pieces of cracked pepper bacon
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place egg in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Cover and let eggs stand in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water, cool, peel and chop.
  2. Place the chopped eggs in a bowl, and stir in the mayonnaise, mustard and green onion. Season with salt, pepper and paprika. 
  3. Stir and serve on cracked pepper water crackers and top with a piece or crumbles of extra crispy cracked pepper bacon.

Sheri Castle’s Zesty Black Bean Soup with Lots of Lime

*Makes 6 to 8 servings


  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 (15-ounce) cans black beans, undrained
  • 2 to 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, divided
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup Frontera brand liquid Guacamole seasoning mix (regular or spicy) or bottled salsa verde

Serve with: Lime Cream (recipe follows)

Suggested toppings: diced avocado, sliced radishes, shredded cheese, a bottle of hot sauce and excellent chips


  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring often.
  2. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano and salt, and cook for 1 minute while stirring.
  3. Add the beans with their liquid and 2 cups of the stock.
  4. Simmer over low heat until the flavors blend, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you prefer thicker soup, crush some of the beans with the side of a large spoon. If you prefer thinner soup, add the remaining stock.
  5. Just before serving, stir in the lime juice and Frontera mix.
  6. Check the seasoning and serve warm garnished with Lime Cream and your favorite toppings.Jamie DeMent’s Tomato and Fresh Herb Pie

Lime Cream Ingredients:

  1. 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  2. Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
  3. 1 to 2 tablespoons green hot sauce (such as Tabasco and Chihoula)
  4. Kosher salt, to taste

©2021. Sheri Castle. Used with express written permission of the author.

Jamie DeMent’s Tomato and Fresh Herb Pie

*Makes 4-6 servings

“My tu-MAY-ta pie is to DIE for” is a statement I heard from almost every woman I knew growing up. And most of those women made their tomato pies with mayonnaise. They mixed tomatoes, cheese, and mayonnaise, then baked it into a jiggly mess. I wanted to create a tomato pie that is simple, fresh, and less greasy because it is mayo-free. This is my take on a Southern favorite. 


  • 1 unbaked pie crust 
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes (different varieties and colors)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • ½ pound of fresh mozzarella sliced into 1-inch strips
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar 


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  2. Blind bake the pie crust first. Press the crust evenly into a 9-inch pan and prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill the psn with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the crust begins to turn slightly golden around the edges-around 10 minutes. Remove pie crust from the oven and set it aside to cool.
  3. Once the crust is cool, slice the tomatoes evenly and arrange them in the pie crust in a single layer. Drizzle the olive oil over the top. Sprinkle the chopped fresh herbs on top of the tomatoes, then arrange the slices of cheese on top.
  4. Bake the tart for 30 minutes-until the tomatoes are tender and the cheese is just starting to bubble. Let the pie cool completely. When ready to serve, season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

©2021. Jamie DeMent. Used with express written permission of the author.

Jamie DeMent’s Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

*Makes 4 pints

You can’t turn all tomatoes into sauce! This is a fun way to preserve those sweet cherry tomatoes. I always use a mix of colors so the jars look pretty on the shelf, and that also makes things more fun when you are plating them later. This same recipe can be used for full-size ripe and green tomatoes. Just cut them into 1″chunks and directly substitute.


  • 4 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
  • 8 small sprigs fresh oregano


  1. Get your boiling-water bath canning equipment ready and have your jars sterilized and ready.
  2. Poke a small hole all the way through each tomato or slice bigger ones in half.
  3. In a large stainless steel pot over high heat, bring the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  4. Evenly distribute the tomatoes, garlic, peppercorns, and oregano among hot, sterilized jars. Pack the tomatoes in closely but don’t squish them.
  5. Carefully ladle or pour the hot brine to cover the tomatoes in the jars completely, leaving an inch of headspace. Gently tap the jars to remove air bubbles.
  6. Wipe the rim of each jar carefully with a clean towel to ensure a good seal, and carefully place the lids and rims on.

©2021. Jamie DeMent. Used with express written permission of the author.

Zucchini Casserole

*This was inspired by Provence (French) cuisine and given to us by Rob Craig.


  1. 6 medium to large zucchini
  2. 1 six-inch package goat cheese
  3. herbes de provence
  4. A bag/box of parmesan cheese
  5. 1 cup of Japanese-style bread crumbs
  6. olive oil
  7. salt
  8. pepper
  9. a baking pan large enough to hold the zucchini


  1. Slice the zucchini into thin slices (a kitchen mandolin is good, or a food processor with the slicing blade)
  2. Spread a small amount of olive oil on the bottom of your pan
  3. Cover the bottom of the pan with zucchini slices, 2 or 3 thick
  4. Spread crumbles of goat cheese on the zucchini, using 1/4 or 1/3 of the cheese
  5. Salt and pepper lightly, and generously put on herbs de provence
  6. Repeat making additional layers until the zucchini and cheese is used up
  7. On the top cover liberally with parmesan, then with enough Japanese-style breadcrumbs to prevent burning
  8. Cook in the oven at 375° for 45 minutes

Chicken and Veggies with Rice or Pasta

*Recipe by Teena


  • 1 chicken breast (you can also make this with tuna or cooked shrimp)
  • 3 celery sticks (chopped)
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup of mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/4 cup of flour
  • 2 cups of warmed milk


  1. Make sure the chicken is cooked beforehand and sliced into small pieces.
  2. Saute the chopped celery, onions and mushrooms in a skillet in 2 tablespoons of olive oil plus 2 tablespoons of butter.  There should be about 2-3 cups of vegetables altogether.
  3. When all is cooked and the onions are soft, add 1/4 cup of flour to the pan. Stir it around to coat the veggies and cook for about 1 minute at least.
  4. Add 2 cups of warm milk, slowly, while stirring. Simmer for at least one minute (this makes the sauce).
  5. Add the meat. Simmer for another minute and serve over rice or pasta.

Peanut Sauce

*Recipe given to us by Lumina Kemp


  • 1 cup unsalted peanut butter
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped peanuts
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ⅓ cup coconut cream/milk
  • ⅓ cup soy sauce
  • ⅔ cup water
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • About 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • ½ to ⅓ an onion, minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander



  1. Stir in a bowl then simmer till fully combined and heat on the stove.


  1. Add garlic, ginger, onion and spices to pan and heat on medium-low.
  2. Add sugar and lemon juice and mix.
  3. Add coconut cream/milk, peanut butter, chopped peanuts and water and mix so the sauce doesn’t stick to the pan.
  4. Once simmering, add soy sauce.

*Serve with veggies, rice or your favorite savory food!

Living Locally: SOCA and The Mountaintop

During Juneteenth weekend, we went to SOCA (a Latin/South American restaurant) and Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Mountaintop at their outdoor amphitheater. Both were awesome experiences as you can see below!

Our Favorite Dishes/Drinks From SOCA

First of all, our drinks were amazing! The red-purple Chicha Morada was made of purple corn and has a slight cinnamon-y aftertaste. The Strawberry-Lime Agua Fresca was a beautiful pink color. It had a very refreshing and fresh strawberry flavor.

Every single one of the dishes we ate was wonderful, as well! However, we couldn’t list them all, so here are five we really enjoyed: The Guatemalan Ceviche de Camarón had a tostada to dip in super fresh shrimp with a hint of mint to add to the freshness. With a cheesy inside and outer soft tortilla layer, the Pupusas de Queso were delicious! The Colombian Pan de Yuca had agave butter on it and mozzarella inside. It was like a fried cheese and corn patty! The slightly spicy Empanadas de Huitlacoche were a perfect, crispy treat. Last, but certainly not least, the Argentinian Charred Pork Cheeks had a layer of polenta with the tender perfectly cooked pork cheek on top. This dish was delicious and reminded us of Southern food. 

Key Takeaways from Mountaintop

Mountaintop was a remarkable production from the actors to the set and everything else in between. The play is about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last day of life when an angel, in disguise as a maid from the hotel, comes to visit him. They lead into a discussion about accomplishments and the future.

The ending of the production provides several key things and themes about Dr. King and life, in general. At the end of the day, Martin Luther King, Jr. was just a man. He carried this great burden and he ended up realizing how much carrying this burden would impact his life. The play shows the importance of passing the baton onwards.

We want to remind everyone that anyone can pick up this burden, but if so, do it with love and bring love into your everyday life by doing so.

Don’t forget to check out this episode on YouTube! Visit

Challenges of the Food Industry: Uplifted by COVID-19: An Interview with Sara Abernethy About Restaurant Struggles edited by Leeya and Adalia

We had both heard about the struggle of restaurants during the pandemic, particularly with staffing and the food supply chain. However, we still had lots of questions, so we contacted Sara Abernethy, co-owner of Wye Hill. Abernethy runs Wye Hill with her husband Chris Borreson. She has a background in sales and marketing and hospitality, while Borreson has a background in technical theater. At Wye Hill they do a wide array of jobs, all part of being a business owners. Both of them love food, drink and cooking exciting meals together for family and friends, so opening an event space together was a shared idea of theirs. They had no idea they would be opening a restaurant. Nevertheless, they fell in love with the huge potential they saw in the space at Wye Hill. Wye Hill officially opened in June of 2019, but they had been in the building for about three years. It was a fairly long process to turn Wye Hill into what is now. 

During a short walk-around of the restaurant, we saw their craft brewery system, which is the second oldest in Raleigh, as well as their Brewer’s Lounge, which has a garage-like door that can open for direct access to the brewery. In addition to beer, they also brew cinders. The walls of the tap room are covered in local art and the epicenter of the entire restaurant is their food pass. This is where all the food and beverage comes out, ready to be brought to guests, with a small server station right behind it. The big outdoor space can fit up to 200 people and has a nice covered section for inclement weather  as well as misters during the summer to keep the guests cool.

Finally, you can see the star of the show: the wye under Boylan Bridge and the gorgeous view of the Raleigh skyline from the patio!

What was it like for your restaurant during COVID-19? How did you adapt to it? What were the struggles of it because it started so soon after June 19! I will tell you it was very, very scary. The first month was just sheer panic and kind of going into each day having no idea what to do. There’s no playbook for this sort of thing the industry itself was super duper scrambling. We had to let go of all of our staff. That was incredibly difficult and super painful. We closed down from the middle of March through mid-June. Restaurants were allowed to reopen in May, but we had no idea if anyone would even come…if anyone was even comfortable coming out to eat because we were not supposed to be close to each other. We even waited an additional couple of weeks. The model that we adopted was adding QR codes on every single table. We reduced our table capacity by 50% to ensure that every table was at least six feet apart from each other but what that also means is that in terms of our earning potential that was also down by 50%. There was no way to do the math to understand can we keep the doors open? Every day was a new adventure. We had to take it one day at a time. Fortunately, we do have a huge outdoor space. People last summer, if they were going out they were prioritizing going somewhere with outdoor space. Even at the end of each day, we would sit down and we’d look back and be like, “Okay. What happened today? How were the guests? Were they comfortable? How’s the staff doing? Do they feel safe? What can we do better tomorrow?” We would just make these little tweaks each day. We did try to promote take out, but the public never really responded to that for us. People want to come here and sit outside. We still offer takeout, but it’s just never been that kind of place.

We can’t even imagine the stress that the food industry was under during COVID-19 but we are so, so grateful they have done what they could to prepare their spaces safely for the guests so that we can all eat delicious and nutritious food!

What is it like having that space, that breathtaking view of Raleigh? It is the reason why we put everything on the line to take over this spot. Starting a restaurant is a very risky endeavor financially, emotionally, mentally. No one can fully prepare you for that but we believe that the view is the crown jewel of not only this space but nobody in Raleigh has this. It really sets us apart from everybody else. You can get a great burger at a number of different places in Raleigh and there’s a number of different craft breweries in Raleigh but I don’t think there’s anywhere else in town where you can have that kind of experience.

If you have been to Wye Hill, you know their view is absolutely stunning no matter what time of the day. It is really a “crown jewel” view of Raleigh!

Did your background in waitressing play into your experience of starting the restaurant? I’ve waited tables. I’ve been a bartender. I’ve been a host. I have done a number of events. I’ve even done some back of house stuff in my hospitality career. Drawing upon those experiences, over the course of almost 20 years, definitely influenced how I imagined service would run here. Also how I engage with the team…How I inspire the team.

What perspective did waitressing give you of the food industry? …that not everyone can actually do it well. I think a lot of people don’t realize that the skill required to be a great hospitality worker…not everybody can do it. There are certain things you can’t teach. You have a million different tasks that are simultaneously happening, but you also have to read people where they’re at…at a high volume…at a fast pace…when it’s busy. Also you have to be able to navigate when things don’t go according to plan. Your kitchen might run out of an item someone’s ordered, you might have dropped a glass and it’s shattered all over the floor, you might have spilled something on someone. It’s like this constant navigating of all of these different factors all at the same time, which I feel like is actually a pretty great metaphor for just being a human being. You go through every day and you kind of don’t know what life is going to throw at you every day. You just have to roll with the punches and make decisions with the information you have. It’s really served me in any role I’ve ever done in my career.

This is an interesting perspective on waitressing. Abernethy’s response made us think more about what a waitress/waiter actually does because they have to balance so much to make guests happy. Thank you to all waiters/waitresses out there, we always will value you and are especially grateful for you during the pandemic! 

Did you have a favorite part about waitressing? I did well as a server. I really enjoyed it. It is physically and mentally demanding, but I found it to be energizing, connecting with people. There’s a little magic you can sprinkle on the table in addition to food and beverage. If you can anticipate the need of a guest and add a tiny little touch that they don’t even expect is coming and to experience the delight that people have when all of that happens is really rewarding for me. I’ve always really loved that.

It is wonderful to know that Abernethy enjoyed most of the magic she could sprinkle on guests’ day whether it was anticipating their needs or putting in her best into making their meal as comfortable as she could. I’m sure most of us know how much better a kind waiter/waitress can make your day.

Going back to the COVID-19 topic, what was the food supply for your restaurant like during COVID-19? How did your restaurant struggle in that sense? It was totally random. There was no way to anticipate it. COVID-19 absolutely had an effect on the supply chain across everything. Some weeks we couldn’t get chicken. One of the most popular dishes on our menu is chicken saltimbocca. What do you do? You don’t have chicken, you don’t have chicken. You have to take it off the menu. When people are asking for it and guests are disappointed because they’re looking forward to chicken saltimbocca, you have to do your best to make another recommendation. Then, if they’re really disappointed, send over a gesture, send over a dessert or send over an appetizer to help smooth that over. We haven’t necessarily seen costs yo-yo too much, but supply chain stuff has been totally random…like bread! Never salt or pepper or butter or anything that was truly totally crucial. The chicken that was the biggest ‘What are we gonna do?!? There’s no chicken!’

So, what did you do? You have to take it off the menu. At the time you don’t really have time to replace it with something else. You can if guests are asking, ”Hey, where’s the saltimbocca?” you have to educate your servers to make another recommendation. We do have a couple of other dishes that are served with cheese grits, which that dish was, or, “The most popular dish is our Wye Hill burger. That’s a luscious, delicious meal, as well. Perhaps you’d like to try?” Making a recommendation for something else that could be similar. Then, at worst-case scenario, sending over a gesture, like a complimentary appetizer and saying, “I’m so sorry. There’s no chicken!”

It was interesting to hear about Wye Hill’s solutions to missing food, like the chicken problem, for example. We never would have thought that the food supply problem could be for such random foods, yet not affect foods like butter, salt, pepper and other essential items.

How are things going on now because things are getting better? Every day is a new adventure. And I do say that with a grain of salt. Every day we have challenges we can’t necessarily anticipate. For us, the guests seem happy. We have not had a challenge filling the seats, which we’re so grateful for, but we have experienced, and everybody in our community has been experiencing a hard time with staffing. Last year when an entire workforce was let go, those people had to make a living somehow they went and found jobs in other industries. They left our industry! Upon reopening, you can’t just cultivate a whole new workforce like that [snaps fingers]. It takes time. Staffing is a big challenge, for sure.

Even for those of us not in the restaurant industry, everyday is certainly “a new adventure.” It was saddening to hear about the loss of staffing, especially how difficult it is to find an entire group of people to fulfill those empty spots. However, if you want to help with this problem, be sure to let anyone you know who is interested in a waiter/waitressing job/restaurant job that restaurants everywhere need help!

Anything else to add? We’re all about righteously good people, plates and pores. We have a great patio. Our whole vision for the space was to level the quality of the experience up to the view. That was what went into everything, so whether it’s a cocktail or a beer or just a snack and a sip on the patio, we really want that to be really excellent…for people to feel joy when they come here. Do you want me to tell you the story of what a wye is? This building, which you can see here on our logo, is a pretty historic building. It was built in 1945 and it was at the time super modernist and a little bit radical. Next to this building is the Boylan Bridge, where you can walk any time of day and have this miraculous view. The view itself is protected by a split in the railroad tracks, called a wye. We named Wye Hill after that split in the tracks that protects our view of the city, which people know us for.

In conclusion, this was a great interview because it allowed us to listen to the first-hand experience of a restaurant that survived the pandemic. We are so thankful to all food workers in the food industry who have put their life on the line so the rest of us can properly nourish our body. At least for us, food made everything a little bit better during the pandemic.

The Art of Space: An Interview with Preeti Waas about the Importance of Space + Some Tips While Cooking by Leeya and Adalia

So far, we had interviewed a farmer to learn where our food came from and two restaurants to learn more about making, creating and serving food but we wanted some advice and tips on using a kitchen effectively for us and our readers. We thought that someone with first-hand experience of running a restaurant in a tiny kitchen would have good advice on this. So, we decided to talk to Preeti Waas, owner of Cheeni, located in the Hillsborough Street location of the Alexander Family YMCA.

Cheeni came to the small space at the YMCA on March 1st, 2021. Waas told us that “it’s pretty cool” to work at that space because they have a built-in customer base. Plus, there’s the added bonus of cooling down on hot days by looking over at the YMCA pool and imagining she is there! 

For some, Indian food in a gym setting sounds peculiar. However, eating Indian food after working out has numerous health benefits. For example, Cheeni’s tiffin items, which are heavy snack/lunch-like meals, are made with a batter composed of fermented rice and lentils. This fermentation creates probiotics which are good for gut health, especially just after working out, and breaks down the carbs in the rice. This results in a less carb heavy dish which many people like to have after working out. Additionally, the lentils make these tiffins full of protein with no excess fat, due to the steaming and not frying of this dish. Eating one of Cheeni’s tiffin items is like having a complete meal, perfect for after working out. In fact, ayurvedic texts recommend having hot foods rather than cold foods after doing extraneous exercise because it is better for the body’s temperature control, as you have just raised the temperature during exercise.

Cheeni doesn’t have a full kitchen because not everyone likes the smell of Indian food cooking, however people generally do like the smell of baking, so they have a more bakery-like setting at the YMCA. Most of the Indian food is cooked off site in a commissary kitchen in North Raleigh.

Some of the appliances they do have include a grandaddy espresso machine, which can cost as much as a car, according to Waas! The cafe also has special grinders for the espresso machine. They have a variety of sinks because each one is used for a different purpose, which prevents cross-contamination. We also saw the sandwich line, which holds some but not all necessary sandwich fillings in order to prevent food from going bad, and their speed-rack. This speed-rack looked like a baked good bookshelf and helps to keep items like their curry chicken buns warm. Because of Cheeni’s head baker, Cameron’s, constant list-making, they are able to keep track of exactly what they need to help in the kitchen on a big whiteboard behind the ovens and speed-rack. Waas recommended for everyone at home to have one of these!

We headed to the back, where Waas showed us the freezer, ice maker and the three additional sinks. There is one sink for washing, one for rinsing and one for sanitizing. Cheeni and other restaurants are required by the Health Department to sanitize with a chemical sanitizer (so they don’t accidentally get someone sick). We noticed that even this back space was extremely clean and there wasn’t much crust or mold  anywhere, not even on the dish drain pipes!

Though their space is super small, it is actually helpful when it comes to cleanliness and efficiency. We learnt from looking at the space and hearing from Waas that they are sticklers for cleanliness. Wass explained the difference between cooking at home and in public by saying “There’s ten thousand people who can make fantastic food at home, but do they qualify to cook…safely store food and serve it to the public and know it’s going to be safe? Big difference there!” Additionally, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, a smaller space can be so much more efficient than larger spaces. For example, Cameron can bake, serve customers and take orders, all in one space while minimizing cleanup. 

Waas does acknowledge one disadvantage of working in a small space though and explains that “people want everything they get from a big Indian restaurant in a tiny cafe space.” But as Waas goes on to tell us, this is harder to do in a smaller restaurant. However, Waas says this can also be a good thing because they can keep things seasonal and when people get bored of a specific item, they can just switch to the next thing. This results in the overall theme of valuing quality over quantity and a more specific and intentional menu.

Overall, while some aspects of the space might be limiting and they might sell out of products faster because they make less, they can keep their products moving faster and produce less waste. This all results in a cleaner environment, increased efficiency, and a smaller carbon footprint.

We concluded the interview by tasting Cheeni’s curry chicken buns, full of delicious flavors. The spicy chicken contrasted beautifully with the sweet dough of the bun! If you live in the Triangle, be sure to check out Cheeni by going to!

As we talked, Waas gave us tons of great in-the-kitchen tips, so Leeya put together a graphic organizer of what we’d learned.

Magnifying Memories Through a Garland’s Menu: A Collection of Memories Triggered by a Memorable Dinner

Photos and writing by Leeya

During Memorial Day weekend, my family and I went to Garland, an Indian fusion restaurant in downtown Raleigh. We went there as part of our “staycation” in hopes that our food would transport us on vacation for the weekend. When we walked out of this meal, I had a new perspective on the world. I went into life refreshed and renewed, and somehow the meal did exactly what I was looking for. It repaired me, just like a vacation. I knew that many meals aren’t able to do this, so I had to write about this one. At first, I planned to just write about how impressed I was with the innovative flavors, and how this meal was like a vacation. Then, when I was writing, I realized something. This meal represents so much more for me because it triggers good and bad memories. It represents my identity. It reminds me of the people I love. In an attempt to describe this experience to you, I wrote a couple of short writing pieces on the dishes. I hope my writing can convey to you how special this experience really was.

Cheeti’s Kumar Strawberry-Cucumber chaat
Szechuan Peanuts

My Gujurati grandma (Ba) loves popcorn. Whenever we would go to her house or she came to ours, she would do a “popcorn party.” This consisted of me peering over my Ba’s shoulder while she stirred a combination of popcorn kernels and chili oil releasing a spicy, oily aroma all over the house. It smelled like the movie theater was playing a Bollywood movie. Other days, she would make caramel popcorn, stirring butter and sugar together. Somehow, without any measurement or timers, expertly cooked it and then drizzled the sauce all over the hot popcorn. She then tossed the bowl of popcorn until each kernel received a taste of some of the sweet sauce. After the popcorn was made, Ba would put on some music and we would have a dance party. Sometimes, when my cousins were there, the dance parties would get a little competitive. Sometimes sour fights emerged from it. After my Ba got the cousins to make up, we might watch a Bollywood movie filled with a roller coaster of emotions. We would grab handfuls of the sweet sticky popcorn while watching Sharukh Khan try to win over a girl. Then, we’d chomp on the spicy popcorn, while hiding in our grandma’s arm during the fighting scene. To finish the evening off, we might have some of my grandma’s favorite ice creams: strawberry, and then digest all this “junk” food with candy variyali (candy coated fennel). Tired from all the sugar, we would cuddle in my grandma’s bed until she eventually “kicked us off” into our own beds. We slept in, tired from the festivities from the night before, and woke up to my grandma eating her classic breakfast: A bowl of cornflakes with lots of fresh fruit only to do some form of it all again. When I think of Cheeti’s Kumar Strawberry-Cucumber chaat, I think of days at my grandma’s filled with popcorn parties. This dish is multi-dimensional and filled with fresh strawberries and cream, fennel, cornflakes, and (yes you guessed it) popcorn. This dish is a combination of spicy, sweet, and sour just like the Bollywood movies that we watched. Like nights at my grandma where we had so many different courses, this dish is a dessert, appetizer, and snack all in one explosive dish (just like my grandma).

Black salty olives, creamy sour feta, pruny, sickeningly sweet raisins that don’t fit in anywhere, and sunflower seeds that remind me of my mom’s health craze phase all in one dish. I slowly lift up my fork, taking a small section of the dish. I open my mouth, taste buds packed with their luggage, ready to depart and prepared for the worst, drink in my hand prepared to wash down all my least favorite things. The villain enters my mouth but wait, what is this? Sourness, creaminess, sweetness, crunchiness. My taste buds put down their luggage and start dancing to this rhythm of textures. Pop, pop, pop, goes the fennel. Crunch, crunch, crunch goes the sunflower seeds. The feta dances to a smooth beat dancing with the saltiness of the olives. Somehow, I enjoy this mishap of all my least favorite things. 

Some of the best days of my life are at the North Carolina State Fair. As a Southerner, this is a key event in life. So, ever since I can remember, every October, my family and I would go to the fair. Just one more hour, I would tell myself the day of the state fair. I practically wanted to shatter the clock and move the clock hands to 3:00 PM when I would finally get to go to the fair. To pass time, I would tell all my classmates that I was going to the State Fair today. This would then launch a full on conversation between all my classmates about the fair much to my teacher’s dismay (for the distraction it brought away from teaching time). They would tell me when they went to the fair, what rides they recommended, how jealous they were, etc. Then the intercom would finally speak. “Leeya Chaudhuri to carpool” it would say. I would spring out of my seat, smirk at the unlucky classmates left behind to do math, and practically dance my way to carpool. The car ride there would be filled with conversations with my brother about which ride we wanted to do first and which deep fried item each of us wanted.

Alas, we would finally arrive, at what can be argued is the best place on Earth. One year, before getting out, my brother insisted that he take his teddy bear named Blue Cotton Candy that we won at the fair. We would walk what felt like a thousand miles to the Fair. As we got closer, we could hear the melodious music and see the flashing lights. Every year was different in terms of what we did and ate, but you could always be sure of three things. First, we would start out the Fair experience with hot corn on the cob glistening with butter, sprinkled with salt, and loaded up with all the powdered seasonings. Second, there would be some sort of deep fried food involved. Most recently, it has been a deep fried twinkie, or the “golden brick of diabetes.” Then, we would end with a big bag of sweet blue and pink pillow fluff (also known as cotton candy). My parents wouldn’t let us get it until the end in order to avoid having to carry around the bag of the sweet stuff all around the Fair. But one thing that was particularly different that year was the “I Support Confederate Heritage” stickers being distributed around the fair. I was 10 that year, old enough to know what it meant, old enough for those to make me feel uncomfortable, old enough for those little thin pieces of sticky paper to make me grapple with identity.. It made me ask myself the question: “I may be Southern, but am I Southern enough?” The Cauliflower 65 reminds me of this memory. It’s soft, spiced batter, and sour dough texture has a similar feeling to that of the foods at the State Fair. However, the jolt of Indian flavors in this dish represents the struggle that I grapple with. Am I Southern enough?

If I were to put together some of my dad’s key funny habits, Garland’s Szechuan Peanuts would be the dish to represent this. When it comes to food, my dad is like a garbage can. Although this sounds horrible, what I mean is that he is usually the one to finish my brother’s and my food when we don’t eat all of it or we aren’t the biggest fan of the dish. My dad, being someone who will try anything and always finishes all of his food, always aims to not waste. Of course, I admire him for that. My dad is also someone who makes pancakes and bacon for weekend breakfast, but no matter how hard he tries, he burns these two items because he cooks them on the highest heat on the stove. This is not to say that he is a bad cook; in fact, he is an amazing chef who can make a dish out of any dish in the fridge, but he always burns his pancakes. My dad is also someone who told me that the best bites come from the bottom of the pan because you get the little bits of burnt flavor and caramelization. Lastly, my dad is someone who we call the chip “monster” because he will eat an entire chip bag in a day. Garland’s Szechuan Peanuts make me think of all of these parts of my dad. The smoky, almost burnt peanuts encompass my dad’s tendency to burn and cook things on high. The seasoning powder which coats your tongue like a bag of chips represents my dad’s chip “monster” capabilities. The fact that this dish makes you appreciate every last bite from the first crunch to the burnt, caramelized bits at the bottom of the pan reminds me of my dad’s advice that the best bites are at the bottom of the pan. This dish is truly “finger likin’” good.

My Bengali grandma (Tha) is beautiful. She has almond shaped eyes, caramel cream colored skin, and smooth wrinkle-free skin. She has thick black curly hair and always smells like either perfume or sandalwood. Her personality matches this beauty. Her favorite phrases include “laughing is the best medicine” and “you should eat more, Leeya.” But my grandma’s not overly sweet. She’s just the right amount of honest. The cardamom brownies at Garland remind me of my grandma put into brownies. It’s cardamom flavor drizzled with smooth caramel cream and topped with whipped cream is just the right amount of sweetness. I feel like this dish truly represents my Tha.

Other dishes and drinks that we had at the restaurant included a tart grapefruit and lime mocktail loaded with slight notes of cinnamon and garnished with a thinly sliced piece of lime. The thin straw allowed me to savor each sip of the bubbly refreshing fizz. We devoured the Lady Edison Caramelized Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps wrapped in a crunchy and refreshing lettuce and filled with syrupy, sticky coconut-flavored rice. The pickled onions and carrots really pulled this dish together. The next main dish we had was the spongy idli submerged in beef broth filled with crunchy dhaal. This dish will inspire you to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. What you think is a comforting potato will be a white diced carrot! The muddled pearl onion is a pleasant finish to the dish. Another dessert that we ate was the fresh strawberry fruit cup with a satisfying meringue texture and a refreshing sorbet that left you with a sweet-scented strawberry-smelling breath afterwards.

Strawberry fruit cup
Beef broth
Lettuce wraps

Looking Beyond the Plate: An Interview with Sheri Castle About Food Storytelling and Southern Food edited by Leeya and Adalia

Sheri Castle is a food writer who writes about cooking and topics related to food. She also teaches cooking classes, does some media work for public radio and television and develops recipes for home cooks and various food companies. We interviewed her to learn more about how she tells stories through food and how we can apply that to life. In the second part of the interview, we talked about Southern food and how to broaden perspectives of cuisines by looking outside of stereotypes.

*Go to to read and learn more about Sheri Castle!

What does storytelling and more specifically food storytelling mean to you? To me a story is when you give context to something rather than just stating a fact. It’s when you add an experience or something that makes it a narrative, instead of just a statement of facts-not that there aren’t facts in stories-but it’s the difference between data and context. When I talk about storytelling about food, it can be a number of starting points, often a food fact. Let’s say I’m going to talk about corn. Well, there’s all sorts of data I can tell you about corn, it’s phylum, it’s genus, it’s growing zones, but if I were to tell you a story about that I would try to draw a connection to the history of corn or people that like corn or why do they grow corn or why do we eat it or maybe even a memory about it. Again, it’s adding those narrative details that bring a fact to life and make it resonate with people on a different level.

It connects with a lot more people than it does if I just stated a fact because we all, even people that are very good at the database things like computer science or math or science, tend to remember things better in a story format because it sticks with us. Even if a story contains a fact…if I were telling you that someone went fishing and they caught the largest fish of their life and it was twice the length of their canoe…that is more memorable than saying the person caught a nine-foot fish. You would just remember that because of the canoe thing. I know that’s a silly example, but that really is a very simple story that is conveying a fact in a way that resonates with people better.

Castle brought up a great point. We both thought of all the family stories and fairy tales and more that we’d heard and remembered even from our toddler years and agreed wholeheartedly with her.

What is the purpose of food with storytelling and just in general? Well, it’s most basic, we know this and you know this, food is edible nutritious substances that we consume as living beings so that we don’t die. But it’s a lot more interesting than that, or I think that it can be. Not all food situations have stories, but to me when it’s a story when you make that connection when people make an association in their mind or where they learn something or where it seems to be more experiential than just consuming food. 

It doesn’t have to be story driven for anybody else. We all have our things where the narrative of it is more interesting, but that’s not true for everybody. If someone wanted to tell me a wonderful narrative about the game of golf, I would listen politely because that’s what we do for one another, but I will never be interested in golf stories. That’s just not my thing. I think that’s true of food, also, but, I will say that having told stories about food really my whole life, in some ways, and certainly professionally for the last 25 or 30 years, is that other than music I don’t know of anything that tends to land as a story or elicit more stories from people than food (other than music). If I were to say ‘What shirt did you wear for Thanksgiving last year?’ you’d probably have no idea, but you could probably tell me something that was either really good or really bad or a context of a memory from Thanksgiving. Just like we all hear songs. It’s like, ‘Oh yeah! I remember the first time I heard this song!’ or ‘Oh that makes me think of my friend, Melinda!’ or something like that. Food can have those same cognitive emotionally-based associations that we all have shared.

We encourage everyone who dislikes cooking or sees food as just fuel, to look beyond that. If you look at food and cooking as a way to get creative, discover your identity, connect with others, and tell stories, you’ll start to enjoy it and see it as a multi-dimensional thing!

How do you come up with those associations? Does it come easy to you or is it difficult? Sometimes it is as natural as the conversation we’re having where something is so interesting or so evocative or so personal that I’m excited. It’s like I cannot wait to tell you about the popcorn with real butter I had the movie last week or I cannot wait to tell you that my daughter’s favorite food is this. Sometimes when it’s a job, quite honestly, I have to really think about, ‘Okay. What’s going to be the connection here?’ and in those contexts it may not be a connection I have but one that I hope that the reader has…Where they read and are like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that’s where coconuts came from’ or ‘Oh, I didn’t know that there was a history of a hummingbird cake that involves coconut that came from this place in Alabama.’ There’s generally a story but they’re not necessarily my stories. I always say that if I can make the reader come up with their own story in their head or make that connection, then when I’m writing professionally for an audience I’m more interested in helping them figure out what they have to think about a topic than what I have to think about that topic.

This sort of reverse psychology and country intuitive thinking was an interesting take on things. Oftentimes, we think teaching just involves someone teaching someone else, but Castle’s view on this showed us that people can teach themselves a lot.

What got you interested in doing this? It was not my intention to do this as a career. In some ways, it was inevitable. I always wanted to be a teacher. What I really thought I was going to be was an English teacher (an English professor at a university) that wrote novels and short stories on the side, but I also was a person that cooked. I seemed to, from a very early age, have been a person that noticed that there were correlations between what people and families and communities and countries ate and other parts of their culture. For some reason, food struck me that way when I was a fairly young child, but I didn’t start doing anything with that until much later. I was trained as a journalist. I have a degree in journalism and I’ve been a cook my whole life. I decided about 26ish years ago that I was going to combine the two.

The story of Castle’s occupation was an interesting one and her job advice below made it really make sense!

The more you’re naturally interested in something you have to do for a job, the better it generally goes.

What do you do when you get stuck? We both imagine that sometimes certain foods can be particularly hard to connect, but what do you do and any general life advice that people can do when they also get stuck in life? I imagine those two things connect a little bit as well. I think that we all have a work ethic and sometimes you just got to knock it out. It’s like I do not care about this assignment and it is still due tomorrow, whether I care about it or not…and I’ve got to do it. Sometimes it is that. It’s like this isn’t enlisting great passion with me, but it’s still due tomorrow. I think that’s okay. I don’t think that everything has to be your best thing ever. You just have to make sure it meets the baseline of what you are willing to put your name on.

There’s an expression: ‘Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.’ Sometimes doing a good job is a good job. Sometimes doing an excellent job is required, but there is nothing to be ashamed of in doing good work, even if it’s not your best. I think that no matter (I don’t know if a surgeon should say that) but for what I do, these are not life-or-death things. If I write a perfectly good piece, that’s fine. Occasionally, I write something that either because I’m behind it or resonates with people. That’s great and that feels good, too, but it doesn’t all have to be at the same level.

I also think that doing your best is not a set level. Doing my best on a math problem is going to be very different from doing my best on an essay. Or doing my best when I cook is very different from doing my best if I were to attempt something like auto repair. I think that our bests are relative things and that’s okay!

This was some of the most unique advice we’d hear before. Oftentimes, we are told to do the best we can do, but hearing that doing good is fine as well was an interesting thing to hear! Furthermore, it was interesting to hear Castle’s thoughts on the meaning of “doing your best.”

What exactly is Southern food to you because it’s such a broad term? It’s kind of like saying American food because there is no one Southern food. There are many, many, many Southern foods. If people have had only one experience with any kind of food that tends to be your definition. Let’s say I were to fly to New York tomorrow. I’m gonna stay three days, but all I’m gonna eat for those three days are hot dogs out of the hot dog carts on the street corner. For me, in that context, everything about New York food is a hot dog, but we know that that’s not all there is to it. I think sometimes when people have only one or maybe one category of experience, they tend to extrapolate and think that’s what the whole thing’s about. Even though I can’t say definitively (I’ve been trying to encapsulate it for years now) what Southern food is, I’ll tell you some things that do seem to be at least generally applicable across the board. One thing is that it is a very individual thing. If you look at the culinary landscape and the culinary topographical map, you’re going to get more diversity, more points of origin and more differences in the American South than you’re going to get in most other regions because so many different kinds of people have come here from so many different places. It really is that there are many, many, many ways to be authentically Southern and be completely different from the way they do it in another part of the South. In addition to the people, there is the role of place. So, Charleston, South Carolina is a very famous Southern city. It’s on the Atlantic Ocean. Being on the ocean really informs what they consider to be Southern food. Nashville, Tennessee is another really famous Southern place in middle Tennessee, almost in the Mississippi River. Their authentic Southern is different. Asheville is in the mountains. When you start thinking about all of the places with whom no one would argue are iconic Southern spots, you can see how different the way the food would be there because of their geography and the people who have lived there and how long it’s been there. Southern food isn’t one thing. It’s a bunch of map dots. Do you know the artwork of pointillism? It’s one of those paintings in a museum that if you get up close to it all you see are a bunch of dots but if you back up it looks like a total image…That’s the way I think about Southern food. If you back up it looks like one thing but the closer you get, you see there are all these little dots coming together to make it.

Hearing Castle describe Southern food this way was an interesting sort of revelation. Using pointillism was a great comparison to Southern food, and as Leeya pointed out later, during our conversation, this idea pretty much applies to all cultures and cuisines of food!

How do we find that big picture? How do we broaden people’s perspectives on not just Southern foods, but other types of food? How do we see that big picture rather than the individual dots? That’s where the story comes in because if the three of us were to each describe our favorite food, it’s probably very different foods, but we understand how it feels to have a favorite food. We understand that passion, that excitement, how delicious it is, how happy it makes us, how great it is if someone who loves us makes it for us, how we feel when we share it with a friend. Even though the foods are completely different, the story about our common enjoyment, how we approach that, is very similar…And that’s why I think food stories are so compelling.

Wow! Thinking about sharing stories and why we tell them the way we do and, also, how they rewire connections within ourselves and with other people is a great conversation to bring to A and L’s table.

I can tell you if you’re ever stuck with someone that you don’t know what you’re going to chat about, you need to kill time with them or you’re stuck in an airport with them and you want to start a generally interesting conversation, ask them what their favorite food is. It is a great icebreaker (not just because I do it for a living). I can tell you people that are very reticent otherwise are very excited to tell you about something important to them.

No need to talk about the weather now!

What’s your favorite Southern style? My Southern style is both very contemporary and goes back to the early stages of the cuisines that come together that we now call ‘Southern cuisine.’ That is anything out of a garden. I love things from farmers’ markets and produce and, again, considering all the individualities that we’ve talked about, traditional Southern cuisine is deeply agrarian, which can sometimes surprise people because we know things like barbecue and fried chicken get a lot of attention, but traditionally it was locally grown seasonal produce and that is and remains my absolute favorite thing to cook. Take me to a farmer’s market and I am as happy as if I were in MOMA!

Given that I’ve written many, many books on the topic, you would think I would have a favorite dish. I think it would vary with the seasons because what I’m excited about around Halloween is not going to be what I’m excited about for the Fourth of July. I think that I would say that my favorite thing to cook is whatever is best in the garden on that day…And by garden I don’t mean necessarily in my garden. I live in the woods with like 10,000 deer-I can’t grow anything, but if i were to go to the farmers market or grocery store or something like that whatever is the best that day is my favorite that day. I will also say I am really really good at pots of soup. I can make a killer pound cake and I’m quite good at technical french sauces of all things.

It was great to hear Castle bring up the seasons. Learning that her favorite dishes vary with what’s in season and what the day is is a great lesson about the importance of eating with the times, not just what you are craving.

Do you have anything else to add? I think that stories can sound really stilted, like, ‘Oh God! I couldn’t write a book!’ Stories don’t have to be that thought out or that big. Stories can be a great conversation. Sometimes we can say, ‘Oh, I’ve not done anything that important’ or ‘Who cares what my favorite food is?’ or ‘Who cares what my grandmother used to make for me?’ That’s not true. I think we each deserve our own food stories and it is as important a part of our family tree as our actual relatives. I’ve told my daughter, who’s now a grown woman and lives in a foreign country, ‘Talk about understanding the role of food when you live in a place where you can’t get the food you’ve grown up with. It starts feeding into identity and homesickness and longing.’

Sometimes, I say, ‘This is what I eat because this is who I am.’ I think that every single person has a human right to good nutritious safe clean food and I believe that each person deserves to be able to tell their story about that. It’s a part of human dignity.

Castle left us with a heartwarming quote and lots of great stories. In conclusion, taking a step back to look beyond what sits on your plate is key to recognize the true purpose of food and appreciate its story. We hope this interview and edition is able to convey this idea through all of the interviews, articles, recipes with backstories and more. We encourage you to put your own spin on the food you eat, so you, too, can look beyond the plate.

Roadrunner: The Documentary Able to Capture the Essence of Anthony Bourdain (by Leeya)

Roadrunner is able to show the side of Anthony Bourdain that many never knew. To the many who just saw him on TV, he was the guy who ate ‘exotic’ foods in foreign countries. But this documentary reveals that Bourdain had so much more going on around him. 

The documentary talks about the life of Anthony Bourdain from his days as a dishwasher to from his days on the popular CNN show, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. But more than just his life, Roadrunner captures Bourain’s feelings on life. “He believed life was romantic and he was never going to live up to it.” said the documentary. 

Through video clips, interviews, and pictures we get a taste of Bourdain’s personality. “His whole personality was a searcher and that left him in agony.” explains the documentary. 

But most of all, the documentary portrays the good, bad, and ugly in Bourdain’s life. From his experience of being a dad, to his marriages and divorce’s, all the way up until his death we realize the essence of Bourdain. We get a taste of the legacy he left behind but also the pain that his death brought so many people. Bourdain leaves us with this, “I used to think the dinner table was leveled, but in the real world, good and bad were crushed.”

What You Eat Matters: The Grim Reality of Food Production in the 21st Century and Dietary Solutions

From interviews with Debra Schafrath and Jamie Schafrath, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and A World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky

Writing and artwork by Adalia

“Just try it. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but ultimately, the more and more that we move to eating more fruits, vegetables and things that aren’t harming our environment, the better it is for the environment, but also the better it is for our bodies, our minds.” -Debra Schafrath

Today food trends are one of the most common, long-lasting trends that people follow. Some people become pescatarian, gluten-free, vegan, etc. to get more Instagram likes but many do it because of what is going on in the food industry surrounding the food they’ve decided not to eat. I wanted to learn more, so I read some books and did a few interviews to educate myself.

Food Trends

As you probably know, there are plenty of food trends out there…but how do you know which is which? Here’s a list of 15 food trends and diets, varying from ones we all know and recognize (ex. vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free) to ones that I’d never even heard of (ex. flexitarian, mental health foods, volumetric dieting):

How Does Debra Schafrath Do a Plant-based and Gluten-free meal? Alternatives to Meat, Dairy and Gluten

During the summer of 2019, Debra Schafrath decided to go gluten-free. She had experienced stomach pains and an allergy test came back showing that she had an allergic reaction to gluten. “At the time, I was advised to just cut wheat, gluten cold turkey. I thought ‘Oh my gosh, how am I ever going to do this’ but I did it and I felt AMAZING overnight! It was such a profound difference of how I felt after I ate that I’ve just stuck with that for more than two years now,” Debra said.

A year later, while at her doctor’s office, Debra’s doctor was talking to her about moving towards a plant-based diet. The doctor had found that for older patients going into their 50s and 60s, moving plant-based was a smart and healthy decision.

“I found that it was an easier shift than one would think,” Debra said about her new diet.

Before changing her diet, she did a lot of research on food alternatives to dairy, meat and, of course, gluten. In the past few years, the number of vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free alternatives has grown, however, the alternatives are still being popularized and are usually more expensive than the “normal” options. This doesn’t mean vegetarian, dairy-free or gluten-free eaters are out of options; it just means they have to be more creative with their ideas, which is why I decided to talk to Debra Schafrath, a walking food alternative encyclopedia, to learn more.

After our conversation, I put together a list of foods Debra doesn’t eat and the alternatives she uses instead:

Debra was talking to someone about eating meatballs and changing your mindset when eating them. She told me, “when I make meatballs that have mushrooms and lots of veggies and walnuts and things like that, I just can’t have in my mind that it’s going to taste like a veal, beef, pork meatball. It’s going to taste different, but really delicious.”

In conclusion, if you want to change your diet, there are so many options and alternatives to try…your food might taste different but it will still be healthy and delicious to eat if you make it without meat or dairy or gluten.

Pescatarian: Only Fish for Me

Imagine you are five years old. You have a favorite pet, an animal best friend who you trust, cherish and will love forever. One day, Fluffy, your bunny, Snickers, your puppy or El Toro, your bull, ends up on your dinner plate.

This is what happened to Jamie Schafrath when her playmate and pet, a bull named El Toro, from the Schafrath family farm was slaughtered for meat.

This very traumatic event would shape Jamie’s future dietary decisions. Jamie became fully vegetarian and many times didn’t even trust what her mom was serving her. 

Around 12 or 13, she stopped eating chicken when she saw the process of chicken slaughtering on the farm. About 12 years later, while working for the Hyatt, she would eat her first piece of properly cooked salmon one night. This would lead her to become pescatarian rather than vegetarian.

Jamie eats fish meat and no other kinds of meat. “And that’s just been my lifestyle all my life, really,” she concluded.

It was very unusual for Jamie to order a meat-free meal. She remembers ending up with a bowl of green beans, cheese or bread at school─there was no vegetarian option for meals. “It was not cool. There was no coolness in and around being vegetarian. There were no trends in and around eating it because a plant-based diet is better for you. That was not the case at all. It was really that I could not stomach eating my friends.”

Jamie often made her own meal or had a different meal. This was and is her way of life. Some pescatarian meals Jamie enjoys include popcorn, mozzarella, basil and tomatoes on a baguette with a glass of wine, her famous grilled salmon, pasta with fresh veggies and more. “It’s really that simple,” she commented. I thought of how many times I had eaten pasta with veggies or salmon or a mozzarella, basil and tomato baguette. It truly is “that simple!”

So…Animal Treatment…The Grim Reality of Food Production

Jamie Schafrath talked about how animal treatment changed her mind about meat and made her decide to go pescatarian. After I did a little research, I realized that it is utterly inhumane what we do to our beef, pork and poultry in today’s industrial food factories. (I call it an ‘industrial food factory’ because most of the food we eat from the supermarket is mass produced in big industrial settings, not at the happy farm ideal.)

First, I came across the issue of animals being shoved into ridiculously small living spaces and pens. I was fairly surprised that we were willing to do this…until I thought about it some more. Mass-production usually means getting things done as fast, cheap and easy as possible; it’s not a huge surprise that food manufacturers would give up the happy farm ideal for a beef, pork or poultry mass production factory.

Because we are mass-producing these animals, we are using up a LOT of food resources at a fairly high rate. Some estimates say that as much as 95% of the energy farm animals consume is put into the animal parts we don’t eat; this is a LOT of energy to be losing! We could feed as many as three billion more humans if we spent less time mass-producing animals the way we are now, according to some estimates.

To make matters worse, this animal mass production has as bad (or even worse) an environmental impact as all the cars, trains and airplanes combined.

Additionally, I learned that for beef, pork and poultry in industrial food factories, mothers are artificially inseminated so they get pregnant or ready to lay eggs as quickly and “efficiently” as possible, over and over and over again, until they are ready for eating. In egg factories, male chicks are considered worthless and slaughtered soon after hatching. With pigs and cows, the young are taken away from their mothers after a few short weeks or even days. I can’t imagine the trauma that would cause me, let alone the BILLIONS of farm animals that go through this every year!

And it doesn’t end there…Many animals are being fed solely corn, which doesn’t seem bad until you realize that animals like cows are NOT built to eat corn. Cows are grazers, which means their stomach is built to eat a variety of grasses, which break down very differently from corn. Though eating corn fattens the cows up faster, it can cause changes in the acids of their stomachs, which can cause their stomachs to, in a way, erode and allow stomach acids to get into their bloodstreams! This is only an example of animal feeding issues within industrial factory farms.

The list goes on and on about what is wrong, however we as consumers can do something about this by carefully choosing the meats we buy and eat. We can purchase from small, local farms who are environmentally, and most importantly, animal-friendly. If that doesn’t work for you, choosing organic is an option, though definitely not a perfect solution (which I discuss more about later).

What About the Fish?

Looking at farm animal treatment made me wonder, what about the fish? I decided to dig a little deeper by reading World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky.

Mark Kurlansky is a journalist who writes about the issues surrounding overfishing. A World Without Fish dives deeper into the history of industrial fishing, the disruption this has to natural order between species and possible solutions. He uses Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to point out that natural disturbances and changes will occur in nature…However, at the scale we are overfishing (among other things), we are disrupting those natural disturbances. The fish are connected through many natural cycles to SO many other species that a drastic loss of fish (which is happening now) would end up speeding up human extinction.

That isn’t a very positive thing to read and the story behind it isn’t that positive either.

As fishing technologies grew and the industry became more industrialized, fishermen started catching fish at record numbers. In many countries, the fishermen themselves went to the government to ask for regulations to be passed about overfishing, but the government scientists claimed that nature’s bounty ensured that fish could never go extinct. The idea of nature’s bounty is a myth─nature doesn’t follow human ideals or rules. Anyway, as fishing went from hook and line to beam trawler, overfishing became a very real thing. Recently, governments have begun to do a few things, but not enough.

There are five 5 key things we can do to help, however:

  1. Eat sustainable seafood by looking out for cheap fish or suddenly popular fish.
  2. If you visit or notice their symbol (see image to the left) on any seafood you are purchasing, then that seafood is most likely sustainable.
  3. Farmed fish are NOT a solution to overfishing because the tight living conditions of the fish change their natural instincts for migration, feeding and reproduction─they will never be able to be put out in the wild. Also, they are treated similar to land animals. Be careful about them.
  4. Never eat shark or bluefin tuna because both are in danger of extinction. Sharks produce very few offspring, which means they are more likely to go extinct if their numbers dwindle. Bluefin tuna are migratory, which means it is hard to put regulations on fishing them. Don’t help them go extinct by eating them.
  5. Always ask how the seafood got to you. This is a great way to learn where your fish came from, how it was fished or whether it was farmed. Furthermore, if the seller doesn’t know the answer, your question will encourage them to ask questions and educate themselves.

Q: What’s in My Food? A: Corn, Corn, Corn…

Animal treatment and overfishing isn’t the only reason people are changing their diet. There is lots of information, old and new, that points to the increasing unhealthiness of our food, particularly in the United States.

According to Michael Pollan, in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, corn is taking over our food…almost literally…You can find a corn product in a third (the lowest estimate) or even 75% (the highest estimate) of the products at the supermarket. If you include meat, your estimate will be even higher because almost all the beef, pork and poultry that we eat consumes─you guessed it─corn.

Corn-fed animals (and cows in particular) don’t have an equal balance of omega-3 and omega-6, as well as a variety of other important vitamins and minerals. This means the healthiness of a corn-fed animal is less than that of a grass-fed animal (an animal that is truly and properly grass-fed, not one offered a few grains at the end of its life).

This is only one example of how we are losing the health benefits of many foods. Perhaps, by choosing our food the way we might research and choose a landscaper for our backyards, a designer if we were renovating, or the right mattress for our bed, we can learn a lot more about the health benefits and story of the food we eat.

Organic: It’s All About the Advertising

In the past 30 years, interest in organic foods has boomed, however they might not be quite as great as we think they are. When they first became a thing, organic foods generally came from small local farms that never used chemical herbicides or pesticides. However, most organic foods now are mass produced in factory-like settings. Organic foods, whether animals or plants live in slightly better, but generally the same living conditions as nonorganic industrial produced foods. Organic seems to have become a trademark inside of a farming aspiration. “Organic” has lost its meaning.

Big Takeaways

During my research, I came to several important conclusions about what I had learned.

  • First, I learned about food trends. For many, food trends are like a new culture of food. Not eating meat or dairy or gluten, etc. for all your meals is no different than eating rice or tortillas or beer or cheese with every meal.
  • I also learned that the food factory industry (poultry, beef, pork, fish and more) today is not something to be proud of. However, (for those of us that have the privilege) we can “vote with our forks” (as Michael Pollan calls it) by making conscious choices about all the food we buy and eat─we can make a difference in small ways for our own health, against animal treatment and for the future of our species, our planet and the environment.
  • I encourage you to figure out whether your food is healthy or produced in an environmentally and animal-friendly way by reading the label. Here you can look at the various stamps to discern whether it was grown sustainably or not and more. Additionally, look at the ingredients when buying your food. Always ask yourself: Does it contain ingredients I need a chemistry degree to pronounce/ understand? Is this food going to rot eventually? If you can’t pronounce some ingredients, then the food has something highly processed in it that you probably don’t want to be eating. If the food isn’t going to rot or get moldy eventually, then try to find an alternative to that food item.
  • You don’t have to become vegetarian, vegan or dairy-free to make a difference. You can still learn more about how to make a difference by researching topics that you are interested in further and spreading awareness about what you learned.

What I’ve researched just skims over a few main topics: food trends, food alternatives, animal treatment, overfishing, nutrition, and organic foods. I hope this article makes you interested to learn more!

Do you want to read more right now? Check out books, videos and documentaries from this list:

  • Any of Michael Pollan’s books are great to read to learn more about the food industry, in general.
  • Wheat Belly by William Davis is an interesting book about the hidden dangers of wheat and gluten in the world today.
  • A great vegan cookbook to try out is The First Mess by Laura Wright.
  • Check out Kurzgesagt’s videos about food at this playlist:
  • Watch Bringing Food to Life: The Food Discussion at 7:00 on August 7. You can also check out the full interviews with Debra and Jamie in the upcoming month at
  • Check out The Game Changers documentary about finding the ideal diet for staying in top health.
  • To learn more about animal treatment and factory farming, watch Cowspiracy.
  • To learn more about overfishing and the human impact on marine life, watch the documentary Seaspiracy.
  • Rotten is a documentary series with two seasons on Netflix that investigates the corruption of our global food chain.
  • And of course you can do more research on your own!