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The Foodies, part 1

A thriving community of local “foodies” ensures Birmingham remains a dynamic gastronomic environment. Here, a few of our favorites share their stories, go-to meals, and favorite spots around town.

Scott Jones' favorite kitchen tool?

Scott Jones' favorite kitchen tool? "A wine opener. I like a sturdy, double-hinged corkscrew, the kind waiters typically use." corkscrew.com

There’s no doubt Birmingham is a food town, from fine dining at places such as Highland’s Bar & Grill and Hot and Hot Fish Club to dive discoveries like Shindigs Food Truck and Saw’s Barbecue. While award-winning chefs Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings may have put the Magic City on the culinary map, a thriving community of local “foodies” ensures it remains a dynamic gastronomic environment. Here, a few of our favorites share their stories, go-to meals, and favorite spots around town.

The Connoisseur

Scott Jones
jonesishungry.com

Scott Jones is a culinary connoisseur. Sure, he’s passionate about wine (overheard at the photo shoot where this image was taken: “I love this smell!” in reference to the spilled wine, of course), but it’s not the only gastronomic delight about which he is an expert. Having spent a decade overseeing the food department at Southern Living, Scott is well-versed in all things food, “from beurre blanc to barbecue,” as he says. The former magazine editor has moved on to launch Jones is Hungry, a consulting business which offers editorial, marketing, recipe testing and development, and public speaking services.

UP NEXT FOR SCOTT: writing a series of culinary travel articles for US Airways Magazine that profile various wine regions such as Mendoza, Argentina, or Virginia, as well as developing recipes for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association and serving as a spokesperson.

Q. Can you share some advice for weekend wine drinkers (as in, non-connoisseurs) when it comes to buying wine?
First, try new world wine regions such as Argentina (Malbec), Chile (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc), Washington (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling). There are tasty, food-friendly values to be had (I’m talking $12 and under). Second, take advantage of Birmingham’s outstanding wine shops—that’s where you’ll find hidden gems and expert advice. My favorite spots are the Wine Shop at the Western Supermarket in Mountain Brook and Neighborhood Hops & Vine in Crestline Park.  I also buy a good bit of wine at Costco and World Market—what they give up in customer service, they make up for in selection and value.

Q. To what restaurant would go for your last meal? What would you order? Why?
The Reel Inn in Malibu, an old-school fish shack overlooking the Pacific. I’d order a tuna melt and an ice-cold beer. I have so many great memories of lazy Saturday afternoons there with my wife, Deanna, watching surfers and the sun go down.

Q. What’s your favorite place in Birmingham to go for a casual meal?
Definitely Betolla. James is terrific, the food is always solid as a rock, you don’t need a reservation, and they serve Vietti Barbera d’Asti by the glass.

Q. What’s your no-fail appetizer when entertaining? 
A can or two of white beans, a little tahini, clove or two of garlic, squeeze of lemon juice, and Sriracha sauce. Buzz up in food processor.

Q. What’s the most underrated dish in Birmingham?
The turkey sandwich at Chez Fonfon. I’m unapologetic in my love for that thing.

Q. What’s your favorite local cocktail?
Hands down, the Donkey’s Daddy at Little Donkey. It’s a gorgeous drink, as any proper cocktail should be. More importantly, the drink has this terrific balance of flavors—there’s sweetness from the hibiscus syrup, a tart little pop from the lime juice, then this subtle smoky flavor from the liquors. It’s totally refreshing on a hot, summer afternoon.

RESOURCES

WESTERN westernsupermarkets.com or 205.879.1746 Neighborhood Hops & Vine neighborhoodhopsandvine.com or 205.870.8881 COSTCO costco.com WORLD MARKET worldmarket.com  BETTOLA 205.731.6499 CHEZ FONFON fonfonbham.com or 205.939.3221 LITTLE DONKEY thelittledonkey.com or 205.703.7000

FAVORITE PLACE FOR A SPECIAL OCCASION?
Chez Fonfon or Bottega. It always feels like
European travel without the plane fare.

The Author

Katherine Cobbs
katherinecobbs.com

If you’re the proud owner of a cookbook featuring a local chef, chances are you’ve read Katherine Cobbs’ work. She’s worked with local stars like Frank Stitt (Southern Table and Bottega Favorita) and Chris Hastings (The Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook) on their monographs, as well as with Oxmoor House on books put out by Southern Progress titles such as Southern Living, Cooking Light, and Coastal Living. But this food writer’s skills are not limited to her keyboard; she also tests and develops recipes. Up next for Katherine: launching a web site and app called CookFit that focuses on everyday cooking with optimal ingredients for health and fitness.

Q. Pre- and post-workout meal?
Before I head to CrossFit in the a.m., I eat a spoonful of almond butter slathered on a slice of apple. When I get home I scramble two eggs and fold in a fistful of boxed Super Greens (a salad blend) with lots of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce on top.

Q. What’s the most underrated dish in Birmingham?
People will laugh or cringe, but Gilchrist aspic. Each bite has to have a swipe of mayo on it to be really exceptional.

Q. What single ingredient could you not live without?
Who does the most creative dishes with it in town? Conecuh County Sausage. I dice it, brown it, and add it to eggs; slice it into a soup with kale and tomatoes; or just grill it to serve with a big salad. It adds uncommon FLAVOR! Chris Hastings turned me onto it. He uses it in a chicken gumbo that will knock your socks off.

Q. Most exciting food trend?
The taqueria. I love all the new spins on the classic taco.

Q. What’s your favorite new twist on a classic southern dish?
I’m a pickle lover. Pickling harkens back to a time when Southerners preserved out of necessity, but it’s become an art form. So many cooks are pickling uncommon things now. Chef Chris Newsome at Ollie Irene skins and pickles plump cherry tomatoes that are a burst of sweet acidity in your mouth. He also takes seedless red grapes and pickles them with warm spices such as cinnamon, clove, and ginger.

Q. You haven’t been to the grocery store, and your family is starving. What’s for dinner?
I make a “Cobbs” salad using everything we’ve got—from greens and herbs to crisper vegetables and jarred items like roasted bell peppers and olives. If there’s leftover meat from a previous meal, I’ll slice and add it. Or, I’ll hard-boil some eggs for protein.

Q. What single kitchen tool could you not live without?
Microplane grater (microplane.com),  I mince garlic, zest citrus, grate ginger root, nutmeg, and Parmesan.

RESOURCES

CHEZ FONFON, BOTTEGA, SOUTHERN TABLE & BOTTEGA FAVORITA highlandsbarandgrill.com HOT AND HOT FISH CLUB restaurant & cookbook hotandhotfishclub.com CROSSFIT crossfitbirmingham.com or 205.991.1909 GILCHRIST DRUG CO. 205.871.2181 CONECUH COUNTY SAUSAGE  conecuhsausage.com or 800.726.0507 OLLIE IRENE ollieirene.com or 205.769.6034 FRANK'S RED HOT SAUCE franksredhot.com

UP NEXT FOR CAITLIN: writing a cookbook as beautiful as her blog with all new recipes that
adhere to her diet but are inspiring for  all readers.

The Forager

Caitlin Van Horn
roostblog.com

One visit to Caitlin’s blog Roost is all it takes to get hooked on her mouth-watering recipes and drop-dead gorgeous food photography and styling. The twist? All of her recipes are gluten-, grain-, sugar-, lactose-, and starch-free in accordance with a diet she adopted two years ago alongside her husband to alleviate his symptoms of Chrohn’s disease. (Thanks to the diet, he is now medicine free). If that diet sounds limiting, think again. Many of Caitlin’s most tempting creations involve desserts such as brown butter strawberry cake with Swiss meringue cream and breads like cinnamon roll almond flour donuts.

Q. What have you learned by changing your diet for you husband’s health requirements?
Food has the power to heal (along with a lot of prayer!). Our bodies are amazing vessels, capable of rejuvenating themselves and even reversing disease. What we put in our mouths is a freedom we so often take for granted and I have been humbled realizing that choosing foods that are life giving and nourishing not only effect myself but my future children and the community around me.

Q. What’s your version of “comfort food”?
I love a good herb roasted chicken over hearty cauliflower mash and drizzled with some truffle oil, pure comfort!

Q. What single kitchen tool could you not live without? 
Our Blendtec blender (blendtec.com or 1.800.BLENDTEC). You really can blend anything in that thing—I mean anything! I use it daily for sauces, batter for baked goods, dressings, soups, smoothies, and fresh nut milks.

“So many people are jumping aboard the ‘seasonal’ train. Restaurants are changing their menus more often and sourcing local seasonal ingredients. Our farmer’s markets are booming. I am so encouraged!”

Q. Go to place for a casual meal?
Shindigs food truck! Mac Russell and Chad Schofield are an amazing team. They come up with the most interesting, seasonal dishes. Plus, they use no processed ingredients. We sometimes need to switch up a thing or two to make it work for our diet, but they are super accommodating. Shindigs food truck: shindigscateringtrucks.com or 205.807.0299.

Q. What is your favorite recipe you’ve developed since changing your diet?
I would have to say the Swiss chard tartlets with rosemary almond meal crust and a little drizzle of aged balsamic. It’s delicious and you would never guess it was grain free! (Visit roostblog.com for the recipe.)

Q. What pantry staples do you keep on hand at all times? 
Almond flour. (Almond flour is gluten-free, may help lower cholesterol, and has fewer calories than wheat flour.) Without nut flours we would be lost. I bake with it so often I have to buy it in bulk. We also love coconut oil and use it often in soups and smoothies. Honey is our sweetener of choice so we always have several jars of local honey on hand.

The Homemaker

Allie Black
wholesomebyallie.com

If you find sifting through health and nutrition info about food (organic vs. non-organic, free-range vs. hormone-free vs. grass-fed) more than a little overwhelming, you’re not alone. Enter Allie Black, a former TV anchor and medical reporter turned entrepreneur. After a personal health issue prompted Allie to scrutinize what she put in—and on—her body, she launched Wholesome, a lifestyle consulting service designed to show families how to make clean and healthy eating and housekeeping affordable and flexible for everyday life. Services include meal planning, cooking demonstrations, a guide to shopping, grocery delivery, and lifestyle consulting.

UP NEXT FOR ALLIE: applying her wholesome lifestyle to newborn and infant care as she’s expecting her third child this summer. New moms take note: you can follow her adventures in organic baby foods, BPA-free baby gadgets, and re-useable diapers on her web site, wholesomebyallie.com.

Q. What’s the easiest way to add organic or healthier foods to your lifestyle?
Start small. Pick one or two things you eat every day and switch it to a healthier alternative. It’s not the stuff you eat every once in awhile that hurts you; it’s the stuff you eat on a regular basis. Switch to organic coffee (you can find it everywhere now) and all-natural creamers or sweetener such as Horizon Organics or Truvia. You won’t even notice but your body will thank you. NEXT STEP: start buying organic dairy and meat.

Q. What’s the most underrated dish in Birmingham?
The veggie panini at Organic Harvest on Highway 31—absolutely amazing and super fresh.
Q. What single kitchen tool could you not live without? My melon baller (calphalon.com)—I use it all the time with my two young kids. It’s a great way to get them to eat fresh fruits on a regular basis because they are bite size.

Q. What food trend are you so over?
I’m completely over the no sugar concept in food and the diet drink phase. Please! They’re just replacing the sugar with chemicals most of the time. Which is the lesser evil?

Use good judgment and do smaller amounts of REAL food choices. If it’s too good to be true, it most likely is and you’ll pay for it in your health down the road.

Q. What pantry staples do you keep on hand at all times?
Annies’s or Back to Nature macaroni and cheese deluxe; Near East whole grain line of couscous or Quinoa mix; 100% organic lemon juice; 365 brand canned tomatoes, and Pacific cream soups that are all natural.

Q. Where do you go in Birmingham for dessert when your sweet tooth needs satisfying?
I’m obsessed with baby bites from Pastry Art Bake Shoppe.

Q. Where would go for your last meal? What would you order? Why?
Hot and Hot Fish Club—they always have fresh, local items that just capture the essence of Alabama. I love their combination of veggies/fruits with the main courses. I’d most likely order one of the fish dishes.

RESOURCES

ORGANIC HARVEST orgharvest.info or 205.978.0318 PASTRY ART BAKE SHOPPE pastryartcakes.com or 205.877.3852 HOT AND HOT FISH CLUB hotandhotfishclub.com or 205.933.5474

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