Finally a visit to Durham with a gastronomic tour of Chef Josh Decarolis' new restaurant Mothers & Sons (Trattoria). If you get a chance to visit. Do.
This is a love story. And yes okay it's about food and a love of food.. but this story runs a bit deeper.
I'll begin by sharing my own perspective.
My first trip to Italy was in 2003. I was seventeen. Without boring you with mundane details of my trip (let's just say it involved a lot of bailey's, espresso and attention from the opposite gender); I really found myself in this country... or at least a new version of myself. A version of myself that had confidence. When I came home; I knew I'd be back. So I went there for 6 months to study abroad; learning the language, meeting others from all over the world and most importantly.. I learned how to cook! I learned how to shop at the mercato centrale in Florence on my way home from school, put a meal together; and I was hooked. I spent a lot of time with my friend Prue; a Chef from Melbourne Australia. She introduced me to Osso bucco, roasted potatoes, braised lamb.. she taught me how to hold a knife and how to properly cut an onion - two skills I'm certain I have yet to master. What she really gave me (something I'll treasure forever) was fearlessness in the kitchen. Fearlessness is the heart of a good meal---Chefs should cook with passion, confidence and always a sense of deliberation. And this.. is what I look for when I choose to eat out. I want a dish that respects the methods and recipes of another culture while at the same time introducing you to a new idea, technique or ingredient. I'm looking to be inspired. I want to come home and dream of new kitchen creations I can do myself. If I'm going to eat out, I want to come home with more than a satisfied stomach.
To say I'm disappointed in Charlotte's Italian scene would be too easy of a statement. I honestly don't eat out that often being a busy mom of two. When Roey and I get a chance to get away for the evening.. we typically end up at the same two restaurants in Charlotte that remind us of NYC where we lived when we were first married. We did meet at Grotto after all. We love restaurants that can deliver style, atmosphere, powerful food and perfectly executed cocktails. For Charlotte, it's hard to find a place that can measure up.
Now you can put two and two together. My search for cibo italiano in Charlotte has ended. It may not be the same experience as a trattoria in Tuscany or a hopping celebrity swarming hot spot in Tribeca, but it has it's own experience to offer.. and that my friends is worth it's weight in terra cotta tile.
Let's bring your attention now to Stagioni: a hidden gem in a familiar neighborhood off of Providence Road nestled in an antique of a building and pocketed between boutiques selling jewelry, wallpaper or children's fashions.
Now ride with me through the tunnel of time for a brief moment... bear witness to all things present day disappear and what you are left with is a spectacular homage to Tuscan architecture--a villa unlike any other home in its vicinity, with a Spanish tile roof, stone gates, cypress trees and charming shutters that frame each window.
I'll save your brain some trouble.. maybe you pictured something like this:
The home was built in 1926 by Blanche Reynolds Gormajenko and was later passed down through the family.
From their website:
Last Thursday I spent a few hours getting to know the staff at Stagioni and was fortunate enough to sample some of their current plates. I chatted with head Chef Andrew Dodd about what makes Stagioni stand out among other restaurants. He talked a lot about his team and how their kitchen was sort of a "weighted democracy" allowing everyone to participate creatively. He says the morale at the restaurant is the best he's ever seen; attributing good pay practices and leadership to owner Bruce Moffett. When describing Bruce he uses words like "unicorn" to convey his uniqueness and rarity and "jedi" to describe his mysteriousness. It's nice to hear the staff talk about the restaurant owner with such admiration and intrigue.
Andrew further goes on to talk about the unique dining experience Stagioni offers. Customers can pick and choose how they prefer to dine either by ordering bar snacks and small plates or partaking in full 5 course meals. On top of that the waitstaff upholds an old school sort of professionalism reminiscent of when serving was a prestigious profession (I believe it still is). The servers are willing to guide and educate customers and in turn you develop a customer base conditioned to learn and are excited to do so. This; Dodd says; allows everyone at Stagioni to "do their job" which is to provide customers with a stellar experience--the way it was intended.
The General Manager, Lee Ann Dolcetto; filled me in on the history. She's been with the company since day one which was January 6th, 2014. Lee Ann was kind enough to show me around and point out the original features of the restaurant (remnants of the original 1926 structure) including the ceiling, mantel and fireplace as well as the doorways. She even jokingly mentioned that the staff feels so connected to the history of Blanche---when something unexplained happens--- they have a habit of saying it's the "curse of Blanche."
Though I'm not one to believe in haunted restaurant, I do love the fact that the style and décor of Stagioni is true to Blanche's original home.
Now let's get to the food.
The menu is simple, not intimidating but somehow maintains a nice variety.
I didn't know what to expect, but Andrew was happy to cook up a managerie of plates.
Please make sure to visit.
I'll be at the bar.
...with a full heart and an empty plate.
715 Providence Rd. Monday - Saturday 5:30 - close
of course, lighting can be tricky and natural light has always been my preference. here are a few examples of using natural light over the last few weeks.
it's no shocker to anyone that I love being in the kitchen. and lately... that's where you'll find me. Mixing, kneading, rolling, frying, baking, braising... you name it, I'm working on it. And if you can imagine, my family is NOT complaining. I've taken the opportunity here lately to really work on my food photography... and this time; without the use of ANY natural light. *GASP* These last few weeks I have perfected biscuits, apple butter AND stir fried rice. Take a look!
I also threw in a shot of the tablescape I was working on for Christmas Eve dinner. There's no better feeling then seeing your vision come to life after a day with sticks, spray paint and pom poms. Whoop whoop!
My camera was wet in all directions. From the splashing of bodies into the water and from the sweat stinging my cheeks and smearing the LCD screen... it was incredibly hot and I welcomed every cool drop. I'm sure my camera was thankful as well.
Though you may not think of "team sports" when you think of me, I am all for them.. especially when it concerns our youth. When we work as a team in a group setting, especially in sports; we learn how to compete respectfully, how to challenge ourselves both mentally and physically and learn how to deal with disappointment when we don't excel and also how to gracefully win against our opponents.
I was not sure what I was getting into when I showed up to this swim meet to document the last meet of the season. I didn't know what to expect. I found myself in awe... and inspired. By the emotion, the excitement, the anxiety and the connections between parents, children, friends, volunteers and coaches.
We wrapped up the day with a bit of JJ Red Hots from the food truck and I have to say... they were delicious. Special thanks to Shamus Coneys of Shamus Films for the video (link at the bottom!).
Make sure to check out this awesome video by Shamus Coneys! @shamusfilms
Special thanks to the volunteers, family, coaches and awesome swimmers on all teams. You do great things for your community. Stay cool.
Well I finally got to hang out in one of my favorite eateries. It's not a cute corner café with moody lighting. It doesn't have air conditioning... or wifi. It's really tiny and it's mobile. And if you haven't guessed, it's a food truck. With 2 or 3 staff members to drive, cook and serve, the Roots Farm Food truck moves from place to place (usually breweries and other popular spots around town) to set up shop. Over the last two weeks, I dropped by the Roots truck to grab a bite and a few photos. They were nice enough to let me inside and really hang out. I danced around them as they worked through the rush, calling out orders or shouting whether a certain item was in a plate or a boat (the paper bowl). I have worked in many kitchens and I will never cease to be amazed at the team work, communication and execution that goes in to preparing and serving delicious foods. Kudos Roots, you guys are simply stellar. So take a look and make sure next time you see Roots, treat yourself; you won't regret it.
In an effort to expand my skills with commercial food photography, I set up a mini session at customshop handcrafted food.
Light came pouring in from the west. Everything was beautiful.. and the production was honestly effortless. Executive Chef/owner Trey Wilson and Chef Andrés Pico, were perfect hosts. Thank you again for letting me document your restaurant!