Hats off – or, in this case, on – to the Botanical Garden

Monique Anderson took selecting the perfect hat very seriously.

Monique Anderson took very seriously the job of selecting the perfect hat.

How often do you go to a fundraiser that is virtually perfect? I went to one last week. It was the Hats in Bloom luncheon at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum.

Why, you ask, was it perfect? Well, it started at 10:30 a.m. with Bloody Marys and passed appetizers and, most importantly, the first chance to pick out a stunningly beautiful hat by everyone’s favorite milliner, Patricia Frankum. At 11:30, mimosas were served (or, in my case, straight champagne — who wants to waste the calories on orange juice?), followed by a lunch of orzo and cold salmon with little hat-shaped cookies for dessert. Best of all: the briefest of remarks thanking everyone for coming and NO AUCTION! Yay!

Tickets were $65 each for regular admission at 11:30 and $100 for the “Top Hat” admission that got you in early for the best selection of hats and, I think, the most fun — before things got packed. My advice: go for the “Top Hat” tickets.

In Knoxville, it’s not really the normal practice to drink at lunch. But, for a good cause, who can argue? Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Knoxville | 11 Comments

Tony Spezia: It’s not a risk if you know the outcome

Sharon and Tony Spezie with their granddaughter, Annabelle Spezia, at Tony's retirement party.

Sharon and Tony Spezia with their granddaughter, Annabelle Spezia, at Tony’s retirement party.

Tony Spezia, who recently retired from his position as CEO of Covenant Health, gave a speech at a party in his honor April 1 that truly knocked it out of the ballpark.

Spezia’s speech was so powerful that Alan and I showed a video of it to our staff the following week. I think it contains some lessons for all business leaders — as well as an explanation of some of Spezia’s philosophies.

The party itself was phenomenal. Nearly 600 people came to the Knoxville Convention Center to toast the dynamic executive who has led our community’s largest private employer for the past 15 years.

During Spezia’s tenure, Covenant Health has:

  • Spent over $1.2 billion investing in its facilities, including building three new community hospitals
  • Taken over operations of hospitals in four counties at the request of communities that trusted Covenant to preserve services and jobs and improve the quality of available health care and access to physicians
  • Turned around its struggling managed care organization and sold it for $300 million, bringing needed capital into the Covenant organization
  • Been nationally recognized for its quality and service
  • Strengthened its balance sheet, resulting in one of the lowest borrowing rates in the country, providing Covenant with opportunities for growth and a certainty of continuing its nonprofit mission
  • Entered 2015 with the best financial performance in its history

Continue reading

Filed under: Business, Downtown, Events, Knoxville | 6 Comments

Get thee to the Show House!

Elizabeth Grant is chair of this year's Knoxville Symphony League Show House.

Elizabeth Grant is chair of this year’s Knoxville Symphony League Show House. She’s pictured here in the home’s game room, which she designed herself.

You still have a week to grab some friends and make a day of visiting the Knoxville Symphony League’s Show House. Conveniently located on Legacy Cove Way in the Rocky Hill neighborhood, this year’s Show House offers an opportunity to see the work of 13 different designers and interior decorators in one spot. Almost everything in the house is for sale. Want to buy the house itself? It lists for $768,500.

The 2016 Show House is unique in that it is designed to allow its residents to “age in place,” meaning that it’s constructed to accommodate the various considerations that go with getting older. Doorways and halls are wide enough to allow wheelchair passage, the bathrooms are reinforced to allow for grab bars and the bedroom ceilings can even support hoists, should they be necessary. And, most importantly, there is an elevator. The home contains more than 5,000 square feet of living space.

Edie Volk, president of the Knoxville Symphony League, said the Show House is the League’s largest fundraiser in support of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. “Remember, you are contributing to the financial success of the Knoxville  Symphony with your admission ticket, purchases in our classically eclectic gift shop and visits to the Symphony Cafe, which is catered by The Lunchbox,” Volk said. Continue reading

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Oceana was the catch of the trip

Players dessert

Tiramisu at The Players. Everyone loved it because it didn’t have the heavy coffee flavor that some versions have.

For Alan and me, going to New York is mainly about two things: going to plays and going to restaurants. With a museum and gallery or two thrown in for good measure.

Of course we have our favorite restaurants. Alan’s is Le Bernardin (click here and here for reports on our visits there). Mine is Becco (click here and here and here for reports on visits there). We decided that on our four-day trip to the Big Apple last week we would try to go only to eateries we had not before visited. Although we missed our tried-and-true faves, I’m glad we stuck (for the most part) with our plan.

Here’s a rundown on the great, the good and, unfortunately, one big disappointment. Read on. Continue reading

Filed under: Food, Theater, Travel | 13 Comments

Clarence Brown Theatre played it perfectly

Alan puts money in the bucket of "James Madison," -- actually actor Andrew Chappelle -- following the blow-you-away performance of the play, "Hamilton." Every year for a week, theater folks collect money for a charity called Broadway Cares, which helps people affected by AIDS.

Alan Carmichael puts money in the bucket of “James Madison,” — actually actor Andrew Chappelle — following the blow-you-away performance of the play, “Hamilton.” Every year for one designated week theater folks collect money for a charity called Broadway Cares, which helps people affected by AIDS.

Nearly 40 Knoxvillians bundled up last week and, shrugging off the predicted rain and freezing temperatures, set out for an annual trek to New York City.

Four plays in four days and a vow to only eat at restaurants we had never before visited were the highlights of the trip for Alan and me, but there was so much more on this action-packed excursion.

Clarence Brown Theatre’s Artistic Director Cal MacLean and his team plan the trip each year, and they always manage to make each visit unique. Sometimes the group gets to meet actors (click here and here) or playwrights and casting directors (click here), or they go behind the scenes at a Broadway musical (click here).

This year the organizers arranged a lunch at The Players, a storied, private social club founded in 1888 by Edwin Booth, arguably the greatest American actor of his time.

Continue reading

Filed under: Theater, Travel | 12 Comments

Interesting, innovative Inuksuit

One of the scores of percussionists at Mead's Quarry on Sunday. (Photo by Jim Nichols.)

One of the scores of percussionists at Mead’s Quarry on Sunday. (Photo by Jim Nichols)

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision on my part. Something I’m not really supposed to do without consulting my business (and life) partner, Alan Carmichael. (I did get his buy-in later before it became official.)

But Ashley Capps and Mary Thom Adams made the finale of the Big Ears Festival, called Inuksuit, sound so darn intriguing that I told them Moxley Carmichael would be a $10,000 sponsor. That contribution would allow the public to attend the event free of charge.

I didn’t even know how to pronounce Inuksuit (click here for that), but they told me it would involve up to 99 percussionists playing their instruments outdoors at Mead’s Quarry at Ijams Nature Center (where Mary Thom worked at the time) and the sound would echo off the quarry walls in a way that would be a different experience for every person depending on where they were standing (or sitting or lying down). I loved the idea. I said yes. Continue reading

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For the love of food, wine and Sam Beall

My favorite dress of the evening was worn by Nazzy Hashemian.

My favorite dress of the evening was worn by Nazzy Hashemian. It just screamed, “It’s time for spring!”

L’Amour du Vin 2016, the wine auction that has been the Knoxville Museum of Art’s largest fundraiser for the past 13 years, was an immediate sellout earlier this month, as usual.

And, as usual, the food and wine were top flight.

But I thought it particularly significant this year that both the food and wine held a nod to the South, with the highlighted guest vintner and chef both hailing from southern states. That was touching because the event followed by just a few days the death of Blackberry Farm proprietor Sam Beall, whose vision helped found L’Amour du Vin and whose connections have kept it in demand because of its ability to attract top food and beverage talent. Beall, you see, was a huge believer in and advocate of celebrating all things “local.”

So, as we toasted Sam Beall’s memory, I think he would have appreciated that we also were celebrating two southern success stories. And I know he would have wanted the show to go on, as it did. Continue reading

Filed under: Art, Downtown, Events, Food, Knoxville | 2 Comments

New art in downtown park!

This is one of the new sculptures in Krutch Park. The names of the pieces and the artists have not yet been put on them.

This is one of the new sculptures in Krutch Park. The names of the pieces and the artists have not yet been put on them.

You know it’s officially spring when the good folks from Dogwood Arts change out the sculptures in downtown Knoxville. They’ve been hard at work doing that over the past two weeks.

It’s part of the organization’s Art in Public Places program. I really like the fact that the display is juried, this year by noted sculptor Isaac Duncan III, a New York native who now lives in Chattanooga.

Most of the downtown art is in Krutch Park and the park’s extension on Gay Street. That’s wonderful for me because I cut through Krutch Park every day on my way to work and on my way home.

There also are some pieces from this program at McGhee Tyson Airport, which is a great welcome for visitors — or a welcome back for natives.

Here’s a look at some of the new stuff downtown. Continue reading

Filed under: Art, Downtown, Knoxville | 9 Comments

Noshing in North Carolina

Cheers! Dawn Ford, left, and Julia Bentley enjoying the chocolate martinis they had for dessert after dinner at Frogs Leap Public House in Waynesville, NC. We weekended at the beautiful mountain home of Julia and Gary Bentley in Waynesville.

Cheers! Dawn Ford, left, and Julia Bentley enjoying the chocolate martinis they had for dessert after dinner at Frogs Leap Public House in Waynesville, N.C. We weekended at the beautiful mountain home of Julia and Gary Bentley in Waynesville.

A weekend at the mountain home of friends in nearby North Carolina automatically meant a couple of things to us. First of all, the guys would play golf, of course. Secondly, the women would visit some cute shops in Waynesville and Asheville. But most importantly, meals at a few choice restaurants would play a large role.

Throw in rounds of a hysterical box game, Balderdash, on both evenings and you’ve pretty much got a description of the entire weekend.

In order of our preference, here are some eateries we would recommend you check out on your next visit to our neighboring state to the east. Some we picked for the excellent food, others for their charming ambiance. But all were a delight and featured the most friendly servers we’ve seen in a long time. Continue reading

Filed under: Food, Travel | 12 Comments

Nervous about entertaining? Do it anyway.

Knoxville Symphony League President Edie Volk, left, with cookbook author and lifestyle consultant Ginny McCormack.

Knoxville Symphony League President Edie Volk, left, with cookbook author and lifestyle consultant Ginny McCormack.

Don’t let fear of not being perfect prevent you from entertaining in your home. Gatherings of family and friends provide real nourishment beyond that contained in the food. Hospitality makes memories.

That was the message that cookbook author and lifestyle consultant Ginny McCormack delivered to a couple of hundred women (and a few men) at the Knoxville Symphony League’s spring luncheon at Cherokee Country Club.

“Recipes are important. The food needs to be good. But it’s the time that really matters,” McCormack said. “You don’t have to have a 12-course meal. It’s the gathering together of your family and friends that will be remembered.”

McCormack offered several tips for nervous hosts: Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Knoxville, Music | 8 Comments