Tosca’s kiss, a green-eyed monster and a great idea

Diana Salesky enjoying the auction item she came up with.

Diana Salesky enjoying the auction item she came up with.

Diana Salesky, the wife of the executive director and conductor of the Knoxville Opera Company, had a good idea for an auction item to be offered at the annual Opera Ball. She contacted the group of friends who regularly host a progressive dinner in downtown Knoxville and asked if they’d agree to add two extra seats at the dinner that she could use as an auction item.

Then she herself bought those seats.

And that is how we came to have an opera-themed progressive dinner last month.

(We actually added four seats when longtime Opera board member Mark Hill asked if he could match Diana’s donation and bring his wife Cathy along on her birthday.)

Each of the three stops had an opera theme, which turned out to be quite fun for us opera novices. Continue reading

Filed under: Downtown, Events, Food, Music | 11 Comments

Bring on the Baileys!

Chase and Natalie Lester Bailey kiss after being pronounced husband and wife last month.

Chase and Natalie Lester Bailey kiss after being pronounced husband and wife last month.

The last bride at Moxley Carmichael was married off last month.

This is a big adjustment for us. We have been through the planning of four weddings over the last couple of years, including three this past year. And another colleague eloped! The message: If you want to get married, come to work with us!

Natalie Lester and Chase Bailey met on a blind date Dec. 21, 2010. Each was separately invited to a University of Tennessee men’s basketball game by their best friends, who happened to be brother and sister. But Natalie and Chase didn’t meet at the game. Their tickets were not together. It was afterwards when their friends “innocently” suggested they go to the Old College Inn on Cumberland Avenue when they were introduced.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Their first “official” date was New Year’s Eve and, in less than two months, they were seeing each other exclusively. “Chase was always really easy to talk to and he made me laugh,” Natalie says. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Knoxville, Public Relations | 6 Comments

Smokin’ good time at the Botanical Garden

Chef Ben Willis-Becker checking on the main course.

Chef Ben Willis-Becker checking on the main course.

Fancy parties and galas are nice, but sometimes you just want to kick back and relax a little, enjoying some pretty scenery, fun music, great food and interesting friends.

That’s why Alan and I enjoy going each year to the Summer Solstice Dinner held on the  longest day of summer (more or less) at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum. Our friend Allyn Purvis Schwartz was chair of the event this year and did a bang-up job, as usual. Many of the ingredients for the meal were grown in the Botanical Garden’s Center for Urban Agriculture.

Chef Ben Willis-Becker, the chef owner of the former Harry’s Delicatessen on Gay Street, was in charge of the farm-to-table dinner. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Knoxville | 4 Comments

Jack Rose: He was a good guy

Jack Rose in Tokyo last November. (Photo by Joe Stewardson)

Jack Rose in Tokyo last November. (Photo by Joe Stewardson)

That, actually, is what Jack wanted people to say about him. And those are the very words that were printed on the program at his memorial service last week.

Jack passed away at age 58 from an autoimmune disease that very suddenly attacked his liver, leaving his legions of friends in shock and stunned sadness. His memorial service was last Friday at Rose Mortuary Mann Heritage Chapel on Kingston Pike. You knew you were at the right funeral home because many vehicles in the parking lot had canoes and kayaks on their roofs.

Jack and many of his closest friends were avid outdoorsmen, you see. I think he would have liked seeing all those boats in the parking lot.

I met Jack Rose in 1985 when he and I both were working at the Knoxville Journal. I was a business reporter for a time and I was assigned to write a story about Whittle Communications. In fact, I had to interview a friend of mine, Sara Fortune, who was a vice president there. Jack accompanied me to take Sara’s photo. When I introduced them, they immediately seemed to like each other, which made me happy because they were two of my favorite people. Continue reading

Filed under: Journalism, Knoxville, Media | 36 Comments

I think that I shall never see a beer so lovely in a tree

Beer was served in souvenir glasses that everyone could take home.

Beer was served in souvenir glasses that everyone could take home. I love this picture because it just says, “summer.”

Garden party season is in full swing in East Tennessee. And that’s fine with me.

The Great Gardens Party, a fundraiser for the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum, is held each year in a different great garden. This year, its fourth, it was in the waterfront garden and lawn of Chip and Jeanie Johnson at the very end of Houser Road in West Knox County. In fact, the estate is named “Houser’s End.”

In welcoming the guests, Chip Johnson explained that the 5,500-square-foot home was built in 1926 of lumber harvested from the site. “Because it was rough hewn lumber, there’s not a straight corner in the entire house,” he laughed. “But we love it.” The Johnsons bought the property in 1990.

“In the summer we have 16 acres and in the winter we have 18 acres,” Johnson said, referring to the rise and fall of the Tennessee River as TVA manages the water level. “But I have to pay Mr. Burchett for 18 acres,” he laughed, meaning the amount of property for which he is taxed. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Knoxville | 7 Comments

Triumvirate expands trust to edge of plate

Matt Gallaher, chef owner of Knox Mason, was one of the three chefs at the latest Trust Fall dinner.

Matt Gallaher, chef owner of Knox Mason, was one of the three chefs at the latest Trust Fall dinner.

“Make your choice, adventurous stranger,
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.”

Yep. It was time for another of the increasingly famous Trust Fall dinners. And this one — featuring three highly regarded local chefs and 60 guests — was the most adventurous one of all.

Trust Fall dinners are, in fact, a secret supper club. A group of friends from very diverse backgrounds puts them together. Regular folks like me buy the tickets, which sell out literally in a matter of minutes, and then wait until the appointed day to get an email with a cute little poem revealing clues about where the secret location is.

And, much like the team-building game of the same name, you literally let go and put your trust in the chef to prepare a great meal. You don’t get to choose what you will eat. No substitutions are allowed. The purpose is to give the chefs a chance to stretch their culinary muscles and the eaters a chance to expand their boundaries. Believe me, you won’t find some of these courses in any restaurant around here. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Knoxville | 6 Comments

This Summer Supper soared

Stephanie Wallace welcomed everyone into the supper club, also known as her backyard!

Stephanie Wallace welcomed everyone into the supper club, also known as her backyard!

The Knox Heritage Summer Suppers are in full swing and they are a blast, as usual. Take the one we went to earlier this month at the beautiful mid-century modern home in Westmoreland of City Councilman George Wallace and his wife, Stephanie.

“Come fly with me,” the invitation said. And, as if by magic, we were transported back to 1958 to the “Pan Am First Class Supper Club.” In 1958, you see, supper clubs were all the rage, and Pan Am offered the first 707 Jet Clipper service to Europe. You know, back when flying was fun.

The hosts of this Summer Supper really did it up. Ellen Bebb made the stewardesses’ hats (that was before they were called flight attendants); others got authentic garb or reproductions off the Internet. And host Peter Acly had to cut short a lunch with me earlier in the week to go home and finish putting together some model airplanes that would be part of the decor. What a hoot. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Historic preservation, Knoxville | 9 Comments

Clarence Brown Theatre tops itself with move to big tent

Actors John Cullum and Carol Mayor Jenkins after she gave him the Clarence Brown Theatre Artistic Achievement Award.

Actors John Cullum and Carol Mayo Jenkins after she presented him the Clarence Brown Theatre Artistic Achievement Award.

The Clarence Brown Theatre’s annual gala last year held in downtown Knoxville at The Standard was so successful that Alan and I wondered to ourselves how in the world it could be as outstanding again. (Click here for a report on it.)

Well, here’s how. This year the event was moved to the lovely RT Lodge in Maryville. And, since it’s on a Sunday night to coincide with the Tony Awards, guests were offered the opportunity to stay overnight. It succeeded on every front.

Icing on the cake was that the event honored the beloved Knoxville actor John Cullum who himself has won two Tony Awards but is probably best known for his TV role as bar owner Holling Vincoeur in the quirky CBS series Northern Exposure. Those who spent the night could have breakfast with Cullum on Monday morning. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Knoxville, Theater | 16 Comments

Red pandas and party animals at Zoofari

Red panda sighting at Zoofari!

Red panda sighting at Zoofari!

The Knoxville Zoo was transformed earlier this month into an exotic Himalayan village, the home of the elusive red panda, an animal that has put Knoxville on the zoological map.

It is there, in Nepal, where certain villagers have been named “guardians of the forest” for their work in protecting the endangered red pandas, of which fewer than 10,000 are left in the wild. And that was the theme of this year’s Zoofari, the number one fundraiser for the Knoxville Zoo. On this balmy evening at least, in the hills of Tennessee, we all were guardians of the forest.

Even though the Knoxville Zoo is famous for its work on behalf of the cute little red pandas, zoo folks often are asked why the zoo doesn’t have “real pandas.” If fact, the red panda is the original panda, discovered in the early 1800s. For over 50 years, they were the only pandas known to the world.

OK, OK. Here's what a real red panda looks like. The Knoxville Zoo has six. (Photo courtesy of Knoxville Zoo)

OK, OK. Here’s what a real red panda looks like. They max out at about 11 pounds. The Knoxville Zoo has six. (Photo courtesy of Knoxville Zoo)

In the 1870s, Western explorers found the giant panda, named that because it is so much larger than the original panda. Recently, scientists re-classified the giant panda as a bear, leaving the red panda as the only member of the panda family, Ailuridae.

The Boyd Family Red Panda Village at the zoo opened in 2007 and is the largest red panda habitat in the country. A total of 108 cubs have been born there. In fact, 134 of the 140 red pandas in North America (97%) trace their ancestry to the Knoxville Zoo.

But we saw a lot of other animals at Zoofari. Including a fair number of party animals! Continue reading

Filed under: Knoxville | 2 Comments

Clarence Brown Theatre has the right stuff

Jon Roach, left, and Finbarr Saunders trying on hats in the costume shop backstage at the Clarence Brown Theatre.

Jon Roach, left, and Finbarr Saunders trying on hats in the costume shop backstage at the Clarence Brown Theatre. They look rather jaunty, don’t they?

I don’t know about you, but Alan and I decided some time ago to stop buying more “stuff” at the charity auctions we attend. Instead, we only bid on “experiences” that are offered. That way, we don’t have to find a place to keep more items. And we don’t have one more thing to dust!

To that end, we bid on and won an experience during the last play of this past season at UT’s Clarence Brown Theatre. It was dinner for eight with Clarence Brown’s artistic director, Cal MacLean, and his wife, Rebecca, on the Clarence Brown stage as it was set for Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. It was held on a Monday night when the theater was dark. And, I have to say, it was a fun and unusual little evening.

Joining us were our friends Dawn and Richard Ford, Mintha and Jon Roach, and City Councilman Finbarr Saunders and his wife, Ellen Bebb. (Finbarr is running for reelection — vote for him!) Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Knoxville, Theater | 5 Comments