How to impress a food writer. (And me!)

Mary Celeste Beall welcomed guests to a cocktail party in Blackberry Farm's under construction events center.

Mary Celeste Beall welcomed guests to a cocktail party in Blackberry Farm’s under construction events center.

Of course you heard about the International Biscuit Festival earlier this month, but did you know that scores of journalists and other writers were in town a few days before that for the fifth annual Southern Food Writing Conference?

Yep. Folks were here from The Today Show, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Time, Inc., Garden & Gun, Food & Wine, Huffington Post, National Public Radio, USA Today, The Splendid Table, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Scripps Networks Interactive, along with dozens of assorted bloggers, cookbook authors and public relations folks.The two-day event was jam-packed with speakers, food, a tour of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams and dinner at Blackberry Farm.

At one point, nearly 100 attendees also were treated to a lunch by Chef Tim Love, who intends to open The Lonesome Dove in the Old City this summer.

Here are some of the conference highlights: Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Journalism, Knoxville, Media | 5 Comments

Tar Heel trained, Knoxville’s gain

News Sentinel editorial cartoonist Charlie Daniel with his impression of Ronald Reagan, one of 11 presidents Daniel has drawn in his career.

News Sentinel editorial cartoonist Charlie Daniel with his impression of Ronald Reagan, one of 11 presidents Daniel has drawn in his career.

You wouldn’t think it from reading his editorial cartoons in the News Sentinel, but Charlie Daniel is really a sweet, quiet and unassuming guy. With a wicked sense of humor, of course.

I have known Charlie for more than 30 years — we both worked at the defunct Knoxville Journal — and he still cracks me up, in print and in person.

Charlie and his sweet wife, Patsy, were guests of honor this past weekend at this year’s final installment of the Knoxville Symphony League’s “Elegant Dining” series of fundraisers.

“Cartoonists rarely say anything nice about anybody,” Daniel acknowledged during his after-lunch talk in the lovely Rarity Bay home of Steve and Lin Oglesby. “We mostly ridicule. But we ridicule in hopes that we will improve the quality of people’s lives.”

Daniel, a North Carolina native, got his start at the University of North Carolina’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. Since then, he’s drawn 11 U.S. presidents. “The only thing they had in common was they all said Fidel Castro wouldn’t last!” Daniel deadpanned. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Journalism, Media, Music | 11 Comments

Biscuits bring bevy of bingers

Michelle Silva of B-97.5 offering a sample of her station's contest entry: crispy chicken with chorizo gravy. B-97.5 teamed with Oli Bea for the contest.

Michele Silva of B97.5 offering a sample of her station’s contest entry: crispy chicken biscuit with chorizo gravy. B-97.5 teamed with Oli Bea for the contest.

The biggest crowd ever packed downtown Saturday to gorge themselves with biscuits large and small, savory and sweet. This is according to John Craig, the “biscuit boss” and founder of the International Biscuit Festival that closes several roads and turns Market Street into Biscuit Boulevard for one day each year.

Restaurants (mostly) set up tents and passed out samples of their creations. Other vendors sold biscuit-related (mostly) products. And, of course, there was a biscuit baking competition, an art show, music on a flatbed truck and a Mr. or Miss Biscuit contest.

Matt Sandbank was named grand champion of the baking contest with his caraway biscuits, which beat out 11 other competitors. Click here for a list of all winners.

All the biscuits were divine, but my favorite of all that I got to taste was one made with, of all things, cauliflower and Benton’s bacon. This was offered in the VIP breakfast reception tent. (I’m not a VIP. I was invited because I purchased tickets to the Southern Food Writing Conference that preceded the biscuit festival. The breakfast reception was included.) Continue reading

Filed under: Downtown, Events, Food, Knoxville | 15 Comments

UT Gardens honor major donor — and peonies!

The weather gods smiled upon the UT Gardens Gala, thank goodness, as several hundred supporters gathered to raise money and also raise a glass or two to Henry McIlwaine Jr., whose generosity will fund a new pavilion on the Neyland Drive property.

Henry McIlwaine surrounded by his daughters, from left, Gwen Johnson, Mary Kriss McIlwaine and Katherine Waitman.

Henry McIlwaine surrounded by his daughters, from left, Gwen Johnson, Mary Kris McIlwaine and Katherine Waitman. (Photo by Hurley Co. Photography)

“His generous donation will expand opportunities for community outreach and educational classes for years to come,” said Dr. Joe Johnson, UT’s president emeritus who, along with his wife, Pat, was honorary co-chair of the Friday evening event. Continue reading

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Emilia exudes excellence

Chef owner Matt Gallaher works at his new restaurant, Emilia, this past Saturday night.

Chef and owner Matt Gallaher works at his new restaurant, Emilia, this past Saturday night.

For the longest time, downtown dwellers and aficionados have bemoaned the fact that, of all the great and diverse number of eateries located there, there has not been in ages even one honest to goodness upscale Italian restaurant — only pizza places.

But now we have two authentic high-end Italian restaurants within easy walking distance of each other. Primo Ristaurante Italiano, located in the Sunsphere and operated by Chef Bruce Bogartz, has been open a few months, and Emilia, located on Market Square and operated by Chef Matt Gallaher of Knox Mason, opened just last week. (Click here for a report on a recent visit to Primo. Read on for more info about Emilia.)

We were at Emilia, located at 16 Market Square in the space where Latitude 35 used to be, this past Saturday and the place was full. Walk-ins were being turned away. Fortunately, my brilliant husband had made a reservation for our party of four. Continue reading

Filed under: Business, Downtown, Food, Knoxville, Music | 9 Comments

Shreveport a Go-Go

Johnny Rivers playing the historic Strand Theatre in Shreveport last month.

Johnny Rivers playing the historic Strand Theatre in Shreveport last month.

My mother loved Johnny Rivers, the rock and roll singer famous for such hits as “Secret Agent Man,” “Summer Rain,” “Memphis,” “Baby, I Need Your Loving” and “Poor Side of Town.”

We lived in Rome, Georgia, until I was in sixth grade and Mother always listened to a Chattanooga radio station, WFLI — 1070 on the AM radio dial. “Jet Fly, WFLI!” the deejays would say. The reception came in better at night, I remember.

We owned an electric typewriter that typed in four different colors – red, black, blue and green. We also had a half-dozen ballpoint pens that wrote in those same four colors. Mother would buy stacks of blank postcards and various kinds of stationery and she, my brother and I would spend countless hours at the kitchen table writing and typing notes to radio stations — especially WFLI — requesting they play Johnny Rivers songs. We used fake names and all those different colors of ink and paper to make it seem as if there were legions of Johnny Rivers fans out there in radio land. (Which, I’m pretty sure there actually were. They just might not have been as prolific with the correspondence as we were.) Continue reading

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Elegant dining, uproarious stories

WBIR new anchors Russell Biven and Abby Ham cracked up the audience -- and themselves --- at a recent Elegant Dining event.

WBIR news anchors Russell Biven and Abby Ham cracked up the audience — and themselves — at a recent Elegant Dining event.

Jeff Lee, the general manager of WBIR-TV Channel 10, took the podium at a recent Elegant Dining event to benefit the Knoxville Symphony. (He serves on the Symphony Board.)

“Many times you see people on TV and you think you know them,” Lee said to the group gathered for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails at the stunning lakefront home of Randy and Jenny Boyd. “But trust me. You really DO know these two!”

He was referring to the evening’s guests of honor, news anchors Abby Ham and Russell Biven. You may wake up in the morning to the pair as they anchor 10News Today, the station’s morning show, which goes on the air at 4:30 a.m.

Ham laughed that she and Biven are like the “bratty brother and sister” of a family, while WBIR’s evening anchors, Robin Wilhoit and John Becker, are “the very responsible parents.”

It’s clear that Ham and Biven, who have worked together since 2009, are a very close team. Ham said they are “soul mates.”

“I love you. Will you marry me?” she quipped to Biven. Actually, the two are very happily married — to other people.

The purpose of the evening was to hear some behind-the-scenes stories of the news business, and we heard some funny ones. Unfortunately, they can’t really be repeated here.

OK, maybe a couple can. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Knoxville, Music | 6 Comments

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

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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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