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 | 7 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 | 15 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

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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

‘Taste of Greece’ perfect antidote to adversity

Alan Carmiichael and Holly Hambright at A Taste of Greece. Everybody was Greek at this event!

Alan Carmichael and Holly Hambright at A Taste of Greece. Everybody was Greek at this event!

If ever a church seemed snake-bit (aside from the actual snake-handling churches, of course) it is Saint George Greek Orthodox Church on Kingston Pike in Knoxville. Reeling from the alleged theft of more than $360,000 by its trusted treasurer that left the congregation with only $2,000 in its bank account, the church only weeks later, on Orthodox Easter Sunday, suffered a major fire.

Fortunately, insurance will cover the fire damage. But the church is definitely in need of financial shoring. To that end, the congregation organized A Taste of Greece, a delicious dinner prepared by church members and served to a sell-out crowd (at $100 per person) at Hunter Valley Farm.

Don’t think for a minute that the members are down and out. I’ve never seen a more cheerful bunch. Of course, with food like that served at this event, it would be hard not to have a smile on your face. Continue reading

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A barn-raising good time in Norris

Museum of Appalachia founder John Rice Irwin with Elaine Meyer, the museum's president and John Rice's daughter.

Museum of Appalachia founder John Rice Irwin with Elaine Meyer, the museum’s president and Irwin’s daughter.

Well, here’s something you don’t often see on my calendar: barn dance. But I’m glad it was on there on a recent Friday evening.

What more appropriate fundraiser could the venerable Museum of Appalachia in Norris have come up with? It was perfect (except for the awful chardonnay). The music and dancing were fun, the company was convivial, and the auction items were authentic and interesting. But best of all, it was wonderful to see John Rice Irwin, the former school superintendent of Anderson County and, even more important, the founder of the museum, enjoying himself and socializing with everyone. He’d come over from his retirement community across the street.

Irwin, who founded the museum in 1968 and was the recipient in 1989 of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius award,” as it is commonly called, also is the author of eight books. But one of my favorite things he’s written is this, a description of why the museum is so important.

“We simply cannot appreciate where we are today, or understand where we are going tomorrow, unless we understand where, as a culture, we’ve been in the past,” he wrote as an introduction to the collection of some 30 original log buildings and many thousands of artifacts from rural Appalachia located on 63 acres about 16 miles north of Knoxville. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Historic preservation, Music | 4 Comments

EWA finds power in numbers for 35 years

From left, Lillian Mashburn, Pat Ball, Ginny Morrow, Renda Burkhart and Sharon Miller Pryse were among the earliest members of the Executive Women's Association and still are active in the group today. Mashburn is retired from the University of Tennessee, where she was director of federal relations; Ball is a senior vice president at TeamHealth; Morrow is retired as senior vice president of Covenant Health; Burkhart is president of Burkhart & Company, a downtown CPA firm; Pryse is president of The Trust Company of Knoxville.

From left, Lillian Mashburn, Pat Ball, Ginny Morrow, Renda Burkhart and Sharon Miller Pryse were among the earliest members of the Executive Women’s Association and still are active in the group today. Mashburn is retired from the University of Tennessee, where she was director of federal relations; Ball is a senior vice president at TeamHealth; Morrow is retired as senior vice president of Covenant Health; Burkhart is president of Burkhart & Company, a downtown CPA firm; Pryse is president of The Trust Company of Knoxville.

Thirty-five years ago, I hate to say, women were almost invisible in the power structure of Knoxville. That’s when a handful of local professional women got together and formed a support group, of sorts, to share information and brainstorm ideas. They called the group the Executive Women’s Association (EWA), and it included fewer than 20 members. Continue reading

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Give me credit for sampling moonshine!

Dr. Carol Costello is our favorite instructor for UT's non-credit culinary courses. Here she's sampling a biscuit prepared by Pellissippi State's culinary students. The two schools collaborate on their hospitality and culinary courses.

Dr. Carol Costello is our favorite instructor for UT’s non-credit culinary courses. Here she’s sampling a biscuit prepared by Pellissippi State’s culinary students. The two schools collaborate on their hospitality and culinary courses.

You know those University of Tennessee non-credit culinary courses that you’re probably tempted to take whenever the new catalog comes out? Well, some friends and I have taken several of them and, in case you were wondering, they are fun — as well as educational.

When it comes to alcohol, I generally stick to wine, mostly white and mostly NOT chardonnay, as my friends know. I’m not a very sophisticated beer drinker, although I do enjoy an occasional Miller Lite, especially on a hot summer day. I’ve been known to sip a vodka martini (dirty, with blue cheese olives!) from time to time. (Click here for a post on the best martinis in Knoxville.)

But one alcoholic beverage I have never liked is moonshine.

So the only reason I agreed to some friends’ suggestion that we sign up for a UT course on moonshine was because I knew how much fun it is to learn from our favorite instructor in the program, Carol Costello. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Knoxville | 13 Comments

Food writers deliver history and humor

Lisa Donovan, the former pastry chef at Husk restaurant, with historian Jack Neely at The Biscuit Bash event that closed the Southern Food Writing Conference.

Lisa Donovan, the former pastry chef at Husk restaurant, with historian Jack Neely at The Biscuit Bash event that closed the Southern Food Writing Conference.

Using the 1900 tome called simply “Knoxville Cook Book,” historian Jack Neely illuminated attendees at the Southern Food Writing Conference earlier this month with information on just what a cosmopolitan city Knoxville was back then — at least in the food department.

It all centered on Market Square where, Neely reported, “people would claim you can get anything.”

“Knoxville was at a crossroads in 1900,” Neely said. “On Market Square they sold bear, possum and biscuit flour by the barrel. They sold Italian pasta and German sausage, seafood and Kosher food. Some restaurants were open 24 hours. But Knoxville had rough edges. It was a very stratified society.”

Neely described the Gold Sun, one of those 24-hour places where you could play “stump the waiter” and try to see if you could ask for something the restaurant couldn’t prepare. Then, there was the Vendome, a fancy French restaurant. And expensive wine bars on Gay Street and in the Hotel Imperial.

There also was a wide array of street food available in Knoxville, including tamales sold by an African-American street vendor. And hot dogs. In fact, the first time the words “hot dogs” ever were mentioned was in a Knoxville newspaper in 1893. Continue reading

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Southern Food Writing Conference is full experience

Sam Beall, the proprietor of Blackberry Farm, hosted the  Southern Food Writing Conference attendees at Blackberry's new brewery in downtown Maryville. He's here with Chris Kahn, a volunteer with the International Biscuit Festival and all-around food expert.

Sam Beall, the proprietor of Blackberry Farm, hosted the Southern Food Writing Conference attendees at Blackberry’s new brewery in downtown Maryville. He’s here with Chris Kahn, a volunteer with the International Biscuit Festival and all-around food expert.

Last week, leading up to the fabulous International Biscuit Festival, Knoxville was host to almost 100 food writers, chefs, photographers, bloggers and other foodies attending the Southern Food Writing Conference. The conference, now in its fourth year, also features, as you can imagine, some of the best eating our area has to offer. And some pretty good entertainment. When you’ve got these folks here, you need to put your best foot (or food!) forward.

Alan and I attend every year, using The Blue Streak as an excuse. That’s probably the only way the darn thing actually pays off. Ha.

The conference and the biscuit festival which had been sponsored by White Lily Flour since the beginning, had a new major sponsor this year, King Arthur Flour. According to the conference organizer, John Craig, also known as the “biscuit boss,” White Lily’s parent, J.M. Smucker Company, blamed company-wide cutbacks for the decision to drop sponsorship of the Knoxville events. King Arthur was happy to pick up the sponsorship and the opportunity for visibility with the food press and 20,000 food enthusiasts who attend the actual festival. Continue reading

Filed under: Downtown, Events, Food, Journalism, Knoxville, Media | 3 Comments