One of my New Year’s resolutions is to redeem the many charity auction items I have purchased over the past year or so. To that end, I scheduled Peter Glander, the executive chef of Ruby Tuesday who formerly was with Blackberry Farm, to provide a cooking demonstration and wine tasting last month for 11 of my girlfriends and me.
One of the best things was that I was allowed to select a theme for the meal. It could have been French or Italian, etc. But I chose to ask Chef Glander to create the feast using mostly locally sourced ingredients. This would have been an easy assignment in the summer growing season. But scheduling the demonstration in February made the theme a bit more challenging. Nevertheless, Chef Glander rose to the occasion!
“In the winter time, it is very difficult to make entrees if you are using local ingredients,” Chef Glander said. His solution: potato cakes made with potatoes, local sausage and mustard greens. I never would have thought of that.
But first, let’s talk about wine. Ruby’s has just introduced four new wines and our group got a chance to taste all of them. We loved them. Unfortunately, they are not yet available at local package stores, but only at Ruby Tuesday or ordered on the Internet. The wines come from a company called Cultivate owned by Charles and Ali Banks. They have a philosophy of giving back, therefore 10 percent of the sales of the Cultivate wines are donated to worthy causes. Go to the website and you can vote on where the money should go. How cool is that?
But the wines are great, too. With appetizers, we tried the Pinot Grigio called Double Blind. It was delicious. My friends know that Pinot Grigio is my favorite wine right now. And this one was perfect — light-colored, crisp and bright. Glander says it is his favorite of the four new wines, as well.
The appetizers already were attractively arranged when we arrived: a tray of local elk sausage and several kinds of local pickles. When I cringed at the mention of elk sausage, my friend Madge Cleveland tsk-tsked me: “Cynthia, it’s just a cow with horns!”
Chef Glander said the elk sausage as well as the sausage he would use in the potato cakes came from The Market in downtown Maryville.
I am not a huge fan of Chardonnay, but the one Ruby Tuesday is offering is not a typical heavily oaked Chard. Instead, it is lightly oaked. “It is not an oak that feels like you are sucking on a wood chip,” Glander noted. Called Dream Walking, it is great with food. It was developed by a winemaker named Andy Erickson, whom Glander described as “a rock star of wine.” I liked it, especially with some nibbles.
Speaking of food, the salad course was a salted kale salad with a yogurt vinaigrette.
The other two wines were called Gambler and The Feast. Both were red and both were great. Glander said Gambler is the hands-down favorite of everyone who works for Ruby Tuesday. From the servers to the executives, everyone loves it. It is Malbec. The Feast, described as a special occasion wine, is 85 percent Merlot and 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.
If you get an opportunity to purchase a cooking demonstration with Peter Glander, my recommendation is to buy it. A very personable guy, he gives insights into his cooking philosophy (“Food should be fun and real.”), along with tips (“The more orange the yolk, the more I’m going to like it.”) and information about Ruby Tuesday (“Knoxville is our toughest market. Everyone wants Ruby Tuesday to be like it used to be when it was right off Cumberland Avenue.”).
Before we go on with the food, here are some other interesting thoughts from Chef Glander:
He prefers cooking with grape seed oil rather than olive oil. “It has a 50 degree higher smoke point,” he notes.
- They aren’t local, but he says San Marzano are the best canned tomatoes in the world. “If you buy Hunt’s and you try San Marzano, you’ll never go back,” he said.
- “In the summer, go to the farmers’ market and buy all the garlic you can. Put it in your basement to store. Local garlic is like local honey — it is very specific to the area where it is grown.”
- Cook grits in water, Glander recommends. Not cream or milk or chicken broth or anything else. “Let the product taste like what it is. With grits, you want to taste corn.”
- Recommended reading: a new set of books called “Modernist Cuisine.” It’s a five-volume set that costs about $500. “As a chef, I had to buy it,” Glander said. “It gives you an understanding of the science of cooking.”
- His favorite Knoxville restaurant? The now-defunct Pasta Trio, formerly located in the Old City. (Alan and I loved it, too.)
- “People want red peppers,” he said. “In this area, peppers are very important. They are one of the vegetables you can grow in the heat of summer.”
- Ruby Tuesday introduced a new menu last month. It’s black. Also a new television ad campaign will hit 75 percent of the restaurant chain’s markets.
OK. Back to the food.
Dessert was an unbelievable bread pudding. I’ve never liked bread pudding, but I do now!