The Food Guy, Steven Keith Eating his way through the state, plate by plate

Love the Sweet Taste of … VINDICATION!

 So, if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know I have a pretty severe aversion to chain restaurants.

 But you also know I’ve been known to praise The Olive Garden a time or two, even though just last week I wrote about how crazy celeb chef Anthony Bourdain — a man who will eat anything — ranks an Olive Garden meal as one of the five worst things he’s ever put in his mouth. (Joining the likes of fermented warthog and other creepy-crawlies, so that’s pretty incriminating.)

Ye ol’ Garden’s “love it or loathe it” debate always blows up my inbox, but I was particularly pleased when just this week A RESPECTED LOCAL FOOD WRITER (someone with “foodie” cred, so there) wrote to confide that he/she, too, loves The Olive Garden …

“I LOVE OLIVE GARDEN, TOO! We both know what we’re talking about when it concerns food, how it should be prepared and who did what how, so I guess we’re both qualified to recognize good when we taste it.”


“They do a superb job for a chain and we’ve never been disappointed.”

Picture me grinning, like the cat who ate the canary.

Hey Charleston!

Don’t forget to come out TONIGHT for a great talk on healthy eating, served with a side of appertizers and booze!!

Yes, we get the irony, but the discussion with former Charlestonian/Daily Mail reporter/Marshall alum should be fascinating …

See you in the library at Marshall University’s South Charleston campus, 6 p.m. sharp!

Chefs plate their creations for guests at Stonewall Resort's West Virginia Culinary Classic. (Photo by Rebecca Devono)

Just when we thought we could eat no more, it was time to sit down to a feast.

The 8th annual West Virginia Culinary Classic wrapped up Saturday evening at Stonewall Resort with a wine-and-cheese reception and live music in the lobby, followed by a gourmet four-course tasting menu in the ballroom.

Guests gussied up in their Sunday best to enjoy:

  • A really nice caramelized scallop with cider-poached quail egg and langostine-crab tamale with a quince gastrique
  • Duck confit salad with chefs greens, toasted walnuts, baby beets and cracklings tossed in a coriander-citrus vinaigrette
  • Roasted lamb loin wrapped in herb pastry with ranchero demi glacé, a meritage of forrest mushrooms, grilled asparagus and mescal bernaise
  • And a TO-DIE-FOR chocolate and Chambord mousse cake with melba sauce and macerated berries, a hazelnut tuile, minted whipped cream and a chocolate cigarette

Everything was good, but Executive Chef Paco Aceves and his crew definitely saved the best for last. People at nearby tables were still talking about that dessert the next morning at breakfast.

If you’ve never been to the Culinary Classic, you have no idea what you’re missing. Next year’s event is set for March 9-12, 2012 – and those who register before March 31, 2011, can lock in this year’s rate of $449, a $50 savings over next year’s cost. Visit for more details.

If you happened to catch my column in this week’s Daily Mail ( you read all about the opening night of this past weekend’s indulgent West Virginia Culinary Classic at Stonewall Resort.

And you’re probably wondering, “What does one do the morning after gorging themselves on SO MUCH delicious food?”

By gorging themselves on an overflowing breakfast buffet, of course. Then making (and eating) multiple desserts. All before 10:30 a.m.

Said sweet treats came from an interesting culinary demonstration I sat in on about making plain desserts extraordinary with a little plating razzle-dazzle. Your family or dinner guests may not complain if you serve them a simple brownie or slice of cheesecake. But you can definitely get your fill of “oohs and aahs” if that dessert is served on a sugar-dusted, sauce-drizzled or otherwise blinged-out plate.

And that’s just what the friendly folks from Gordon Food Service showed us. Through several demonstrations (followed by an awesome “do-it-yourself” dessert-building finale) we learned how ridiculously easy it is to take a simple cookie or slice of pound cake and turn it into one of those fancy (read: overpriced) desserts served in restaurants. 

Here are just a few of their suggestions:

  • Mini-desserts are all the rage these days. People want to indulge, but would like to do so by keeping their waists slim and their wallets fats. Restaurant desserts are usually huge, with an equally oversized pricetag. Make your own mini-shots by drizzling your sauce of choice around the inside of a small glass or dessert dish, then filling it with alternating layers of pudding, mousse, whipped cream, peanut butter, jam, whatever. For the piece de resitance, add those fillings from piping bags for smoother shapes and curves.
  • Have a scrapbooker in the family? Borrow some of her stencils, places them over a plate, then sprinkle on powerdered sugar or cocoa to fill the designs. (Use whichever colors provides the most striking contrast with your plate color.) Carefully lift the stencil and you have a gorgeous pattern to accentuate your dessert. If you don’t have stencils, cut out your own designs or shapes with paper and scissors.
  • Use a sauce to drizzle a nice pattern (or completely random squiggles) on each plate before adding the dessert to it. So easy, so striking.
  • Run a toothpick through the middle of a dollop of sauce to create a heart shape. Or drizzle concentric circles of sauce around the plate (larger each time as you move toward the outter edge), then place a toothpick in the very center and drag it in radiating lines toward the outside. Instant spider web.
  • Or just “paint” your plate! Add dollops of sauce and then run a clean paintbrush or pastry brush through each one and across the plate to create colorful streaks.
  • Use small cookie cutters to cut shapes (flowers, hearts, butterflies) out of slices of brownie or pound cake. Place these atop mousses or other desserts for a cute garnish. Or, use the brownie/cake “frame” you now have and fill the center (a cut-out heart with raspberry sauce, for instance) for a totally different look.

Bottom line is, play around and HAVE FUN! They say we eat with our eyes, and that’s probably no more true than with desserts. Make people “ooh and aah.” 

NEXT UP: Check back tomorrow for a bite-by-bite account of the weekend’s closing night banquet. Delish!

Hey, fellow foodies, here’s an event worth checking out!

“The Revolution Has Been Televised. Now What?”

Charleston native and former Daily Mail reporter Brent Cunningham will be in town later this month — along with his wife, former Washington Post food writer Jane Black — to discuss their upcoming book on the efforts to build a healthy food culture in Huntington. The event will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, in the library of Marshall University’s South Charleston Campus.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver put Huntington on the map through his Emmy-winning TV series, “Food Revolution,” that shed fascinating light on his efforts to serve healthier school lunches in Cabell County. Huntington was unceremoniously chosen as the site of the series because it had recently been named the unhealthiest city in America in some national ranking. (The series was eye-opening and, in my opinion, very well done, by the way. Netflix it if you missed it.)

Brent attended Marshall University and worked at the Charleston Daily Mail before moving on to write for The Nation, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Harvard’s Neiman Reports, among other publications. He is now Managing Editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, the national oldest journal of media criticism, and a member of the adjunct faculty at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Jane now covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues and has written for the likes of the BBC, Businessweek Online, Boston Magazine, Food & Wine, The New York Times, Slate, Gourmet (may it R.I.P.) and Body & Soul. She attended the Leiths School of Food and Wine in London and her podcast, Smart Food, airs on Edible Radio.

Their new book is set to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013.

Come on out and hear what they have to say, welcome Brent back and toss a few hard questions his way. (I know him, he can handle it.)

Let’s Talk Turkey, Shall We?

We’re months removed from Thanksgiving, but I’ve got turkey on the brain this week.

Roasting a big bird is something most people only do once or twice a year for special occasions. I don’t blame ’em. They’re not cheap, they eat up tons of fridge space, they’re messy to prepare, they take time. We always love the finished product in November, it’s just not a commitment we’re prepared to make on a regular basis.

Which is why I’m now a breast man!

The wife brought home a nice turkey breast this week and said, as she often does, “You need to do something with this.” So I roasted that bad boy and rocked her world.

I don’t know why we don’t go this route more often. You get the same look, feel and taste of a big Butterball — just in a tidier “Mini Me”-like package. And they’re less expensive, easier to store and a breeze to prepare …

  1. After thawing appropriately, just remove the turkey breast from the package, rinse and pat dry. (There’s no messy neck, giblets or hardware inside the cavity to deal with — just a package of pre-made gravy that you should IMMEDIATELY throw away. It’s pretty gross, so you’re better off making your own with pan drippings or just using the turkey’s natural juices as an au jus.)
  2. Season the skin with a mixture of your favorite herbs and spices. (I use fresh for Thanksgiving, but gave this one a generous sprinkling of salt, pepper and various dried herbs. I also painstakingly smear herbed butter between the meat and skin of our annual Thanksgiving bird, but skipped that step here. The breast is moist enough and this is all about keeping it simple.)
  3. Place the breast in a Dutch oven or small roasting pan, throw in some chopped onions, carrots and/or celery for aroma and flavor, then cover and slow-roast in the oven on low heat all darn day. (Or, for quicker results, follow the times and temperatures listed on the package.)

That’s all there is to it, and this thing was RIDICULOUS! So juicy, tender and flavorful. We lapped it up that night with rice pilaf and roasted asparagus. And the next night in a turkey curry casserole. And the next day in toasted turkey melt sandwiches.

Thanksgiving, Schmanksgiving.