Culinary Corner

Chef Ron Ahlert is helping people with this cooking class

Chef Ron Ahlert is a south Charlottean and you can be extremely proud to call him your neighbor. We all want to live a life that contributes in a positive way to those around us; Ahlert exemplifies that desire and lives it daily as he raises the hopes and dreams of many of our neighbors who have experienced misfortune. Hundreds of folks from our area who were out of work, out of luck and leaning toward hopelessness discovered the life-changing event that can be found in the culinary world.

You see, Ahlert is executive director of the Community Culinary School of Charlotte. The school, a private non-profit 501-3(c) is celebrating its 15th anniversary this fall. It provides culinary arts training to adults who have had barriers to employment.  What was originally a one-room section of an unfinished warehouse with two students is now five offices, a conference room, a classroom that serves each class of up to 25 adult students and a complete institutional kitchen, from deep fryer to pizza oven. To date, more than 700 at-risk adults have graduated from the program.  Students go on to work in restaurants, country clubs, hospitals, bakeries and hotels throughout the Charlotte community.  There’s even a full-service catering division and food cart – both of which help fund the school and put students and alumni to work.

In a 14-week training session, students learn culinary arts, sanitation and safety protocol and job readiness skills that are necessary to obtain career-level jobs. Students who attend do not have the means to pay for their tuition.  Instead, they attend on a barter system, supporting the mission of Mecklenburg County’s Meals on Wheels provider, Friendship Trays, to “pay” their tuition. Through this Meals-on-Wheels program, students prepare more than 700 meals daily to feed Charlotte’s homebound and hungry. Congratulations to Ahlert, the entire staff and all who support this extremely successful endeavor. You can find more at www.communityculinary.org.

Another first on the way – Publix will open its first North Carolina location in Ballantyne. Publix Super Markets has signed a lease for a location at Providence Road West and Johnston Road, initiating a new division based in Charlotte. The grand opening date depends on several factors, including permitting and completion of the store’s construction; however, the opening is tentatively planned for early 2014. You may have noticed that the Ballantyne Harris Teeter at Ballantyne Commons Parkway and Johnston Road is undergoing a major expansion and upgrade. You don’t suppose it has anything to do with the new Publix that will open just down the road? I do know one thing for sure; we will all be grateful and appreciative recipients of even more high quality food options.

Happy Anniversary:

Happy 2nd - The Myers Park Mellow Mushroom on Selwyn Avenue opened two years ago, and business is great, thanks to meeting and exceeding guests expectations. Marc Kieffer, owner of the Myers Park Mellow Mushroom said, “We want to thank all of the pizza lovers who have made our store a success over the past two years. The celebration couldn’t happen without their support and loyalty.” Fans who want the latest slice of Mellow news should follow them on www.facebook.com/MellowMushroomMyersPark and on Twitter at @MMMyersPark.

Happy 5th – On Tuesday, Oct. 16, Passion8 Bistro celebrated its fifth anniversary. Owners Luca and Jessica Annunziata expressed their thanks; “Well friends, it is with all of your kindness and support over these five extraordinary years that has allowed us to continue to do what we consider an absolute blessing.  For a little brothel (at one time, long ago) in the middle of nowhere each day we are inspired. We support those who care as much as we do at providing outstanding quality products and beautiful ingredients.  This is what has distinguished us and what will continue to be our ethos.  Thank you for your patronage and voting with your dollar for what I believe is a revolution in food.” I couldn’t have said it better, Luca and Jessica. Congratulations on a well-deserved milestone. Make reservations at www.passion8bistro.com.

Happy 83rd – Eighty-three years ago, the Great Depression began and Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church had just completed the construction of their first Sunday school rooms.  Times were hard and the contractor had to be paid.  The deacons of the church organized a barbecue that included three or four pigs and a goat.  This year they expect to cook 14,600 pounds of pork barbecue, prepare 2,500 gallons of Brunswick stew, shred 2 tons of coleslaw, brew 400 gallons of coffee, and entertain close to 20,000 people.  Four drive-thru take-out lines will be taking orders of one sandwich up to extra-large group orders (just call ahead). The ‘granddaddy’ of all barbecues is Oct. 25 and worth the drive. Go to www.mallardcreekbbq.com

Another first! - Dean & Deluca in Phillips Place has reopened, following a complete renovation. The newly designed space now features the brand’s first full-service, in-store restaurant, appropriately named the Wine Room. It’s open for brunch, lunch and dinner. Formerly of Toscana and Luce, Executive Chef Andres Moncayo has been part of this location’s team for eight years. He oversees the store’s new menus, including the Wine Room; seasonal prepared foods and catering. The new dining room’s menu showcases the freshest ingredients from their own market, including tapas-style small plates, salads, panini, a selection of artisan cheeses and charcuterie. Offerings include Poached Pear and Valdeón Blue Salad; South American Ceviche; Seared Scallops with Lentil Salad; and Braised Cabernet Short Rib. The Wine Room offers more than 80 wines by the glass and 1,000 by the bottle (thus the name), all available in the store’s retail market to sip at home.
More info at www.deandeluca.com

Felling crabby? – Jonathan Leary, executive chef at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, and Bob Kalish, executive chef at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, are pleased to announce the opening of the highly anticipated Stone Crab Claw Season.  From Wednesday, Oct. 17, until May 15, this seasonal delicacy will be offered at both establishments in south Charlotte, based on availability. The sweet, firm crab claw meat is not widely available outside of their native Florida. These delectable claws are flown fresh from the Florida Keys, one of the only regions where they are available.  Once harvested, the claws are cooked fresh on the boat, then promptly chilled, never frozen, and flown fresh to the restaurants. The claws are great to share as an appetizer or as your main entrée. Claws are cracked fresh to order and are served with a traditional tangy Dijon sauce and fresh hot towels. Stone crab claws are considered highly sustainable, as one claw is harvested from the crabs and the crab is then returned to the sea so it can regenerate the claw. Get to both locations via www.delfriscos.com.

Worth the drive – Located in Huntersville is a village where imagination, fantasy, and history burst to life; a magical realm where you forget about your daily cares and enjoy the magic of a time long ago.  The Carolina Renaissance Festival and Artisan Marketplace began in the Charlotte area in 1994, with 6 acres of village attractions.  The event has grown to become one of the largest Renaissance-themed events in the country, operating seven consecutive Saturdays and Sundays in October and November. The 22-acre tree-lined Renaissance Festival village is nestled amongst 245 acres of pristine forest.

In addition to the shows, music, crafts, and delight of getting lost in another time, you can indulge in a unique culinary experience.  Village kitchens cook up an endless feast of bread bowl stews, steak-on-a-stake, gourmet sausages and the festival’s famous giant roasted turkey legs.  For dessert, try the fresh crepes, cakes and cookies from the Monks Bakery, candy delights from the Chocolate Shoppe, Italian ice, gelato or a bag of cinnamon-roasted almonds.  Festival pubs offer a wide variety of craft beer, wine, honey mead and even Medieval Margaritas (not sure they had these back then). Go to www.royalfaires.com/carolina for details.

Questions, comments, south Charlotte restaurant openings, closings and food news, email culinary@thecharlotteweekly.com.

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