November 20, 2012: I had a great time on my book tour, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was exhausting. I am usually at home alone all day every day except when I go out shopping for dinner, and being in the spotlight again — being “Hoppin’ John” again — especially after so many years out of the limelight (I closed my shop in 1999), was tiring.
That said, I had a great time seeing old friends and colleagues, though it took me a full two weeks to recover from what I assume was jet lag. In the meantime, I’ve taken up Mandarin lessons (we move to Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of China, in July) and I’ve had the commercial website rebuilt. And tomorrow we are leaving for a two-week holiday in South Africa. Since I was mesmerized by the photos in National Geographic as a child, it has been a lifelong dream to go see the animals in the wild in Africa. We’ll be in a bush camp for 9 days, then spend a weekend in Cape Town.
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and I hope to get back to blogging upon my return. I don’t guess I’ll be eating turkey on Thursday; more than likely, it will be ostrich or impala!
Being on tour with a 20-year-old book seemed really strange to me, but I was warmly received everywhere. In several locations, including Charleston, where the tour began, we sold out of books and/or grits! There have been a dozen recent articles about the book; I’ve been interviewed by some of the brightest young writers I’ve met in quite awhile. I made new friends and got to see old ones. Some I missed, such as Gerry and Rita Wilkie, who were among my first customers at the shop in Charleston. They sent the photo of me hoppin’ in front of the shop, circa 1987. Also while I was on the road, a Wikipedia entry for me appeared! (Contrary to what some folks think, Wikipedia is very difficult to write for. There are many rules pertaining to both content and style which make it very difficult to write an entry or edit one. You cannot write about yourself or a family member.)
In addition to the Charleston Post & Courier’s article, Jeff Allen interviewed me for Charleston City Paper before I left Bulgaria, then again after I got there. I also met the charming folks at The Local Palate, and I think I will probably be penning some articles for them in the future. I also met the delightful Carlye Dougherty of Heirloom Book Company, with whom I’ll be collaborating on my book signing at the Charleston Wine & Food Festival in March. That will be my last trip home for awhile and I hope to see many family and friends when there. I probably won’t be home for another two years after that trip.
My tour began with the Charleston Heritage Symposium, the proceeds of which benefited the Preservation Society of Charleston. The symposium was purposely limited to 75 attendees so that we could have several of the events in some of the finer homes of the Holy City. The opening night speech was by Simon Howard of Howard Castle in England. I had to follow Tom Savage of the Winterthur and Betsey Kornhauser, the curator of the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum in New York! That evening, we had an 18th Century Reception which I planned at the 1772 William Gibbes House (left). This is the second historic menu event I’ve planned in Charleston in the past couple of years and they were so popular that we’re hoping to do another one for the Preservation Society in the spring when I’m there for the festival. I’ll keep you posted.
From Charleston, I flew to New Orleans, where I sold out of grits and signed books at the Crescent City Farmers Market. When I told my friend, Mihail-Ernesto Mihailov, who is the Bulgarian importer of Crock Pot Slow Cookers, that I would have no way to keep the grits warm at the market, and that one taste is all it takes for folks to be hooked, he contacted the distributor in America, who sent me several of their largest models for me to use at the market and then donate to the St. Bernard Project, the nonprofit we chose to receive the proceeds from our fundraiser dinner at Cochon. Daphne Derven (pictured below), the Special Projects Manager at the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, is a dear friend and colleague who helped me organize most of my time in New Orleans, as well as housing me.
And what a time it was! I was treated to meals by Donald and Stephen at both Cochon and Herbsaint (love the ad on the streetcar, above!), was interviewed by the irrepressible Poppy Tooker for her public radio show (air time to be announced), dined with old friends at Bayona, and had a great lunch prepared by Chef Scotty Snodgrass at ONE Restaurant and Lounge with Chef Ryan Hughes and Liz Williams of the forthcoming Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
The fundraiser dinner at Cochon, however, was OVER THE TOP! We drank and dined for five hours on the most bacchanalian feast I’ve ever attended. We sat family style at a huge table while Chefs Stephen, Ryan, and Jena pumped out the most outrageously decadent Lowcountry feast, aptly served by Brandy and Mike and the amazing wait staff of Calcasieu, the upstairs private dining rooms of Cochon. Here’s the menu and a shot of Stephen serving up the pilau.
After New Orleans, I flew back toSouth Carolina, where I was interviewed by the redoubtable Walter Edgar. The program will be aired on December 21. I then went to my hometown, Orangeburg, where I spoke before a packed house (and sold out of books!) at The Oaks, a retirement home where several of my old school teachers and parents’ friends came to hear me speak. My 45th high school reunion was that weekend as well. What most am azed me was the sound of birds. Everywhere!
From Orangeburg, I went to Columbia, the state capital, where my brother lives and where I saw many old friends as well as family members. Two friends from childhood I haven’t seen but once or twice in 50 years and they drove from Florida to see me! Another drove from Greenville, SC, and a roommate from college whom I had lost touch with nearly 40 years ago drove from Atlanta! I cannot believe the outpouring of love and support! It’s truly humbling.
Not to be outdone by South Carolina, though, NORTH CAROLINA went all out for me as well. Again, I saw many old faces, spoke to appreciative crowds, and was feted at table by David and Fran McCullough, the original editor of the book, and by Gene Hamer and Bill Smith of the venerable Crook’s Corn
er, who hosted a press dinner for me. Crook’s was begun in 1982 by Gene and the late, great chef, Bill Neal, whose sons Matt and Elliott I also got to visit with. Bill would be so proud of Matt and his wife Sheila, who own Neal’s Deli, just a few blocks from Crook’s.
Most humbling of all, perhaps, was the meal that Chef James Clark prepared in my honor for me, Fran, my agent Doe Coover (who flew in from Boston), and the editorial and marketing staff of the University of North Carolina Press, who published the new edition of the book. Check out this menu! Every bite more delicious than the previous and the next! If you find yourself in Chapel Hill, don’t miss the chance to have James’s elegant fare at The Crossroads Restaurant in the Carolina Inn on campus.
James’s mother and I went to high school together, and I got to see her in Columbia as well. After the Carolinas, I headed to Baltimore to team up again with my pal Neal Langermann, with whom I’ve been doing events since the book was first released in 1982. At Langermann’s I got to chat with more old friends, who drove up from Washington, and I met some new ones, including several food writers and bloggers I didn’t know before.
I spent my birthday weekend on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with my friends Chuck Dalby and Bruce Rashbaum, at whose home I have prepared dozens of meals, mostly from the bounty of their gardens and the local waters. Terry McNally, co-owner of Philadelphia’s marvelous London Grill, picked me up at the Baltimore airport and went with me to the shore, before we returned to the City of Brotherly Love for yet another event at her restaurant. There’s lots more to tell… but I must pack for Africa!!!