Three-Course Spiel

Monday, November 22, 2010

3 questions with Chris Spotts, catering chef

Posted By on Mon, Nov 22, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Let’s talk turkey. Are you the one with the daunting task of preparing the gobbler this Thanksgiving? Worried your bird will come out dry and dissatisfying? Why go through all of the holiday hassle when you could have a satisfying Thanksgiving dinner prepared for you — and the best part is? No one has to know. Chris Spotts, catering chef for Good Gracious! Events— associated with both, the Morehead Inn and The VanLandingham Estate — will be spending his Thanksgiving Day preparing meals for Good Gracious patrons and for the children at Alexander Children’s Home, before spending the holiday with his own family.

Creative Loafing: I read in a local blog that you have been in the kitchen, professionally, since you were 13 years old. What were your responsibilities at such a young age?

Chris Spotts: When I was 13 I worked as a scraper — yes a scraper. I stood at a large trash can and scraped the plates, as the servers brought them back, and handed [the plates] to the dishwasher. I made $2.50 an hour and was tipped out by the servers, often making $100 or more on busy nights. I was only 13 and my high school sweetheart was a bit older and also had to drive me to and from work.

What is the greatest reaction or compliment you have received from someone you have cooked for?

Recently a wedding took place and I found out that the bride loved Pimento Cheese. So I made her pimento cheese grilled cheese sandwiches and she was overly appreciative. The couple sent an e-mail explaining their joy and appreciation for the wonderful food and experience, and wrote thank you for fulfilling her wish of Pimento Cheese.

What do you have on the menu for Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving meals for Good Gracious are fabulous but are only available through pick-up or drop-off. We are in the business of making people happy, so the food is a great start. We feature the classic dishes such as roasted turkey, apricot-glazed turkey breast, cheesy potato casserole, and all the sides you can think of. Then [we top it off with desserts such as] a Chocolate Chocolate Wonder Cake, Apple Spiced Cake, and a Bourbon Pumpkin Bread Pudding.

I will be preparing Thanksgiving Day food for the children at Alexander Children’s Home, as they do not have many of the luxuries and family ties that we often take for granted. Following that daytime feast I will be home preparing the remainder of the food with my mother and sisters who will be in Charlotte visiting me for the weekend from Florida. When I was younger, my favorite part of Thanksgiving was eating and watching the games on television. Also eating the cheesy potato casserole is one of my many favorites and finishing that with an overload of Chocolate Chocolate Wonder Cake and Egg Nog.

— Nicole Pietrantonio


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kosher soup for the soul

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2009 at 1:38 PM


Known to many as the “Kosher Guy” or “Kosher Police,” Menachem Vorst spends his life surrounded by all aspects of the food business. His work at the Charlotte Jewish Day School as the food service manager, kosher supervisor, and cafeteria chef led to him becoming Charlotte’s only kosher gourmet soup salesman and kosher caterer for occasions such as bar/bat mitzvahs, parties, and meetings. A native of Amsterdam, Vorst was a restaurant manager in Holland before moving to Charlotte in 2004 and becoming a jack-of-all-kosher-trades.

Creative Loafing: Why keep kosher?

Menachem Vorst: The Torah gives guidelines for what makes food kosher. A simple breakdown is that kosher animals need to have split hooves and chew their cud and need to be slaughtered in a certain way. Insects aren’t kosher. Fish need to have scales and fins to be kosher. The Torah gives us the guidelines on what is kosher and what is not, and we cannot consume anything that has non-kosher ingredients. As a kosher person, you cannot go into a regular restaurant and buy a soup because even if all the ingredients are kosher, it’s still made in a kitchen that has produced non-kosher items. Jewish law has thousands of pages on it.

How did you earn the title of “Kosher Police?”

It’s a school job where I make sure that whatever the kids bring to school (if they don’t buy school lunch) needs to have a kosher symbol. If it doesn’t have a kosher symbol, I replace it with a different snack. Sometimes we have smart kids that will bring in something without a kosher symbol because my snacks are better.

Why did you decide to sell gourmet kosher soup in Charlotte?

I thought it would be an interest for the people in Charlotte to get good kosher soups so we decided to make a variety of gourmet soups that we sell frozen so you can have it any time you want. All soups are vegetarian, come in three sizes, and they are made by a very experienced chef, Gene. Papa Geno’s Gourmet Kosher Soup is available in French onion, tomato basil, zucchini squash, roasted potato and garlic, corn chowder, and hearty vegetable. 8 ounces costs $2, 16 ounces costs $3.90, and a quart costs $7.50.

For more information on Menachem Vorst and kosher food in Charlotte, please visit:


photo: Menachem Vorst enjoying kosher food at Gleiberman’s Deli & Grille.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Down home baking with Lauren Plesz

Posted By on Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 11:08 AM


Lauren Plesz is a young art enthusiast with a big heart and an even bigger passion for baking. At only 21 years old, she already has a degree in Culinary Arts and is well on her way to being the sweetest little rock-n-roll pastry chef on the East Coast. Fearlessness and desire for unique tastes will be the key to her success in all of her dreams and future endeavors, but for now you can see and taste her delectable treats and edible designs at Down Home Baking Company, a home-based bakery in South Charlotte.

Creative Loafing: What was your main inspiration for getting into the food industry?

Lauren Plesz: It was a bit of a spur of the moment thing. I mean, everyone needs food to live. And I’m really into art, and I like making food pretty and colorful, so I figured why not make food into art? And, well, I just love food!

What are some of your favorite flavor combinations?

I kind of like weird combinations. I like sweet and savory. One of my co-workers makes chocolate-covered bacon, and it sounds disgusting but it is absolutely delicious! I think with the chewiness and saltiness of the bacon with the rich creaminess of the chocolate, they compliment each other well. I mean, there are chocolate rubs for meats. I like sweet and spicy, and hot and spicy foods.

Where do you see yourself with food in the future?

I would eventually like to open a small café type place with individual desserts, tapas, coffee, and wine. Just have a nice little place like that for people to relax and enjoy delicious foods and each other’s company.

Learn more about Down Home Backing Company at

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mr. K's Soft Serve Ice Cream hasn't changed much since 1967

Posted By on Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 10:41 AM


When Ted Karres first started up his soft serve ice cream business in 1967, it was nothing more than a single 500-square-foot room that served cones from a single window. With one ice cream machine and a hot dog roller, Karres managed to turn Mr. K’s into a full-fledge diner. Now, over 40 years later, the restaurant off South Boulevard is still a family business run by Karres’ son-in-law, George Dizes. Dizes has since expanded the menu and put his own mark on the establishment. A die-hard Panthers fan, Dizes decorates Mr. K’s with original Panther paraphernalia that adds flair to the home-grown business. Although a lot has changed at Mr. K’s over the years, its philosophy of keeping an intimate, friendly atmosphere hasn’t.

Creative Loafing: What’s your busiest time?

George Dizes: Definitely lunch time, but we’re open until nine every night of the work week. We close on Saturdays at four and we don’t open on Sunday. But our lunch crowd comes from all over, from downtown, neighborhoods, factories. You see just as many suits in here as you do construction workers. It has an appeal to everybody. As far as value is concerned, we’re just about the least expensive place to eat on South Boulevard. You can get out of here fully fed for about five, six bucks. At our competitors you’re looking from about eight to 12 dollars.

How are things different from when Mr K’s first started?

This building was erected in '71. After four years at the corner, Mr. K decided that he needed more space. This building was exactly as you see it since '71. You know, a few changes have been made. I’ve been the biggest change-maker here since I’m a die-hard Panthers fan. I’m kind of making a Panthers theme here.

What’s it like having restaurant right next to a strip joint [Leather & Lace]?

To be perfectly honest, we’ve never had a problem with it. Once in a blue moon we’ll have something happen. But it’s usually out of their control. They can’t be responsible for everyone that walks in their door. But on the whole it hasn’t been a problem.

Mr. K's Soft Serve Ice Cream & Drive is located at 2107 South Blvd. 704-375-4318

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Todd Gallinek likes Nothing But Noodles

Posted By on Mon, Aug 3, 2009 at 2:21 PM

By Alexzenia Davis


Todd Gallinek didn’t always have his eye on the boiling pot. In fact, he didn’t even have his foot in the kitchen. As a college student, Gallinek just knew he would become a lawyer … a career choice that stuck with him until his final year. Now, married with three kids, Gallinek has found his true calling. He owns two Nothing But Noodles restaurants in Charlotte — the franchise, located in 12 states, has garnered an impressive reputation. Along with his NBN locations, Gallinek owns a travel agency, Four Corners of the World, which specializes in adopting children from around the world. Making an impact in everything he does is what says Gallinek truly loves. He spoke with Creative Loafing and elaborated on what attracts him to the food industry.

Creative Loafing: I know you’re not a chef, but how did your love for cooking and the culinary industry come about?

Todd Gallinek: I’ve always loved to cook, but I’m more about service. I saw the restaurant business as a way to serve customers. I love to eat and I’ve had a chance to travel around the world. When I came upon this restaurant, I loved everything about it. I can't take credit for creating it. But we make our sauces from scratch, everything’s fresh. We cut every vegetable and every fruit.

I read that your food is heavily influenced by a variety of cultures and cuisines. What is your favorite country to visit, and which makes your favorite food?

My favorite food would be Indian, my favorite country to visit would be Vietnam. We don’t serve either here, but I love flavors from Southeast Asia. [Nothing But Noodles serves] Thai dishes, Chinese and Japanese. I’m really into the flavors and spices.

If you can pinpoint the biggest perk that has come with entrepreneurship, what would it be?

Being my own boss. I would say flexibility, but when you own two restaurants it makes it very difficult. Meeting people. The reason I really got into it. I can meet new people every day. I serve the same food, but always to a different audience.

1605 Elizabeth Ave.


7930 Rea Road


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Monday, July 27, 2009

Simply Delish: Aryn Keogh of Delish Gourmet Cupcakes

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2009 at 2:09 PM


A self-taught baker, 21-year-old Aryn Keogh has taken her sweet tooth to the next level. A graduate of Vance High School, Keogh opened Delish Gourmet Cupcakes last year. Her company’s custom-decorated cupcakes and stands make the perfect treat for birthday parties, holidays, weddings, and other special occasions.

Creative Loafing: What motivated you to start a cupcake company?

Aryn Keogh: I’ve always liked to bake.  My mom has never been top chef, so I have always had free reign of the kitchen and baking has always been my favorite form of cooking. When I was in high school, my best friend and I would sell cookies door-to-door. After that, I moved towards cupcakes and was inspired by fondant wedding cakes. It just grew into a business. The neighbors started ordering and it spread around from word of mouth.

What is the most unusual creation you have made?

I decorated five-tier birdcage for a wedding, and each cupcake was topped with a dove.  I make any avant garde stand that you can possibly think of, but I can also go traditional.  Also, last week I made cupcakes with leopard and zebra print bra and panty decorations for a bachelorette party.  I have also used many chocolate orchid decorations.  I try to stay away from traditional fondant frostings.

What is your favorite flavor cupcake?

Amaretto— that’s a really good one. I’m on a carrot cake binge, too.  Those two tie and they’re also my best selling.

For more information on Delish Gourmet Cupcakes, visit

Facebook: Delish Gourmet Cupcakes


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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Therapyst: Jason Stone

Posted By on Wed, Jul 22, 2009 at 8:33 AM


Jason Stone is a tall, lanky, home-grown Charlottean and the owner of Therapy Café in the heart of Uptown. It’s his organic farm, though, that is his therapy, not to mention a great asset to his café. After the café’s recent renovation, Therapy is now a full-fledged restaurant, as well as café and the home of the famous half-price martini Wednesdays. The produce from his farm supplies the restaurant with most of its fresh fruits and vegetables. As if this isn’t enough, he also runs seven produce stands at various markets.

Decorated in cool blues and greens, Therapy has a quirky, friendly atmosphere. I sit at the bar and Stone perches himself on the stool next to mine, his alert blue eyes take in everything that goes on around us as we talk. With his knowledge of gardening and locally grown foods, he is committed to providing a relaxing and reenergizing experience to his guests, be it for coffee at 7 a.m., a double “I Need It” (their signature martini) at 2 a.m., or any of the freshly prepared meals they offer in between.

Creative Loafing: Have you always been a gardener?

Jason Stone: My dad was a gardener, but never on a big scale. He died two years ago and has been a big inspiration to me. Gardening is my therapy. When I’m in my garden, I’m not worrying about bills and stress and the market.

Therapy is a unique name for a restaurant, where did it come from?

My business partner Tim Lowe just sort of came up with it years ago. The concept is to create an environment where people can leave their issues at the door, get a great value for their money, and make them happy when they come in and when they leave. That’s why we really concentrate on friendly, helpful service when we train our staff.

Did you ever think you would get into the restaurant business?

No. Absolutely not. Not in a million years. I double majored in English and Philosophy at UNCC. The original plan was to open a coffee shop. We did that and it has evolved in the last 10 years into a full scale restaurant serving locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Therapy is located at 410 N. Tryon St. 704-333-1353

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Monday, July 13, 2009

It's (Ryan) Looney at Common House

Posted By on Mon, Jul 13, 2009 at 1:57 PM


Many people driving down Central Avenue merely months ago became intrigued by the modern-style restaurant near the corner of Hawthorne waiting to make its debut in the Charlotte culinary scene. Perhaps the Savannah, Ga., upbringing and personable behavior of Common House’s general manager, Ryan Looney, is one of the winning factors for the restaurant, along with its upscale comfort foods and wallet-friendly prices.

Creative Loafing: What inspired you to get into the restaurant business?

Ryan Looney: I was always working for people in the restaurant business and being able to see them work with the business end of everything, I just wanted to fall into that type of role. So working in restaurants and bars, it just became something that I thought I would want to do someday. Michael Fisher (co-owner) and I worked together at Tyber Creek about 10 years ago, and one of our partners at the time was looking for people to help him open up a new bar downtown, so Mike and I jumped in on that opportunity. Then about two and half years ago, we started trying to get this put together, and that’s where we are now.

Do each of you have specialties?

Everybody definitely brings their own thing to the table. Andrew (Robinson, co-owner) is really good with food presentation, décor, all the cosmetic stuff. He’s very good with the customers, very personable. Mike is also very personable and brings a certain repertoire to us. I guess you could say I’m the organized one of the bunch. I take care of the accounting stuff, the books, the less fun stuff. We’ve pretty much got all angles covered. We got together and said Andrew would take care of the kitchen, Mike would take care of the front of the house, and I would handle the office. So all three of us just meld together and it’s alright.

What is your favorite part of the restaurant business?

Definitely how everything changes and it’s always different. We constantly have new people come in, and we can show up to work one day and we can think it’s going to go one way but it could not necessarily be like that. I’ve never worked a shift that turned out exactly the way that I predicted, or exactly the same as the one before. And seeing these people that come in on a daily basis, and bringing new people. It’s just the constant change.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Meet Amy Fanetty, juice bar manager

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2009 at 12:00 PM


Twenty years ago Amy Fanetty answered a want-ad in a paper put out by Berrybrook Farm, an organic health food store on East Boulevard, looking for a manager of its juice bar. When she first arrived on the scene, Berrybrook Farm was primarily a grocery store that concentrated on organic foods, with the juice bar she was asked to run was a smaller side operation. Although the on-the-shelf grocery style shopping is still the establishment’s primary focus, the juice bar located inside the store has since become a big attraction in its own right. The juice bar has since developed a regular clientele of both vegetarians and those that just enjoy healthy alternatives.  The expanded menu now includes a variety of breakfast and lunch items that span a broad range of vegetarian choices.

Creative Loafing: So what does a juice bar entail exactly?

Amy Fanetty: Well it’s morphed into a lot more than just a juice bar. I started here in '89, and worked here for eight years, then I left for a while after having a child. When I first came here we were just making soups and smoothies, then we started working with burgers and hot dogs, just trying to expand and get some more stuff here. The menu is strictly vegetarian, so our hotdogs and burgers are made from tofu. But we’re expanding our menu.

What does best here?

Our soups are probably the most popular. We have a featured soup of the day on our calendar on the menu. But it also depends on the time of the year. Right now in this heat smoothies are really popular. And now we’re keeping the juice bar open until six. We used to cut out at four, but demand has been so high that we stay open later.

Do you grow any of the produce? Is there an actual Berrybrook Farm somewhere?

No, no (laughs). We joke about that a lot. We go to the local farmers market when they’re in town. We have several other suppliers as well.

Berrybrook Farm is located at 1257 East Blvd.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Sweet words: Charlotte Chocolate Company

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 2:21 PM


Meet chocolatier Leslie Vilhelmsen, a Chicago native who has lived in Charlotte for 26 years.  Three years ago, she left the corporate world and founded Charlotte Chocolate Company, makers of deliciously creative specialty chocolates. Vilhelmsen creates handmade chocolate treats for a variety of occasions and uses, such as corporate promotions, wedding favors, and birthday gifts.  Her passion for chocolate is evident in her products— intricate, unique, and of course, sweet.

Creative Loafing: What inspired you to become a chocolatier?

I was helping a neighbor network [her catering business] in the neighborhood … and I thought, ‘I have to step up to the plate and make something.’ I went through old recipes and I found this recipe for chocolate that I had made back in school.  When I made it for the women [in the neighborhood] they all raved about it.  It was a time in my career when I was looking for something else to do, as most women do when they hit middle ages.  I just wanted to get out of the corporate world … I wanted something different and more creative. When these women loved the chocolate I said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the universe telling me what I should do.’

What is your favorite type of chocolate?

I have not met a chocolate I didn’t like.  I like either a good milk chocolate or a really good dark chocolate — very rich, 70 percent cacao or more of dark chocolate.

Are you working on any unusual creations right now?

I have a new flavor that is a mixture of dark chocolate and ground cashews. We’ve done some market studies and people really like it.  I am trying to get that formulated to put it in a candy bar.

For more information on Charlotte Chocolate Company, please visit

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