Sous Terrain – Seven Questions with Rémy Thurston

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Rémy Thurston

Since 1971, North Carolina has been the nation’s leading producer of sweet potatoes, but in general, they’ve always been second class spuds to their more starchy and mealy brothers. Tonight (Friday, January 6), however, the sweet potato rightly takes its place in the spotlight at Free Range Brewing in Villa Heights.

Photographer Rémy Thurston makes his solo photo exhibition debut tonight from 6-8 p.m. with his sweet potato immersion, Sous Terrain. Thurston teamed up with sous chefs from several prominent Charlotte restaurants like 300 East, The Fig Tree, Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen and many more to present a photo series of sweet potato inspired dishes created specifically for the show. Intrigued by the possibilites beyond casseroles and fries, I asked Rémy a few questions about his show.

GohJo: How did you choose the sweet potato to work with?

Rémy: The sweet potato is actually integral to North Carolina agriculture. The state produces the most sweet potatoes in the country. I chose it because there’s a famous photograph of an Irish potato that sold for $1 million. It was a simple photograph, and I was inspired to recreate it in my own way.

GohJo: How did you first experience sweet potatoes?

Rémy: I think my first experience with the sweet potato was as a puree as a kid. I honestly thought it was carrots, but after questioning my dad, the chef, about it I was assured it was a sweet potato, not funny-tasting carrots. I’ve loved them since.

GohJo: You’ve got a premiere lineup of sous chefs working with you including Alex Verica from Heritage Food & Drink, Myles Scaglione from Heirloom, Andres Pico of Customshop and Larry Suggs, mixologist from The Punch Room. How did you decide upon who to work with?

Rémy: Sous chefs often run the kitchen behind the line and let the more experienced head chefs take the praise. It’s not always the case, but I’ve seen my fair share of it when I was part of the industry. I wanted to highlight their hard work in the same way the sweet potato doesn’t get all the praise I think it should as part of the state’s agriculture.

GohJo: Why sous chefs and not the folk at the top of the food chain? [GohJo note: Pun very much intended]

Rémy: The sweet potato doesn’t get any recognition until it hits the sunlight and the palate. Sous chefs are similar. You need to see and taste their work to realize what they’re capable of. This show serves to do both.

GohJo: What are some of your favorite sweet potato recipes?

Rémy: My favorite way to have sweet potatoes is pretty simple actually. I cut them up into cubes and roast them with lots of salt, cayenne, olive oil and freshly ground cumin. I like the sweet soft inside contrasting with the crusty caramelized spice crust on the outside.

GohJo: How long will your art be on the walls at Free Range Brewing?

Rémy: The art will be on the wall until January 29th!

Hit up Free Range Brewing (2320 N. Davidson St.) tonight from 6-8 p.m. where you can not only see Rémy’s work, but also get some sweet potato tamales from The Masa Casa, sweet potato fries from Terra Flora, sample some sweet potato cotton candy (!!) from Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen and sip on some sweet potato gruit from the fine folks at Free Range Brewing. Afterwards, don’t forget to head down to C3 Lab in South End for Lara Americo’s opening reception for Chrysalis – A Study in Human Life from 7-10 p.m. Sweet!

Quick Thoughts on Creative Loafing’s Best Of 2016

I had a few quick thoughts in regards to Creative Loafing’s “Best Of” issue released last week. Here they are, in no particular order or purpose:

Reader’s Pick: Best Disc Golf Course – Kilborne Park This pick may or may not be the reason why I wrote this blog. In terms of pure quality, Kilborne is far from the best disc golf course in Charlotte. Creative Loafing even wrote about how Charlotte is the mecca of disc golf back in May. I always tell people the reason that is true is because we have a higher density of championship-level 18-hole disc golf courses within an hour’s drive of Uptown than any other city in the US (and arguably the world). There may be cities with better courses, but there’s not as many. There may be cities with more courses, but they’re not as good. Courses like Renaissance Gold, R.L. Smith, Nevin and Hornet’s Nest (closed now, but will reopen in 2017) are known across the country as being destination courses.

Despite all that, I can see why the readers would choose Kilborne. It’s centrally-located, beginner friendly and has been around since 1991 making it the second-oldest CDGC-sponsored course in town. If you’re going to learn the game, Kilborne is a great place to start, but more experienced players know there are far greater treasures in the Queen City.

Reader’s Pick: Best Place to Get Back to Nature – Crowder’s Mountain I’m pretty sure everyone in Charlotte has been to the top of Crowder’s Mountain like, a zillion times. Every time I’ve gone in the past five years (even on a weekday), the place is incredibly crowded (see what I did there?). For a place to get away from it all, Crowder’s is the last place you want to go if you’ve already been there.

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If you’re still set on Crowder’s Mountain, try to find the scenic and secluded back side

Fortunately, you do have a couple other options within a 45-minute drive of Uptown. My pick is Morrow Mountain just outside of Albemarle. There are more trails (with similarly breathtaking views), a lake, campgrounds and it’s rarely as densely trafficked. Also worth a shot: King’s Mountain in Gaston County.

Reader’s Pick: Best Blog – Freckled Italian Yo, CL readers, since Megan now lives in California, how bout you do ya boy a favor next year?

Reader’s Pick: Best Podcast – Margarita Confessionals My plan is to get more people to play disc golf so that next year y’all can vote for Final Round Radio. Make no mistake, however. Lauren and Ali do an excellent job with this podcast.

Critic’s Pick: Best Movie Theater – AMC Concord Mills This shouldn’t even be allowed since it’s located in the retail hell that is Concord Mills Mall. Try the Manor Twin off Providence for a cozy atmosphere and lots of independent films (which the readers confirmed with their pick).

Reader’s Pick: Best New Night Spot – Kandy Bar Gotta wonder if voting took place before this happened. Plus, Epicenter.

Critic’s Pick: Best Place for B-Boys and B-Girls to Congregate – Breakin’ Convention Breakin’ Convention is nice, but it’s just once a year. If you checked out this event held at Knight Theater and the surrounding area, try hitting up Knocturnal every Monday night at Snug Harbor. You’ll see many of the same break dancing teams without all the polish and ads for Sprite.

Critic’s Pick: Best Place for Karaoke – Jeff’s Bucket Shop This place has the long-standing reputation as Charlotte’s only true karaoke bar, so it gets grandfathered into this award each year, but the truth is there’s far better options. Jeff’s seems like it would be cool because it’s on Montford and you have to go down a flight of stairs which gives it that speakeasy vibe. But once you get down there is where the fun ends. The bar selection is tepid at best and the room itself is incredibly small which means the god-awful singers are just that much more unbearable (I know, it’s karaoke, but this place seems to attract the very worst wannabe singers). The worst part? You gotta pay to play. If you’re not brown-nosing the DJ a little, expect to wait at least an hour to sing. Try NoDa 101, which has karaoke seven days a week or Hattie’s Thursday nights.

Reader’s Pick: Best Restaurant in NoDa – Cabo Fish Taco OK, forget disc golf. *This* is why I wrote this blog. Cabo’s… eh, not too bad, certainly not the worst, but JEEBUS, PEOPLE. Ever since Guy Fieri and his stupid blonde tips (there I go again with the blonde tips) ventured there a few years ago, the line to Cabo is out the door, spilling into Davidson and around the corner. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with having lots of business, I can’t hate on that. I just want to tell all those folk (none of whom actually live in NoDa) that you could dip out of that line and go to literally any other restaurant on the block, sit right down and have a meal that is at least as good, and most likely better than Cabo.

Dying for fish? Try Boudreaux’s, best cajun this side of Cajun Queen. Want that southwestern feel? Sabor is less expensive and way quicker. Thought they might have oysters at Cabo? Nope. Try walking across the street to Growler’s. Just wanna say ‘fuck it’ and get drunk off cheap bar food? Jack Beagle’s and Solstice won’t let you down.

In short: skip the line. It’s not worth it.

Critic’s Pick: Best Pastry Shop – Renaissance Pâtisserie So I’ve never actually been to the place CL picked as the winner here, and I’m sure it’s a fantastic spot. Really, I’m just glad that this pick didn’t go to Amélie’s. Amélie’s has been criminally overrated for some time now. I’ll really never understand why it consistently is mentioned not only as one of the best pastry shops in town, but an actual tourist destination! What in the actual fuck?!? I can only assume it’s the kitchy decorations and the 24-hour service, because it sure as hell isn’t the food (very little of which is hand-made), the prices ($2.50 per macaroon?) and the hipster-approved aloof service.

Oh you want to swing by for a coffee real quick before you go to work? Fuck you, you have to wait in line behind 20 mouth-breathers who ask what each individual flavor of every single fucking thing is in the case before flippantly deciding “Nah, I’m good”. “Would you like something from the case?” “Fucking no, I just want a damn cup of coffee!” Is it really that hard to make a second line where people like me who just want a coffee can quickly order it without having to suffer through other people’s indecision issues? It’s 2016, maybe that could be solved via… an app?

The original Amélie’s in NoDa is 24 hours. Awesome, you might think, until you try to go there after midnight on a weekend night and the line is literally stretched into the pavilion full of kids who are too young to drink, each of them repeating the commitment-phobic task of picking something from the case of crap.

Think the shiny new Amélie’s Uptown is any better? Fuck and no, it’s just bigger and closes at 6 p.m. Despite having a huge bar with two baristas and multiple point of sale stations, you still have to go by their precious pastry case, get accosted about a recently-frozen croissant you don’t want only to order from someone who could seriously care less that you’re there, and the faster you leave is the faster they can go back to writing their organic mayonnaise recipe.

Oh, let’s not also forget that ownership there has a shady past in regards to the mistreatment of their workers. How laissez faire of them.

Critic’s Pick: Best Brunch – Letty’s Trick question. Brunch in Charlotte is pretty awful in general. There’s a few highlights (Dish, Füd at Salud, etc.), but even those are pretty pedestrian compared to other cities. Plus, where is the brunch service during the weekdays? Have we no love for those who make their own hours?

Reader’s Pick: Best Steak House – Beef & Bottle 100% agree with CL readers on this one. In fact, this is where I was for my most recent birthday. Give me that hole in the wall feel over Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s any damn day.

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Me and the homies

Reader’s Pick: Best Sushi – Rusan’s Seriously. Any place that serves an “all you can eat” sushi special is suspect. All you can eat works at Golden Corral. Not at a sushi place. Unfortunately, since my go-to spot, Eight Sushi closed down, there’s really not a place I can confidently say is #1. Akahana is aight. Nikko is overpriced. K.O. is pretty solid for quick service. I’ll give this a grade of incomplete.

Reader’s Pick: Best Mexican – Three Amigo’s This is part of what’s wrong with Charlotte. Just a mile or so down the road from Three Amigo’s original location on Central is Morazan, which is about as authentic and delicious (not to mention affordable) as you can get. But since it’s in the “rough” part of town and you may actually need to know some Spanish to order, it will never make a list like this where a segment of this city’s population will avoid going out of their comfort zone at all costs.

Come to think of it, all the authentic versions of all your favorite ethnic restaurants are all on the east side. King of Spicy, La Shish Kabob, Landmark, Pho Hong, Dim Sum and Queen Sheeba are just a few of them.

Reader’s Pick: Best Brewery – Olde Mecklenburg Brewery Seriously? With all the breweries in town that are pushing the limits of craft beer to their absolute edge and y’all picked the place whose entire lineup consists of three beers that taste like an expensive version of Miller Lite?

Critic’s Pick: Best Disc Golf Shop – Another Round Disc Golf Full disclosure: this is where I record Final Round Radio along with Kevin Keith and one of the co-owners of ARDG, Kevin Burgess. All bias aside, this is definitely the place you want to go if you’re just starting out in disc golf, or you’re a seasoned pro. With five local craft beers on tap, it’s the perfect 19th hole after a round. Also, this is a bit of a trick category since ARDG is the only disc golf exclusive shop in town.

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Discs and beer on tap at Another Round Disc Golf

Reader’s Pick: Best Bicycle Shop – Uptown Cycles Since I know that people don’t show up to a damn thing in this town if there’s not beer involved, it should be pointed out that Spoke Easy in Elizabeth has a bar with craft beer on tap, much like the bicycle version of Another Round Disc Golf.

Reader’s Pick: Best Barber Shop – No Grease Y’all coudn’t have been more right on this one.

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Me and Omar, my barber of seven-plus years

Locally owned by twin brothers Damian and Jermaine Johnson, No Grease carries on the tradition of the black-owned barber shop, except with a stylish flair. The barbers (or tonsorial artists if you wanna be precise) never show up to work without dressing the part, frequently wearing the bow-ties that the Johnson brothers also sell.

I started getting my haircut at No Grease in 2009 when it was located at what is now Workman’s Friend on Central. Since then they’ve expanded to have three different locations, the flagship one being on the ground floor retail space of the Spectrum Center. I was tired of the bowl cut drones that were cutting hair at Supercuts and Sports Clips, so I gave these guys a shot. Needless to say, I haven’t turned back. The cuts are always on point (for me, a smooth fade is a necessity), and you always get great conversation and a welcoming atmosphere.

34 Years on Earth, Ten in Charlotte

Bobcats inside sales ten-year reunion, 2016

Bobcats inside sales ten-year reunion, 2016

So here I am. 34 years old to the day and also ten years to the day that I moved to Charlotte.

If you’d have asked me about my long-term plans for Charlotte, I’d say the same as I would today: I don’t have concrete plans to be here for another 10/20/30 years, but I absolutely could if I had to because Charlotte is such an awesome city, clean and progressive, and now, I even have firm roots here. I’ve done a lot of growing, a lot of progressing, while also having a few stumbles along the way, just like the city that I now call home.

But before we get into that, let’s flashback to Charlotte in May of 2006.

The Carolina Panthers were hot, having just come off a Super Bowl and an NFC Championship Game appearance in the past three seasons. They were coached by John Fox and Marty Hurney was the GM. The quarterback was Jake Delhomme, the first round pick was a RB out of Memphis named DeAngelo Williams and they also signed the decrepit corpse of WR Keyshawn Johnson. The Panthers finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

The Hornets were still known as the Bobcats back then, just two years removed from expansion status. Time Warner had not yet bought the naming rights to the arena, so it was known as “Charlotte Bobcats Arena”. The key players on the team were Raymond Felton, Sean May, Emeka Oakafor, Gerald Wallace, Brevin Knight, Primoz Brezec and the immortal Walter Hermann. The Bobcats used the third overall pick in the draft to select Adam Morrison, a guy who is today best known for crying at the end of an NCAA tournament game. Michael Jordan first bought into the Bobcats franchise that year as a minority owner, he would eventually purchase the team from then-owner Bob Johnson.

BB&T Ballpark was still in the beginnings of a years-long battle to secure the space, which was at the time, a giant undeveloped eyesore pit in the middle of uptown.

The Carolina Hurricanes won the first (and so far only) professional sports championship in North Carolina that June.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame had just been awarded to Charlotte, but was several years from construction. The US National Whitewater Center was already under construction, and opened that summer.

The light rail was still a year and a half from opening. There was no rail trail, no Little Sugar Creek Greenway in Midtown, and no statue of Captain James Jack.

Construction of the Ritz-Carlton Uptown, 2008.

Construction of the Ritz-Carlton Uptown, 2008

There was no Duke Energy Tower, VUE, Catalyst, Element, Skye, UNCC Center City, Romare Bearden park, Mint Museum Uptown or Bechtler Museum. The Epicenter was under construction, but shady real estate deals and the 2008 recession would dramatically alter it’s course. Dixie’s Tavern (now the future site of Google Fiber) in the prime of it’s Jager-Bomb slinging, Def Leppard screaming life.

Wachovia was still headquartered here before they got bought out by Wells Fargo in 2008. The PGA tournament was still called the Wachovia Championship. Tiger Woods was the absolute undisputed greatest athlete on earth.

The only breweries in town were Carolina Brewery and Rock Bottom. Then-Governor Mike Easley had just signed into law the Pop-the-Cap legislation, which raised the ABV for beer brewed in state from a paltry 6% to a much more brewer-friendly 15%. It would be three years before Olde Mecklenburg Brewery really established itself as Charlotte’s first true craft brewery. The closest thing you could get to craft beer in most stores? Belle’s Oberon.

There was no Kindred. No Passion 8. No Custom Shop. No Midwood Smokehouse, no Earl’s Grocery, no Pure Pizza, no Sabor, no Chima, no Five Church or Nan & Byron’s, no Dandelion Market, no Soul Gastrolounge, no Cowfish, no Halcyon, no Mayobird, no Block & Grinder, no Pinky’s, no Bistro La Bon, no Bad Daddy’s, no Luna’s, no Futo Buta, no Heirloom, no Fahrenheit, no Queen City Q and exactly zero of the food trucks and mobile food options we enjoy today. The Penguin in Plaza Midwood was still in the tail end of its prime, however.

Montford (where I lived back then) was certainly not the Montford of today. You still had Angry Ale’s, but no Roasting Co., Brazwell’s, Good Food on Montford, Duckworth’s and Park Ten Lanes was still a serious renovation away from becoming an acceptable place to hang out.

NoDa (where I live now), was not NoDa back then. There was no Heist, no Jack Beagle’s (and no “Als Ich Chan” mural), no Growler’s. no Crepe Cellar, no Revolution Pizza, no Blind Pig and no Chop Shop (just like today). There was a pre-Guy Fieri Cabo Fish Taco, and Salvador Deli however.

Smoking was still allowed indoors.

There were only five CDGC-sponsored disc golf courses. Now there are 18.

Independence Boulevard was a mess of abandoned strip mall spaces and shuttered doors, a true eye-sore along such a prominent stretch of road. Oh wait…

Eastland Mall was still standing and in operation, however very much removed from its glory days.

Patrick Cannon was a four-year city council member. Jennifer Roberts was on the Mecklenburg County of Board of Commissioners. Pat McCrory… was mayor.

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Senator Obama stumping in uptown Charlotte, 2008

May 13, 2006 – I woke up with an unreal hangover in Athens, Ohio, where I had spent the previous night hanging out with my college roommate who was in grad school at Ohio University. Athens was a good checkpoint in my move to Charlotte, as it’s just a six-hour shot straight down I77. Despite my lingering intoxication, I set out just after lunchtime, for the second leg of a trip that would take me to just the second city in which I’ve ever lived.

The ride south on I77 is actually very scenic. Almost the entire drive is through the robust, rolling hills of the two Virginias. Southern Indiana had a few small hills, but these were seemingly infinite stretches of deep undulations that felt like something out of a movie or postcard.

As I got into the general Charlotte area, probably somewhere south of Huntersville, I realized I hadn’t printed out any directions to get to my new apartment. Back in 2006, maps and directions on phones were technically possible, but not really functional in the way we know them today. Because I had just spent the last six hours on the road, I called my friend back in Athens, had him Google my address and describe over the phone how to get to my apartment.

The first apartment complex I lived in was 1420 Magnolia, a nice but anonymous complex just off of Park and Woodlawn. It was getting dark by the time I finally found where I was and pulled into the parking garage. This would be the first (and last) giant apartment complex I would have ever lived in, and it didn’t seem particularly welcoming. The hallways are dark and cavernous, the doors are made of steel and my unit was completely unfurnished, meaning the only things I had to fill it with were the things I brought in my Jeep.

I didn’t rent a U-Haul (which both then and now seems insanely expensive), so the main things I had to my name upon my first night in Charlotte were a mattress (yes, I was that dude who strapped a mattress to his luggage rack), my clothes, a few small storage units with random shit, and my Dell desktop PC (I didn’t have internet hooked up yet, so it was basically just a stereo playing the music on the hard drive).

My roommate wouldn’t move in until the next day. There was no Yelp!, so I couldn’t figure out what bar was close by. I couldn’t call anyone who could tell me. I literally didn’t know one other person in the city. I called my mom to let her know I got there and that was nice.

It was this unescapable feeling of loneliness that was how I celebrated my 24th birthday.

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A detour in the Smokey Mountains, 2006

Fortunately, that feeling wouldn’t last. My roommate moved in the next morning, and we’re still close friends to this day. A week later, I would start my job at the Charlotte Bobcats, which had a built in team of young people like me who were all new to the city too and just wanted to have a good time.

Fast forward a decade later and I feel pretty lucky to have grown and evolved in step with a young, dynamic city. I now have a deep set of roots and a diverse circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I can actually navigate my way through the majority of this city without the help of navigation. I’ve also starting following the Hornets and Panthers as much as the Pacers and Colts (but not more).

I still don’t know if I’ll be in Charlotte for another 10/20/30 years, but this city is awesome enough that if that were the case, I wouldn’t be mad about it. Charlotte is a great city that’s only getting better. Today I’m celebrating myself, but I’m also celebrating my city, and all the ups and downs we’ve shared over the past decade.

The original Bobcats inside sales team, 2007

The original Bobcats inside sales team, 2007