Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Eat This

What up?

Hope you have all been enjoying these latest posts. I've been having a ball being in
touch more. Thanks as well to all of you who have been listening to and downloading my new CD. Your support makes more music, more blogs and more years in my life possible.

Thank you!

If you are into good songs, check out my friend Danny's site. He just got signed to Red House records, which is a great fit for him. Congrats Danny!

If you live in Nashville, come to The Family Wash next Tuesday night. I'll be playing at Cole Slivka's short sets. I'll be doing about 5 or 6 songs between 9 and 10.

Don't miss it!

Also, I was invited to write a piece for Local Table magazine this month. I did a piece on artisan bakers and candy makers in Nashville. An abridged version appeared in the mag, but here is the whole shebang:

"Philosophy bakes no bread."

Danish Proverb

If the old saying is true, it seems clear that the higher musings of the human mind – no matter how startling or sublime – are simply the wrong ingredients for that crusty feast that is the perfect baguette, or the savory/sweet satisfaction of a fresh-baked muffin. Toffee, tarts, bear claws, and baguettes are the kind of foods that can inspire an “amen” moment as they take to our tongues, and it is right to associate them more with prayer than with Platonic dialog.

Many a mundane muncher has been born again, bearing witness to the miracle that is a slice of fresh zucchini bread or the revelation of a perfect chunk of fudge. In Nashville, a number of artisan bakers are spreading the gospel, and preaching a faith based on handcrafted quality, and local ingredients.

Provence and Charpier's Bakery

You can't talk about artisinal bread in Nashville without talking about Provence. In fact, you can scarcely enter a grocery, cafe or restaurant in town where the bakery's delicious, handcrafted loaves and desserts aren't featured - and quickly sold out.

Opened by artisan bread baker Terry Carr-Hall in 1996, Provence isn't just a bakery. With five retail locations, a brisk catering schedule and a Willy-Wonka's-factory-like-kitchen – seemingly populated by magical beings who come and go at strange hours of the night – Provence is a local legend of sorts. Their desserts are some of the best available in town, and their sandwiches, pastas and salads match fresh ingredients, in unique combinations of hearty goodness. If such praise seems overstated, you've obviously never torn into a fresh loaf of the Tuscan bread. However, when it comes to artisan baking, Provence isn't the only game in town.

Charpier's bakery is easy to miss. Located on a dead-end street near White Bridge road, the unassuming building has no sign or any other indication that it is anything but a small office, or maybe even a residence. In fact, when you walk through the front door, you find yourself standing in a small office like any other: two desks, piles of folders, files and papers, the white, haunted eyes of a taxidermied walleye pike following you to your chair. There is absolutely nothing to signal to you that you are in a bakery – and then you smell the bread...

If you've stayed at a hotel, gone to a school, or eaten at a restaurant in Nashville, you're probably familiar with Charpier's. David Mosow established the bakery in 1986, but by the time he introduced his specialty breads, rolls, cakes and pastries to Music City, Mosow had already traveled a long, winding path in pursuit of the perfect loaf. His journey began in Greenville, Mississippi.

Mosow discovered a Greenville bakery that had closed, and inquired into buying it. The plan was to gut the place and sell off all the equipment. After getting in touch with the original owner, the plan changed. Mosow was convinced to re-open the shop under the baker's tutelage.

“He was a really unique person,” Mosow remembers. “He taught me everything about baking and the business. He always spelled flour, f-l-o-w-e-r.” David took quickly to baking and eventually worked in kitchens and hotels in New Orleans and Denver, before establishing Charpier's.

“We used to be out on highway 100,” he explains. “ When I first came to Nashville it was known as a testing ground for restaurant chains. In the last few years a lot of that has changed and you see more and more local food, with local ingredients.” Mosow regularly employs local and regional fruit, honey and pecans in the tasty treats being created in his busy kitchen, where there is always an emphasis on small batches of handcrafted goodness.

“To me, artisan means something made the old-fashioned way,” David explains. “I've been in bakeries where they speed up the process so much, it's not even bread anymore. Most of our stuff is cut and rolled by hand, especially the items that go into the hearth oven. That's what makes us different.”

Nashville Toffee Company

“To me, the phrase 'artisan foods' means a focus on quality of ingredients and technique,” explains the Nashville Toffee Company's Christina Cohn. “It means that the people making the food take a certain pride in their work. It is an 'art' to them.”

The inspiration behind Christina's art, stretches back to a childhood spent in kitchens with her grandmother and great-grandmother. On countless afternoons, these wise women initiated Cohn into that sugar-coated sisterhood that guards the secrets to making delicious candies, cakes and cookies. The recipes they shared became a bond for the three, one that – lucky for us - Christina decided to share with the her hometown when she opened the Company with her husband George in 2003.

Although the shop is known for its signature Almond Toffee, the Company offers delicious “Barks” as well, and everything is handmade, according to the recipes Christina learned as a child.

“Barks are slabs of shiny rich chocolate with the finest, fanciest grade almonds, peanuts or cashews mixed in,” explains Christina, emphasizing the Company's insistence on the best available ingredients for their candy. “It's delicious because we are absolutely dedicated to using only the finest ingredients. The nuts we use are custom-roasted for us, the chocolate we use is made by Guittard, even the salt we use in our toffee is a beautiful sea salt mined from an ancient sea bed without being processed!”

In a short time, Nashville Toffee Company has become a hit with local sweet-seekers and has recently moved to a much bigger facility.

“It's really great,” explains George. “We've done really well and we've grown.” With their ongoing success, it's clear that the Cohn's leaving their mark on the Nashville food culture for some time to come.

“Nashville's artisan food scene is well-established and growing,” enthuses Christina. “I am excited to be a part of it!”

The Wild Muffin

“Small batch baking, done by someone who really cares about ingredients, preferably made locally.” That's Julie Simpson's definition of artisan food. It's no surprise that her description sounds a lot like The Wild Muffin.

A dedicated baker since the age of seven, Simpson was munching a mediocre muffin in a local coffee shop four years ago when her bakery was born. The offending treat possessed an inspirational blandness that sent Simpson immediately home to her kitchen to build a better muffin. The next morning she took her new creation in to the owner of the previously mentioned joe joint, only to find herself shaking hands with her first customer. After they finished their muffin.

Simpson lays out her business philosophy like a two-lane street, one that supplies customers with healthy, wholesome, delicious foodstuffs, while – at the same time – supporting local, organic growers, and small family farms. Wild' makes use of Nashville produce whenever possible. “You know you are getting quality, fresh baked food and that you're supporting our local community,” she explains.

In addition to their name sake muffins, Wild' also creates a range of other munchables including: brownies, banana bread, biscotti, cookies and quiche. As with their muffins, all of these treats include organic ingredients. The quiches are made with whole wheat crust and turkey sausage.

Although Simpson dreams of opening her own retail space, her ever-growing list of contacts keeps her so busy she currently has little time to do more than manage the demands of her constantly expanding client list, and the constantly expanding appetites of their customers. “The business took off right away. We don't even look for more opportunities anymore, our clients just find us!”

Now that you've worked up an appetite, why not wash it all down with a cool glassful of rock 'n soul...


Use this slick toolbox to listen to - and purchase - my new CD at your favorite online outlet. Also click the VIDEO button to watch the short film REvolution featuring yours truly on the soundtrack.


Be gentle in your sleepy hands on this world.
Be a killer in Heaven.

Joe Nolan

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