Acclaimed chef regales fans at ‘Eat and Greet’
(pictured above: Pat Neely chats with fans last Thursday morning at Sweet Potatoes.)
Early last Thursday morning, Sweet Potatoes was filled with the smell of home cooking, the sound of forks scraping plates and laughter, as several dozen lucky patrons listened to television personality and chef Pat Neely describe the memories behind some of his favorite dishes.
The downtown restaurant and the nonprofit literacy promotion organization Bookmarks hosted the “Eat and Greet,” where fans – or friends, as Neely calls them – got a chance to chat with the chef and enjoy a breakfast menu compiled of recipes from “Back Home with The Neelys: Comfort Food from Our Southern Kitchen to Yours,” a cookbook penned by Neely and his wife, Gina.
“Friends are going to get somewhat of the same down home flair of good southern, savory comfort food, but they are also going to get some incredible stories about the history of Pat and Gina when they were first introduced to the kitchen,” Neely promised.
The Neelys book includes classic recipes that have been passed down through generations, including strawberry jam, crunchy fried okra, Brunswick stew, chocolate cake and skillet cornbread.
The Sweet Potatoes staff used the book to make the food for the breakfast event – a fundraiser for Bookmarks.
“It is always good to meet other people who do what we do and do it well – successfully,” said Sweet Potatoes co-owner Vivian Joiner. “He seems like a really nice guy, down to earth and most importantly he enjoys food. It is a real treat to have him come in.”
The Neelys host a popular show on The Food Network, “Down Home with the Neelys,” and have released several other cookbooks, including “Down Home with the Neelys: A Southern Family Cookbook” and “The Neelys’ Celebration Cookbook: Down Home Meals for Every Occasion.” The couple recently opened their first restaurant in Manhattan.
Miguel Langford, a frequent Sweet Potatoes diner, said he came across the event online and researched Neely.
“He brought me back home,” Langford said of Nelly’s recipes. “I was raised by my grandmother, and once I saw the title ‘Down Home,’ that was all I needed to hear. I really enjoyed myself and it is a good feeling to think about my grandmother and this food.”
Neely has recently signed with North Carolina-based Family Dollar to help the company launch a line of quality food products. He said he doesn’t know exactly what else the future holds for him and Gina, but is sure it will be food-related.
“This industry is always changing, so you have no idea where you are going to be,” he said. “I do know that I want to be encouraging to others and bring something that is fun, exciting, knowledgeable, supportive and creative to the audience. We are going to continue to work hard, be positive role models, be encouraging and supportive, hopefully opening doors for others.”
The day before the breakfast, Neely was the subject of a public Q&A at the Arts Council Theatre. Also last Thursday, he signed copies of the new book during the Twin City Rib Fest. Proceeds from his appearances will help Bookmarks hold its annual Festival of Books and other local programs.
“It is wonderful to have him here. It is exciting for us for a lot of reasons because we are so interested in connecting authors with readers,” said Ginger Hendricks, executive director at Bookmarks. “That is our mission. It is wonderful for us to bring someone, first, of his stature, but someone who can show how literature and writing is related to culinary arts.”