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The Interview: Chef Amy Eubanks

The Interview: Chef Amy Eubanks



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Amy Eubanks has quietly been turning out some of New York’s finest seafood dishes since taking the helm at BLT Fish and BLT Fish Shack in New York’s Gramercy neighborhood in 2010. She got her start as garde manger at Café Boulud, where she became the first female in the history of the restaurant to work the protein station, then went over to be the lead cook at BLT Steak until BLT Fish opened in 2005. She started there as sous chef, then chef de cuisine, then finally executive chef.

Click Here for Chef Eubanks' Recipe for Grilled Oysters with Chermoula and Ramps

Eubanks shows a deft hand with her preparation of the menu items, which vary from delicate hamachi crudo with golden beets, avocado, and grapefruit to a punchy seared escolar with blood orange, parsnip, and pistachio to greenmarket-sourced sides like wild mushrooms with pearl onions and crème fraîche and caramelized cauliflower semi-dried tomato pesto and basil. Her knowledge of which flavors pair best with different varieties of fish is encyclopedic, and every plate at her restaurant opens doors that even the most ardent seafood lovers might not have known existed.

Eubank’s love of marine life and local seafood doesn’t end at her kitchen, either; when not in the kitchen, she can be found sailing the Manhattan harbor.

The Daily Meal: What was your first restaurant industry job?
Amy Eubanks: La Fourchette with chef Marc Murphy. It was his first executive chef position in New York. Beautiful restaurant and amazing introduction to the industry.

When you first walk into a restaurant, what do you look for as signs that it´s well-run, will be a good experience, etc.?
Obviously the host or hostess is the first sign. Do they look like they are happy to see you or are they sizing you up? I try to get a peek at the kitchen and see if it looks clean. If they serve bread, is the bread warm? If it comes with butter, is the butter soft? If they serve tortilla chips, are they made in-house?

Otherwise, I usually walk in with the assumption that my meal will be pleasant and I try not to let my involvement in the industry corrupt my experience!

Is there anything you absolutely hate cooking?
I hate chopping rosemary! As for cooking, I guess tripe. It has a terrible smell the first three times it is blanched.

If one chef from history could prepare one dish for you, who would it be and what would the dish be?
Andrew Carmellini's Uovo with White Truffles. I had it about 10 years ago and I want to have it again!

What do you consider to be your biggest success as a chef?
All of the cooks who have gone on to have success in other restaurants, especially the ones who started at BLT Fish straight out of school.

What do you consider to be your biggest failure as a chef?
I never volunteer my weaknesses. Let people figure that out for themselves!

What is the most transcendental dining experience you´ve ever had?
Le Cerf in Marlenheim, France. My friend worked there and I went to trail. The chef invited me to sit in the garden and sent a tasting menu. It was a beautiful fall day in Alsace and the food was sublime. There was a pasta dish using the broth from their Choucroute garnie and mushrooms from the local forager who had just picked them that morning. It was one of the best moments and meals of my life.

Are there any foods you will never eat?
Brains.

Is there a story that, in your opinion, sums up how interesting the restaurant industry can be?
The other day a cook did not show up for work. The next day he called to tell me he wasn't able to call out because he was in jail. I was so happy that he had a good excuse and wasn't a "no call no show." I turned to the chef de cuisine and said only in this industry is a night in jail a perfectly legitimate reason for missing work.


The Strawberry: A Multiple Fruit

When we think of fruits and vegetables, we're pretty sure about which is which. We tend to lump sweet or sour-tasting plants together as fruits, and those plants that are not sugary we consider vegetables. To be more accurate, however, we must consider which part of the plant we are eating. While vegetables are defined as plants cultivated for their edible parts, the botanical term "fruit" is more specific. It is a mature, thickened ovary or ovaries of a seed-bearing plant, together with accessory parts such as fleshy layers of tissue or "pulp." Thus, many of the foods we think of casually as fruits, such as rhubarb (of which we eat the leaf stalks), are not fruits at all, and many of our favorite "vegetables" actually fit the definition of fruit, such as the tomato.

As a subcategory of fruits, berries are yet another story. A berry is an indehiscent (not splitting apart at maturity) fruit derived from a single ovary and having the whole wall fleshy. Berries are not all tiny, and they're not all sweet. Surprisingly, eggplants, tomatoes and avocados are botanically classified as berries. And the popular strawberry is not a berry at all.

Botanists call the strawberry a "false fruit," a pseudocarp. A strawberry is actually a multiple fruit which consists of many tiny individual fruits embedded in a fleshy receptacle. The brownish or whitish specks, which are commonly considered seeds, are the true fruits, called achenes, and each of them surrounds a tiny seed.

These achenes also make strawberries relatively high in fiber. According to the Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition, one-half cup of strawberries supplies more fiber than a slice of whole wheat bread, and more than 70 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.

The cultivated strawberry is a hybrid of two different parent species. Because they are hybrids, cultivated strawberries are often able to adapt to extreme weather conditions and environments. While California and Florida are the largest producers, strawberries are grown in all 50 states.

Strawberries are a significant crop in Pennsylvania, but they have a relatively short season. According to Carolyn Beinlich of Triple B Farms, a local pick-your-own berry farm in Monongahela, Pennsylvania's ideal strawberry season lasts three and one-half weeks. The plants form their fruit buds in the fall, so adequate moisture at that time is vital. Since October 1996 was a rainy month, Beinlich is looking forward to a bountiful strawberry crop this season.

The recipe shown here is among Beinlich's favorites for celebrating the strawberry season. For more information about Triple B Farms, call 258-3557.

Lynn Parrucci is program coordinator, and Amy Eubanks is a research assistant, at the Science Center's Kitchen Theater. Botanist Sue Thompson of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, also contributed to this article.

Visit the Kitchen Theater at Carnegie Science Center to learn more about the science of cooking, and get a taste of what we're cooking and a recipe to take home. For a schedule of daily cooking shows, check the schedule board in the Science Center lobby on the day of your visit, or call 237-3400. Be sure to ask if there is a guest chef appearing. The Kitchen Theater at Carnegie Science Center is sponsored by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. n
Easy Strawberry Pie

1 quart strawberries, washed and drained well, stems removed

11_2 Tablespoons cornstarch

1 3-ounce package strawberry gelatin

Boil sugar, cornstarch and water until clear (about 10 minutes). Mix well with strawberries and spoon into pie shell. Refrigerate three hours. Top with whipped cream if desired, and serve.


Gluten-Free Seeded Rice Bread From Amy Chaplin's Gorgeous New Cookbook

Raised in rural New South Wales, Australia on a local, whole food diet, Amy Chaplin has always been passionate about building dishes around nutrient-dense ingredients and relying on recipes that can easily be adapted to each season. The world-class plant-based chef and cookbook author has just released a new cookbook that every healthy foodie needs to get their hands on stat.

If you struggle to make cooking at home a ritual, Whole Food Cooking Every Day is the only inspiration you’ll need to build the habit. In 20 chapters, Amy shares pantry-stocking tips, cooking techniques, and insanely beautiful nutrient-dense recipes that are sure to become classics in your home.

One recipe we’re loving from Whole Food Cooking Every Day is this fiber and healthy fat-packed seed loaf. It’s perfect for anyone living that gluten-free life, or simply looking for delicious ways to upgrade their daily diet. Get inspired by our interview with Amy here, pick up a copy of her new book, and get cooking with amazing recipes like this one…

Seeded Rice Bread
Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients:

1½ cups short-grain brown rice, soaked overnight in 4 cups filtered water
½ cup raw unhulled sesame, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, soaked overnight with the rice (see above)
1 cup filtered water
1 cup rolled oats
2 Tbsp psyllium husks
1 Tbsp aluminum-free baking powder
3 Tbsp extra-virgin coconut or olive oil
1 tsp fine sea salt
raw black sesame, sunflower or pumpkin seeds for sprinkling over loaf

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 41⁄2 x 81⁄2-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving at least a 1-inch overhang on each long side. Set aside. Pour the soaked rice and seeds into a large strainer and rinse well under cold running water. Place the strainer over a bowl and set aside to drain thoroughly.

Transfer the drained rice and seeds to a food processor, add the 1 cup water, oats, psyllium husks, baking powder, oil and salt, and process until well combined and the grains have broken down but the mixture still has some texture. Scrape the sides and process again. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, making sure to spread it into the corners. Sprinkle the top with the raw seeds and bake for 40 minutes.

Rotate the pan and bake for another 40 minutes, or until the edges of the bread are golden and have pulled away from the sides of the pan. Use the parchment paper overhang to lift the loaf out of the pan and onto a wire rack to cool. Be sure to cool the bread completely before slicing, or it will still be sticky inside. On the day it is baked, this bread has a very hard crust, but it softens after a day. Store the loaf in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to 3 days or in the fridge for 1 week. You can freeze the sliced bread in an airtight container for up to 3 months. The bread is best eaten lightly toasted.

Excerpted from Whole Food Cooking Every Day by Amy Chaplin (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019.

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Slimy Sleuth : Entomologist Uses Insects to Help Solve Baffling Murders

The scribbled telephone message was brief, but it spoke volumes to San Diego insect expert David Faulkner.

“Murder,” it said, listing a Ventura County criminal investigator as the caller. “Has larvae preserved. Would like to talk to you about looking at them.”

Within days, Faulkner was investigating the murder of 34-year-old Jean Ellen Eubanks, an unemployed construction worker found dead under a pile of rocks north of Ojai. The coroner already had examined her body Faulkner focused instead on the insects it had attracted.

From the ages and types of larvae he examined, Faulkner established that Eubanks had been killed three weeks before her body was found--a date for which the prime suspect had no alibi. And in March, after a jury had heard testimony from Faulkner and others, the investigator called and left another message.

“Got a guilty verdict,” it said.

Faulkner, 41, the chairman of the San Diego Natural History Museum’s entomology department, is among only 20 scientists in the country--and just a few in the state--who specialize in this kind of slimy sleuthing.

The job is not for the squeamish. Faulkner is rarely consulted unless a murder victim has been dead long enough to start decomposing. But Faulkner is virtually unflappable when it comes to arthropods. After all, his colleagues note, this is a man who gets maggots in the mail.

“People cringe” when they first hear what his work is, he said recently. But Faulkner, who has been known to describe larval specimens as “neat,” is philosophical. “Once the soul has left the body, really, it’s just bug food.”

Until a decade ago, Faulkner’s field, known as “forensic entomology,” was virtually unknown in the United States. But today, experts in insect identification are increasingly being called upon to help criminologists interpret these tiny, living clues.

The field, still somewhat obscure, owes its growing notoriety to a simple fact: Insects are usually the first at the murder scene.

“Before the police get there, there’s the blowfly,” Said Dr. Bernard Greenberg, a professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the nation’s pioneering forensic entomologists. “They’re the most precise forensic indicators. They have an uncanny olfactory sense. And of course, this is the way they make their living.”

After these natural undertakers lay eggs, the developmental stages that ensue are so predictable that a trained entomologist can use them to pinpoint the time--and often the place--of death.

“But,” Greenberg added, “he’s got to know his bugs, backward and forward.”

By all accounts, Faulkner knows his bugs.

Since childhood, when he first visited the museum where he now works and experienced the thrill of letting a tarantula crawl up his arm, Faulkner has been enthralled by the jointed legs, the segmented bodies and the exoskeletons of insects. He majored in biology at UC Santa Barbara, got a master’s degree in taxonomy, the classification of insects, from Cal State Long Beach, and in 1975 was hired as the San Diego museum’s top bug man.

His detective skills can be applied to other cases as well.

Want to know where that big marijuana shipment originated? Want to identify whether an East Coast or West Coast storage company is liable for moth damage on a valuable Persian rug? Or to estimate how long termites have infested a newly purchased home? In cases like these, bug experts are providing the answers.

It wasn’t until the early 1980s, though, when National University invited him to lecture about the legal applications of entomology, that Faulkner first considered the crime-solving uses of his field. The literature on the subject was limited, and at first he admits he had to look up the word “forensic” in the dictionary.

But soon, Faulkner was onto his first case. He was hired by attorneys for Bernard Lee Hamilton, accused of murdering and decapitating a Mesa College coed, to help determine a time of death.

Faulkner, who has since been hired by defense lawyers and prosecutors to assist in 30 homicide cases from Texas to Oregon, looks back today on the case as a reminder that an entomologist’s conclusions are only as good as his evidence. The victim’s body had long since been buried, so Faulkner was working with a coroner’s report that made no mention of fly eggs on the body. But if the body had been outdoors for as long as prosecutors claimed, Faulkner speculated, there would have been significant insect activity.

To test that hunch, he placed a headless rabbit atop the same rock where the young woman’s body was found. Hamilton’s lawyers argued that Faulkner’s rabbit test--which attracted several species of flies--suggested that the young woman’s body must have been dumped later, when their client was nowhere near the area.

In retrospect, Faulkner says he now believes insects were probably present on the body, but escaped the attention of the coroner. Evidently the jury thought much the same thing: Hamilton was sent to Death Row.

He was hooked. Fascinated by how insects could solve mysteries, he began to keep a file of daily weather reports temperature has a direct impact on the rate of decay, and the clippings come in handy in researching a new case. And he kept his ears open for other tales of six-legged gumshoes.

He soon found that maggots aren’t the only bugs to solve crimes. There was the Florida murder suspect, whose presence at the crime scene was suggested by the preponderance of love bugs splattered in the grill of his car.

Closer to home, the chigger case remains a standing favorite.

In 1982, after the body of a 24-year-old woman was found in a Ventura County canyon, investigators at the crime scene were stricken with itchy, red welts. They called in entomologist James Webb, who identified the culprit: a tiny mite known as the chigger, so rare in California that it was confined to within a half-mile of where the body was dumped.

Later, when the prime suspect was caught, he said he had been nowhere near the murder site. But he too had chigger bites. In large part because of Webb’s testimony, the man was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.


On The Art Of Eating Well: In The Kitchen with Chef Amy Chaplin

Vegan and vegetarian cooking is certainly more creative than it used to be, but too often, it lacks one key ingredient: soul. This, however, is something Amy Chaplin has an abundance of. The vegetarian chef and cookbook author‘s approach to food is directly inspired by nature and proves that cooking with whole food ingredients can result in cozy and elegant meals that aren’t just for health nerds.

Amy has worked as a vegetarian chef in major cities around the globe for over 20 years. She’s the former executive chef of the celebrated East Village vegan restaurant, Angelica Kitchen, and a private chef whose clients include Natalie Portman and Liv Tyler. Her first book, At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, won an IACP and James Beard award (grab a breakfast recipe we love form it here). Her latest cookbook, Whole Food Cooking Every Day, is a bonafide whole food bible that shows how simple and beautiful plant-based cooking can be.

Amy Chaplin encourages her readers to embrace the values her work embodies: to seek out local ingredients, prep ahead of time, cook at home and, most importantly, fall in love with the process of nourishing your body from the inside out. To celebrate the launch of her latest cookbook, which we’re literally never putting down, we asked Amy to join our In The Kitchen series and dish out her best shopping tips, essential ingredients, and favorite seasonal recipe…

Always in my fridge: Miso, mustard, umeboshi paste, different types of sauerkraut, nut butter, citrus, a variety of vegetables and ginger.

7 recipe staples always on hand: Beans/lentils, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, tamari, apple cider vinegar, sea salt and nut butter/tahini.

Best food memory: Eating a zucchini tart—with zucchini from my mother’s garden, eggs from her chickens and the crust was from my favorite cookbook—sitting by the river where I grew up. We decided to crack a bottle of French champagne my mother had saved from the 80s. My sister stepped on the tart, and we laughed uncontrollably.

Midnight snack perfection: Actually not much of a night snacker, but if I did I’d crush some fresh raspberries and stir them into Anita’s coconut yogurt.

Food you love to eat with zero prep/additions: Mass Organic’s toasted almond butter.

munchies always on hand: Medjool dates and toasted nuts/nut butter.

Favorite condiments: Umeboshi vinegar, tamari, toasted seeds and scallions.

Go-to clean proteins: Tempeh, tofu, eggs, nuts and seeds.

Best bargain tip: Bulk buying and shopping late at the farmer’s market.

Best label-reading tip: Read ingredients lists. Pay attention to how many ingredients are listed and what’s at the top.

Favorite veggie + what you make with it: Kabocha squash, cut in wedges and steam really well, sprinkle with tamari and olive oil.

Craziest thing I buy at the market: Meredeth Dairy marinated sheep and goat cheese from Australia.

Favorite splurge: Anita’s coconut yogurt

The ideal dinner setting: Outside, balmy, early evening at the beach or in the country.

Signature entertaining detail: Bee’s wax candles, flowers and homemade GF crackers from my new book.

Simple go-to recipe: Instant miso soup (recipe is in my new book): Heaping tablespoon of unpasteurized miso in a mug, fill with boiling water, add scallions and grated fresh ginger.

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The Gay Case

How two men hanging out in an apartment complex on the outskirts of Houston got arrested, fought back, and made constitutional history.

Several things made the scene in the U.S. Supreme Court building on June 26, 2003, unusual. First, the court, by a solid 6 to 3 majority, had just overturned a decision issued only seventeen years earlier. Second, many of the lawyers assembled in the room, some of them former court clerks, openly wept, in a venue where expressions of emotion are usually held in check. And, oh yes, for the first time ever, the highest judicial body in the land had declared that Americans have a constitutional right to engage in what was genteelly referred to as “homosexual conduct.”

In the years since, the case decided that day, Lawrence v. Texas, has joined Brown v. Board of Education and, more controversially, Roe v. Wade in a long line of landmark decisions extending the Constitution’s protection of civil liberties. One of Dale Carpenter’s achievements in Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas (Norton, $29.95) is to examine how such decisions arise. Brown, for instance, featured a well-chosen plaintiff who was represented by skilled lawyers committed to a tactically precise litigation campaign. Roe, on the other hand, was an almost accidental case that occasioned the young and inexperienced Sarah Weddington’s first trip to the Supreme Court. Lawrence is an interesting combination of these two models.

As Carpenter laconically writes, “The background facts in Lawrence v. Texas do not make for an easily packaged story with idealized characters.” In fact, the case’s development was so haphazard that the story almost reads like a comedy of errors. On September 17, 1998 (Constitution Day, for what that’s worth), John Lawrence was hanging out in his apartment east of the Houston city limits, drinking with his friend Robert Eubanks and Eubanks’s boyfriend, Tyron Garner. All three men were gay, but none could be described as an activist. Lawrence, 55 years old at the time, was a medical technician with a history of drunk-driving arrests. Eubanks was a sporadically employed heavy drinker. Garner was unemployed, with no fixed residence.

That evening a drunk Eubanks became angry at Lawrence and Garner and walked out the door. He then called the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, falsely claiming that a black man with a gun (Garner was black) was acting in a threatening manner in Lawrence’s apartment. Four sheriff’s deputies showed up, entered the residence, and, according to their report, discovered Lawrence and Garner engaging in a sexual act that violated Texas’s homosexual conduct law and arrested them.

Normally such a case would have wended its way through the local judicial system and been quietly resolved. But Lane Lewis, a bartender at a Houston gay bar, heard about the arrest—from a closeted sergeant in the sheriff’s office who was a frequent customer—and encouraged Lawrence to contact a sympathetic lawyer. Though the arrest was an embarrassment for both men, it was an answer to the prayers of organizations fighting for gay rights. While complaints about harassment of gays were common, arrests for committing sodomy within one’s own home were virtually unheard of. Unsurprisingly, several attorneys proved eager to argue the case.

There was a problem, however. According to Carpenter, the alleged sexual encounter between Lawrence and Garner never took place. The two Harris County deputies who claimed they observed the men having sex differed in their recollections of what they saw one said anal sex, the other oral—a major point of confusion. What’s more, in a 2011 interview with Carpenter, Lawrence explicitly denied that he and Garner were having sex. And so their first act as “gay activists” was to plead no contest instead of not guilty, in order to create a constitutional test case.

Once the case made it to the Harris County Criminal Court, defense counsel found what it regarded as an unlikely ally: the chief prosecutor, Angela Jewel Beavers, was a lesbian who recognized the importance of the case. The book is full of such appearances by closeted members of the Houston legal and police communities, many of whom did what they could to help the cause.


*******************Copyright 2011 17th St. Bar &amp Grill********************Any publication, reproduction or commercial use of the photograph without expressed written consent of 17th St. Bar &amp Grill is strictly prohibited. (17th Street Barbecue)

Mike Mills is "The Legend" – a four-time World Champion and three-time Grand World Champion of Memphis in May, Grand Champion of the Jack Daniel's World Invitational Barbecue Cooking Contest, a Barbecue Hall of Fame inductee and the recipient of a host of other accolades. Amy Mills, Mike’s daughter, is a respected barbecue industry professional in her own right with her consulting company, OnCue Consulting. Together, the Millses co-authored the James Beard Award-nominated book Peace, Love and Barbecue: Recipes, Secrets, Tall Tales, and Outright Lies. Their 17th Street Barbecue restaurants are local favorites and must-visit Illinois eateries.


Style Profile: Tessa Foley, Nine and Sixteen

It is such fun meeting kindred spirits in the design world, and that is exactly how I felt when I found Tessa Foley of Nine and Sixteen thanks to Instagram! In addition to sharing a passion for interior design, chintz, and English antiques, we both left 10+ year careers in marketing before starting our blogs, and we were both obsessed with Laura Ashley as teenagers in the 1990s. Such fun! Tessa lives with her husband and two sons in a small and charming 1920s Midwestern village. In addition to blogging about classic, cozy New England style via her blog, Nine and Sixteen, she also offers design consultations and e-design. Today, I am delighted to welcome Tessa for a Q&A and a look inside her home and portfolio… Welcome, Tessa!

Q: Please tell me how your blog began and how it has evolved over the years.

A: My blog began as a creative outlet shortly after I left my corporate job in brand management to stay home with my second child. During my baby’s nap time, I discovered design and mom bloggers and after reading them for a year or so I decided to create my own. It started as a journal about small town living, sharing snippets of family life, decorating projects, and favorite recipes. That was about 8 years ago, before pinterest and instagram, and a lot of the social engagement that happens through instagram now used to happen in the comment sections on blogs. I met so many like minded and creative women and developed friendships that are near and dear to me today. Over time, my blog became more interior design focused, so when my youngest started kindergarten, I decided to extend the blog into a small interior design business by offering design consults. It was a natural evolution of Nine and Sixteen, still allowing me to creatively pursue my love of beautiful homes with others but in a way that was more personalized and tangible than a blog post.

Q: When did your passion for interior design begin?

A: My passion for interior design started young. I fell in love with my aunt’s home and with my grandparent’s apartment, both filled with beautiful English oak antiques and layers of gorgeous chintz fabrics. They both had a gift for creating welcoming, cozy, and beautiful spaces. My Nana was British and she traveled back to London from Belgium with my aunt to buy her wallpapers and textiles. I wish I had photos of their homes to share because they were timeless. I can still recall each pattern of fabric and paper with such clarity and fondness. The thoughtfulness and care they took to create cozy and beautiful rooms made a lasting impression on my own style. Also, both were exceptional cooks and gracious entertainers which is such a big part of what makes a house a home to me, It’s as much about how a home feels as it is how it looks. As a teenager I was obsessed with the Laura Ashley catalogues of the early 90s. I even used them as inspiration when we decorated our first home. It baffles me that I didn’t study interior design in college, but I didn’t grow up around designers and I don’t think I realized it could be a career till much later in life.

Q: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

A: I always feel like I should have a much more succinct and polished answer to this question. The former Brand Manager in me is shaking her head. Haha. My inspiration comes from charming, classic, coastal New England homes mixed with the coziness of English country style. I like pretty rooms that don’t feel fussy, timeless spaces that feel fresh, and nothing that is too trendy. I like a home to feel it has evolved effortlessly over time.


Q: What designers – past and present – most inspire you?

A: I am inspired by so many designers that it is tough to narrow down a list. Those that I turn to time after time are Gil Schafer, Tom Scheerer, Sister Parish, Mark Sikes, Patrick Ahearn, Cathy Kincaid, Bunny Williams and Jackye Lanham. I also look to vintage Martha Stewart and Ina Garten for style and design inspiration because they are masters at creating inviting spaces where guests feel welcome which is such an important element in any well designed home.

Q: Please tell me more about your decorating consulting business.

A: About 4 years ago, after much persuading from friends and blog readers, I decided to dip my toes into the e-design world by offering design consults as an extension of my blog. Creating a beautiful and welcoming home is truly my favorite passion and being able to help others do the same is such a rewarding experience. The majority of my business is with out of town clients who send me photos, videos and floorplans of their homes from which I create a design plan for them to implement. While I do a lot of the product ordering, it is up to the client to hire contractors and installers to finish the rooms. I do take on a few local projects each year, where I offer more traditional, full service design. Clients that seek my help share a similar style aesthetic to mine and are usually pretty design savvy to begin with but are looking for someone to help bring it all together. Decorating your own home is tough, we all over analyze our decisions. Having my help to create a design road map, navigate choices and offer a fresh perspective can make the decorating process so much more fun. I have clients from CA to MA and everywhere in between, some that I’ve worked with one room at a time, over a couple years, and it is one of the most rewarding experiences to see these homes come together. It is an honor to be trusted to create spaces that enrich families lives, so I work hard to treat each project with the same care I would give if it were my home.


Q: You are also an amazing chef! What is your favorite busy weeknight dinner?

A: Thank you. I do love to cook! And eat! I had a subscription to Bon Appetit in high school, pretty sure that’s not normal. My favorite weeknight meal varies depending on the season. In the spring, I would have to say salmon with avocado and lime relish. My favorite way to prepare salmon is to rub it with olive oil and a generous squeeze of lime and then pop it in the oven at 400 for about 14 minutes. While it cooks I dice one avocado + a bunch of chives + toss them with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 TBS of fresh lime juice + salt and pepper for a little relish to top on the salmon when it is finished cooking. It is so delish! My husband requests it every year as his birthday dinner and it takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish to make. I typically serve it with roasted asparagus and orzo.

Q: What tips can you share for creating beautiful tablescapes?

A: Setting a pretty table is one of my favorite parts about entertaining! I usually set it up a day before the party so flowers have a chance to open and I get time to play around with different ideas. I usually don’t know exactly how I will set the table until I get started. I do have a few tips… only fresh flowers. No exceptions. I don’t have lots of “rules” when it comes to decorating, but this is definitely one of them. Even if you have the very best faux looking plants, when it comes to a table where you are eating fresh, homemade food, the flowers should be fresh too. Also, centerpieces should be low enough that you can see all the people around the table. Sometimes I will create something a bit more dramatic in height, but when we sit down I move that to another location before we begin eating. Use lots of layers and textures, just like when decorating a room. Don’t match tablecloth and napkins, rather use different patterns, or even pretty dish towels in place of napkins. Layer a burlap runner over a linen tablecloth, pair a simple striped napkin with a floral blockprint tablecloth, use rattan chargers under china, mix different metals, etc. And if you have a longer table, I love using a “runner” of smaller flower arrangements in different vessels. Sometimes I will do a collection of pewter pitchers and cups as vases, other times white ironstone, or a collection of blue and white jars. I also like to scour antique malls for pretty china in salad or dessert sized plates to layer over my current plates. You can often find sets of 4-6 plates for very little money and laying those on top of your other china creates a completely new setting. Just have fun with it! Setting a pretty table makes guests feel welcome and the occasion special.

Q: Do you have any favorite collections or treasures?

A: Yes. There are a number of things I collect: blue and white pottery which I have in almost every room in our home, white ironstone which fills our kitchen shelves, pewter because it is my Mum’s favorite and she got me started, books because no home can have too many and gorgeous fabrics which I have never been able to resist. I love collections of black and white family photos too. I also have a collection of antique landscape oil paintings, many which have been gifts that mark anniversaries or birthdays that I treasure.

Q: When you aren’t busy designing, how do you enjoy spending your time?

A: Well, right now we have a new puppy so every extra minute is spent cuddling (or house breaking) him. We love traveling to New England in the summer and usually a couple other times each year. Nantucket is our family’s favorite vacation destination. I’m also a pretty avid reader and love nothing more than to pass away a gray, chilly day with a good book and ample cups of tea.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: Thank you so much, Andrea, for sharing a little about me and our home. I’m so grateful for the ways blogging and Instagram continue to bring together people who inspire each other.

Such classic, timeless style and such talent! Thank you, Tessa, for joining us today! To learn more about Tessa Foley, please visit Nine and Sixteen and follow @nineandsixteen via Instagram for daily inspiration. You can see Tessa’s home decorated for the holidays in MidwestLiving, and in September her home will be featured in the book Nora Murphy’s Country House Style: Making Your Home a Country House, which you can preorder now!


Fox Recipe Box: Bacon Jalapeno Mac and Cheese

OBERLIN, Ohio (WJW) — Chef Jim Barnhart from the 1833 Restaurant in The Hotel at Oberlin takes a beloved recipe and kicks it up a couple of notches. Fox 8’s Stefani Schaefer got a virtual cooking lesson from Chef Barnhart and also learned more about the 1833 Restaurant in The Hotel at Oberlin that overlooks historic Tappan Square in the center of town. We are sorry about the signal trouble during the interview, Chef Barnhart shares his recipe for Bacon Jalapeno Mac and Cheese below. This dish is currently on the 1833’s new menu.

1833 Mac “n” Cheese

· 2 C. Cavatappi Pasta, Cooked al dente (see Note)

· 1 T. Jalapenos pickled & chopped.

· 3 ea. Bacon Slices, cooked crispy, chopped, reserve the fat

· 4 oz. Grated Sharp White Cheddar cheese

· 2 T. Toasted Panko Breadcrumbs

· 1 Pinch Of Chopped Parsley & Thyme

1) In a large Sauté pan over medium high add in the onions, bacon, Jalapeno, and garlic. Sweat these items together for 2 minutes until onions and garlic are cooked translucent.

2) Add in the cream and cooked pasta and bring to a simmer.

3) Add in the cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce thickens. If it is to thick add a touch of cream and combine

4) Taste and season with salt and pepper

6) Garnish the top with toasted crumbs and sprinkle with dried parsley.

Note: To cook the cavatappi, bring a large pot of salted water (should taste like the ocean) to a boil. Add in the cavatappi. Cook for 10 to 11 minutes until al dente. Strain out the pasta and cool hold for the remainder of the recipe.

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#131 Reinventing Soul Food
February 15, 2020

STRANGER: Deborah VanTrece
LOCATION: Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours, Atlanta
THEME: Chatting with an Atlanta-based chef about her quest to reinvent soul food

Chef Deborah VanTrece is on a quest to reinvent soul food, taking her experience traveling the world as a flight attendant and experiencing different cultures and using that to inform the menu at her restaurant Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours. She talked with me about how she prioritizes the use of fresh and healthy ingredients with her creative take on what soul food means.

STRANGER: Adrian
LOCATION: The Vortex, Atlanta
THEME: A popular content creator talks about building a safe space for queer people online

Meet Adrian, a 26-year-old content creator based in Atlanta who makes a living through podcasts, YouTube videos, online writing, speeches and more through which he talks about everything from popular memes to the news of the day. The unifying theme he aims for is providing a safe space for queer black people like him and others who agree with some of the things he has to say.

STRANGER: Monika Pickett
LOCATION: Neramitra Thai Cuisine, Arlington, Virginia
THEME: An erotic fiction author and LGBTQ advocate shares her life story

Recently I met Monika Pickett, who shared her tale of becoming an erotic fiction author and LGBTQ advocate in a life that has as many twists and turns as one of her novels. Over an enjoyable dinner of Thai food she talked about coming out at an early age, serving in the Army and Desert Storm, divorce, a stroke and lengthy recovery, and much more.

STRANGER: Charles Cecil
LOCATION: Ambiente, York, England
THEME: Learning the history of adventure games with the co-founder of Revolution Games

Charles Cecil is the co-founded of British software company Revolution Games. They specialize in adventure games, including the globally popular Broken Sword series and Beneath a Steel Sky, among other titles. I met Charles in York, England, where his company is based, to learn about how he first got into the computer games industry and its many ups and downs over several decades.

#127 The House Of Pendarvis
December 3, 2019

STRANGER: Rayceen Pendarvis
LOCATION: Sala Thai, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with a District activist, mentor, emcee and variety show host

Rayceen Pendarvis is an instantly recognizable face for many people living in Washington, DC. For several decades Rayceen has worked as an activist on issues including homelessness, HIV, gentrification, and transgender rights. We met for dinner to talk about that activism as Rayceen’s career as an emcee, finding success as the host of a popular music, talk and art variety monthly event called The Ask Rayceen Show, and much more.

#126 FishScale
October 16, 2019

STRANGERS: Brandon Williams & Kristal Williams
LOCATION: FishScale, Washington, DC
THEME: Meeting siblings who launched a restaurant specializing in high quality fish burgers

Chef Brandon Williams invented high quality fish burgers when he needed to make something for his pescatarian mother to eat at a cookout. They were a huge hit and eventually he decided to open the restaurant FishScale in DC specializing in selling the novel burgers. Brandon and his sister Kristal spoke with me about launching a business together in 2017 and their experiences over the last two years.

STRANGER: Sampson McCormick
LOCATION: Busboys & Poets, Washington, DC
THEME: An activist gay black comedian talks about his career

Comedian Sampson McCormick identifies as “stubborn” and believes sticking to his strong opinions about his experiences as a gay black man have cost him some lucrative gigs. But over dinner, he told me how he’s developed a successful career in writing, acting and standup without management, saying his achievements are down to his refusal to live life on anything but his terms.

#124 Coming Out Of The NFL
September 25, 2019

STRANGER: Ryan O’Callaghan
LOCATION: The Smith, New York City
THEME: A former NFL player shares his coming out story

Former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan had a plan to kill himself when his football career was over, because he couldn’t live with the secret that he was gay. But eventually he came out, left the NFL, and wrote a book about his journey that he hopes with those with similar struggles. Over lunch, he told about sharing his story with the world and launching a foundation to help young LGBTQ athletes.

#123 Play It Again, Jesse
September 13, 2019

STRANGER: Jesse Rifkin
LOCATION: Mr. Smith’s of Georgetown, Washington, DC
THEME: Meeting the resident pianist at a popular DC piano bar

Most Friday and Saturday nights you’ll find Jesse Rifkin behind the piano at the bar Mr. Smith’s in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood. There he plays song requests from the 1920s through to the present day, and has memorized hundreds of tunes in the process. We met for dinner before one of his shows, where he revealed how he got the job as well as what he does with the rest of his time, including a day job as a journalist, writing two blogs, and more.

STRANGER: DeAngelo Jackson
LOCATION: Blue Dog, New York City
THEME: An adult model talks about changes and challenges in the gay porn industry

Gay adult model DeAngelo Jackson launched his career in the early 2000s, losing his virginity during his first porn scene. As a self-described introvert, he told me he had to embrace the life of an extrovert for his career. He also talked much more, including how he almost became a cop, facing racism in the porn industry, how technology is overhauling the sale of porn, and his goal of entering mainstream entertainment in the future.

STRANGER: Aki Peritz
LOCATION: Agora, Washington, DC
THEME: A lunchtime conversation with a former CIA analyst

When he was working as a CIA analyst, Aki Peritz had to keep his job a secret. After he left the government he was able to talk generally about his secretive work, and now uses his expertise to write, consult and teach on the issue of counterterrorism. And he even used his analytical skills as one of the investigators on the CBS TV show Hunted.

#120 Puddin’
May 29, 2019

STRANGER: Toyin Alli
LOCATION: Puddin’, Washington, DC
THEME: Chatting with a comfort food chef

As the owner of DC-based comfort food vendor Puddin’, Toyin Alli knows the hard work involved in launching a business in the competitive restaurant industry. I met Toyin for a chat about what inspired her to launch Puddin’ and also to learn about the many ways she’s trying to help up-and-coming chefs with advice, kitchen space, and more.

#119 Mikko
April 18, 2019

STRANGER: Mikko Kosonen
LOCATION: Mikko, Washington, DC
THEME: Learning about Nordic food at a former embassy chef’s restaurant

Chef Mikko Kosonen grew up in Finland before starting a globe-trotting career working for restaurants, the army, and diplomats. Eventually he moved to DC and was the chef for several ambassadors before leaving to start his own catering company and Nordic restaurant. With the namesake venue Mikko’s first anniversary looming, he talked about his past, present, and plans for the future.

STRANGER: Steve Hayes
LOCATION: Elmo, New York City
THEME: Chatting with the host of a YouTube series about classic movies

Later this year, film buff Steve Hayes will celebrate the 10th anniversary of his YouTube show “Tired Old Queen At The Movies,” where he shares his love of classic movies. I met Steve for brunch to learn more about his joyful show, what inspired him to create it, and how he became infatuated with motion pictures. He also talked about his decades-long career as an actor and director in New York.

STRANGERS: Jane Lynch & Kate Flannery
LOCATION: Hugo’s Restaurant, West Hollywood, California
THEME: Two iconic comedic actresses talk about teaming up for musical revues

Actresses Jane Lynch and Kate Flannery are perhaps best known to many from their comedic roles on the television shows Glee and The Office respectively, but for the last few years they’ve also sold out venues with a series of music revues — their latest, Two Lost Souls, opened in September. At a lunch in West Hollywood, they shared with me the story about how they first met and decided to start developing and performing their cabaret shows.

#116 Weekday With Bernie
December 28, 2018

STRANGER: Bernie Clifton
LOCATION: Snobs Bar, The Kingston Theatre Hotel, Hull, England
THEME: Getting coffee with a legendary British comedian and singer

For decades, comedian Bernie Clifton has entertained British audiences with a zany routine combining jokes with over-the-top slapstick prop humor — including an act riding around on a fake ostrich. But his life story is far richer than just being a funny man over coffee he told me about his love of singing and recently achieving a lifelong goal of performing in Las Vegas.

STRANGER: Mike Curtin
LOCATION: Unconventional Diner, Washington, DC
THEME: Breakfast with DC Central Kitchen’s CEO

Mike Curtin, CEO of DC Central Kitchen, talks about the upcoming 30th anniversary of the organization’s work using wasted food to serve meals to the homeless and non-profits. The Kitchen also provides culinary training for jobless adults, among other services. Over breakfast, Mike told me how his role is the perfect combination of his religious beliefs, work history and life experiences.

#114 Medium Rare
November 14, 2018

STRANGER: Mark Bucher
LOCATION: Medium Rare, Arlington, Virginia
THEME: Discovering how a restaurateur turned steak frites simplicity into success

In his teens, Mark Bucher had plans to be a radio disc jockey or a lawyer. But these days he’s the co-owner of Medium Rare, a restaurant company in Washington, DC, with four locations specializing in one thing: steak frites. Mark shared the story of how he took a menu with just a handful of items (bread, salad, steak and fries) and turned that simplicity into business success.

#113 Getting The Last Laugh
October 30, 2018

STRANGER: Alex English
LOCATION: Cafe on Ralph, Brooklyn, New York City
THEME: Chatting with a standup comedian, writer and actor

Growing up in Detroit, Alex English never thought about a career making people laugh. But once he left the city and moved to New York, an impromptu decision to take part in a comedy club’s open mic night made him decide to become a professional comedian. He’s written for television, performs regularly in New York and elsewhere, and told me what it’s like living as a funny man.

STRANGER: Donna Lynne Champlin
LOCATION: Messhall Kitchen, Los Angeles
THEME: Lunch with a leading Broadway and television actress

In the second part of a two-part interview, actress Donna Lynne Champlin talks about how she got started in performing by tap dancing at three years old. She then learned to sing, act, and play piano and flute, using those skills to build a career that’s won her awards and major roles in a host of stage and television productions, including on the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for which she’s currently filming the fourth and final season.

STRANGER: Donna Lynne Champlin
LOCATION: Messhall Kitchen, Los Angeles
THEME: Lunch with a leading Broadway and television actress

Actress Donna Lynne Champlin has an impressive and growing resume, including an extensive stage and Broadway career, a self-produced album, film appearances, and television credits including her current role as Paula Proctor on the CW’s musical comedy drama Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In part one of a two-part interview, she talks about how her discovery of metaphysics helped to shape her acting career.

#111 Freaky Boiz
October 6, 2018

STRANGERS: Pierre Phipps & Terrance Wilson
LOCATION: BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Pasadena, California
THEME: A gay rap duo discusses making their mark on the music industry

While in college in Chicago, best friends Pierre Phipps and Terrance Wilson joked around and made a rap video singing about their gay sex lives. They posted it online and it went viral overnight, earning them the name “Freaky Boiz” for their rap act. They’ve taken that fame and built it into a major brand, and have grand plans for the future as they share their talents with the world.

STRANGER: Demetrius Harmon
LOCATION: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, Burbank, California
THEME: An internet personality with a positive attitude talks about finding fame online

Demetrius Harmon, 20, found fame online several years ago making comedy skits on the app Vine. It gained him a following of more than two million people combined between Instagram and Twitter. Now he’s looking to use that massive audience to spread a positive message, speaking openly about his own battle with depression in the hope that it’ll help others in a similar situation.

#109 Parkway For Poor Boys
September 26, 2018

STRANGER: Jay Nix
LOCATION: Parkway Bakery & Tavern, New Orleans
THEME: Learning about the classic New Orleans poor boy sandwich

One of New Orleans’ signature culinary items is the poor boy, or po’ boy, sandwich, and Parkway Bakery & Tavern is among its most popular vendors. It was founded in 1911 but closed in 1993. Then along came Jay Nix. He told me the unlikely story of how he went from a career in real estate and home repairs to running Parkway — and why he calls them poor boys instead of po’ boys.

#108 Erick Lopez Explains
September 23, 2018

STRANGER: Erick Lopez
LOCATION: Lindenwood Diner, Brooklyn, New York
THEME: A young actor shares his experiences and advice about starting out in the industry

In high school in Texas, Erick Lopez’s main interests were sports and engineering. But a basketball injury sidelined him and he turned to drama classes. Cut to the present day and he’s enjoying growing success in several film and television roles, most recently as Hector in the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He talks about starting his career, and about his podcast giving advice to aspiring actors.

STRANGER: Dean Gold
LOCATION: Dino’s Grotto, Washington, DC
THEME: Discussing dining with the owner of an Italian-inspired restaurant

Dean Gold is the owner and executive chef of Dino’s Grotto, an Italian-inspired restaurant in the District. It’s his second attempt at making a success of a dining venue, after several years operating the restaurant Dino in nearby Cleveland Park. He told me about the ups and downs of the industry, as well as his colorful life that includes wine, economics, selling dope to jazz musicians, and more.

STRANGER: Jamila Robinson
LOCATION: Bar Elena, Washington, DC
THEME: Talking about the future of food and dining storytelling

Growing up in Detroit, Jamila Robinson loved to cook with her grandmother. She’s kept that passion for food throughout her life, putting it to good use in a series of editing roles at major news organizations around the country curating stories about food and dining. Now living in Washington, DC, she told me about her latest role and the future of storytelling through food.

STRANGER: André Hueston Mack
LOCATION: Mu Ramen, Long Island City, New York
THEME: Supper with a sommelier/winemaker/designer

André Hueston Mack left a successful career in the banking sector to indulge his true passion of wine, becoming a sommelier at some of the United States’ top restaurants. He gained major attention as the first African-American to win the Best Young Sommelier in America in 2003. A few years later, he launched his own company and is now planning to open his first wine bar.

STRANGER: Mustafa Santiago Ali
LOCATION: Bua Thai, Washington, DC
THEME: Learning about the Hip Hop Caucus and environmental justice

During a 24-year career at the Environmental Protection Agency, Mustafa Santiago Ali focused on environment justice, which is addressing disproportionate adverse pollution impacts on low-income and minority communities. In March 2017 he quit, disillusioned by the Trump EPA’s agenda. We met to discuss the EJ movement, its current challenges and potential future.

STRANGER: Kurt Fuller
LOCATION: Marco’s Trattoria, West Hollywood, California
THEME: Dinner with a character actor

Kurt Fuller gets approached 10 times a day by people who swear they’ve met him before, they just can’t remember from where. But it’s really because he’s “that guy,” the character actor from several popular movies and television shows whose face people recognize but whose name they might not know. Over dinner, he told me about how he first got into acting and life as a character actor.

STRANGER: Jonathan Blum
LOCATION: Rasika, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with a portrait painter

Portrait painter Jonathan Blum has carved out a niche with his work featuring unique images such as rabbis, animals and foreheads done in various styles, rather than sticking to one style and painting many different images. He told me how he developed his career, why he always tries to inject some humor in his work, and about his personal adventures that have taken him around the world.

#101 Brigtsen’s
September 1, 2017

STRANGER: Frank Brigtsen
LOCATION: Brigtsen’s, New Orleans
THEME: Dinner with a Creole chef discussing the menu at his long-running restaurant

For more than 30 years, Frank Brigtsen has owned and operated the namesake restaurant Brigtsen’s, a New Orleans landmark. He talked with me about how he got into cooking, training under the famous Chef Paul Prudhomme, and how he set up his own place — as well as his desire to pass on his knowledge of Creole and Cajun cooking to the next generation.

#100 Changing Cuba
July 20, 2017

STRANGER: Sebastian Arcos
LOCATION: Chili’s, Miami, Florida
THEME: Chatting with a Cuban emigrant about the country’s past, present and future

Born and raised in Havana, Cuba, Sebastian Arcos started to turn against the Castro regime in his late teens. His family, including his internationally noted dissident father, became targets of the government. Sebastian told me about his eventual move to Miami, and how he honors his late father’s memory through his work as the associate director of Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute.

#99 Meet The Fontanas
March 25, 2017

STRANGERS: Santino & Jessica Fontana
LOCATION: Henry’s, New York City
THEME: Lunch with a married couple of actors to discuss their work-life balance

Actors Santino Fontana and Jessica Hershberg didn’t know each other when they moved to New York to pursue their careers on stage, but eventually they met and were married in 2015. They met me for lunch in Manhattan to talk about how they try to find the right balance between achieving their professional artistic goals and building a private life together in their adopted hometown.

STRANGER: Jim Obergefell
LOCATION: Open City, Washington, DC
THEME: Breakfast with the lead plaintiff in the landmark U.S. same-sex marriage suit

Jim Obergefell was the lead named plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case that led to the 5-4 ruling in June 2015 finding the Constitution guarantees the right of same-sex couples to marry across the United States. Almost two years after the ruling, I had breakfast with Jim to learn that his life has changed completely since the decision and that his fight for equality is expanding beyond gay rights.

#97 Out To Sea With Matt Yee
January 27, 2017

STRANGER: Matt Yee
LOCATION: Giovanni’s Table, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, The Caribbean Sea
THEME: Dinner on the ocean with an adult cruise ship entertainer

During a seven-day cruise to Mexico and Haiti, I had the chance to dine with entertainer Matt Yee. He’s a mainstay on gay and straight cruises, and also in high demand on land, for his drag cabaret show. He told me about how he reinvented his life, leaving a career in law behind to pursue his dream of entertaining.

STRANGER: W. Ralph Eubanks
LOCATION: Mulebone, Washington, DC
THEME: Dining with a writer, educator and scholar on racial issues

W. Ralph Eubanks is a self-described “light-skinned” African-American who spent his childhood growing up among the racial strife of the civil rights era in Mississippi. Since then, he’s had an extensive career as a writer and teacher on racial issues, and educated me about them during a dinner in Washington, DC.

STRANGER: David Stivaletta
LOCATION: Lupo Verde, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with the winner of a silent auction to meet me

A while ago I offered dinner with me as a prize in a silent auction for a fundraiser. David Stivaletta, an accountant in Washington, DC, bid the winning amount. That’s how we came to meet for Italian food, where he told me all about his life in the District.

#94 Life Behind The Lens
September 11, 2016

STRANGER: Brad Rushing
LOCATION: Fare Well, Washington, DC
THEME: Chatting with a cinematographer

Brad Rushing is a Los Angeles-based cinematographer who has enjoyed great success in charge of photography for movies, music videos, commercials, and more. During a visit to DC, he met me for dinner to talk about how he got into the industry and his life behind the lens.

STRANGER: Larry Pressler
LOCATION: Peacock Cafe, Washington, DC
THEME: Dining with a former U.S. senator

Former U.S. Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD) is concerned about the state of politics, fearing it’s become so bitter and broken that it’s impossible to advance good laws. Now out of Congress and officially an independent, he told me about his one-man bid to save democracy — and also about his extensive career in and out of politics.

#92 Arts & Advocacy
June 30, 2016

STRANGER: JR “Nexus” Russ
LOCATION: Highline RxR, Arlington, Virginia
THEME: Interviewing a youth advocate and artist

Artist JR “Nexus” Russ loves the world of theater and dance, and has since he was a child. But these days he finds his passion for the arts starting to reach a genuine nexus with his work as a youth advocate and his growing interest in using the arts to help children learn.

STRANGER: Eleanor Clift
LOCATION: Clyde’s, Chevy Chase, Maryland
THEME: Dinner with a DC correspondent

Eleanor Clift never imagined being a famous political reporter in Washington, DC. During dinner, she told me how her early goal of being a secretary who would be able to type up interesting notes led to a career that has seen her cover every presidential election from Jimmy Carter’s first run for office to the 2016 campaign.

#90 The State Senator
April 18, 2016

STRANGER: Cheryl Kagan
LOCATION: Ev & Maddy’s, Rockville, Maryland
THEME: Supper with a state senator

Democratic Maryland state Senator Cheryl Kagan didn’t always plan on a career in politics. But these days she relishes her role representing a large district in the Old Line State. Over supper, she told me that the work means she has no private life, but she’s proud to serve her constituents.

#89 On The Road Again
April 10, 2016

STRANGERS: Bill & Laura Johnson
LOCATION: Monell’s, Nashville, Tennessee
THEME: Meeting a couple that travels the United States in their motor home

Bill and Laura Johnson spend at least half of every year traveling the United States in their motor home. They were passing through Nashville, Tennessee, while I was visiting the city, and during a lunch meeting they told me how they came to love living on the road.

STRANGER: Doug Schantz
LOCATION: Nellie’s Sports Bar, Washington, DC
THEME: One man’s dream of opening a gay sports bar in the District

After a lengthy career in advertising in Chicago and New York, Doug Schantz moved to Washington, DC, with the goal of opening his own gay sports bar. During dinner at his bar, Nellie’s, Doug told me about the tough work involved with achieving his dream.

#87 The Future King Of Comedy
February 13, 2016

STRANGER: Victor Pope Jr.
LOCATION: Gloria’s Restaurant, Arlington, Texas
THEME: Dining with an aspiring standup comedian

Comedian Victor Pope Jr. has amassed more than one million followers on Vine, a phone app where he performs six-second skits with his offbeat humor. But over a meal in Arlington, Texas, Victor told me his real passion is for standup comedy. He shared his plan for an eventual move to New York and to become one of the greatest standups of all time.

#86 Black September
January 28, 2016

STRANGER: Dave Hindman
LOCATION: The Original Ledo Restaurant, College Park, Maryland
THEME: A meal with an Air Force veteran

During a meal with Air Force veteran Dave Hindman I learned about his experiences during “Black September,” a tumultuous time in the Middle East in the 1970s. He said he’s planning to write a book on the topic, yet that fact is just one of several things I discovered about Dave and his life that has included a host of varied and interesting careers.

#85 Tales From The Town Crier
December 29, 2015

STRANGERS: Michael & Margaret Wood
LOCATION: The Star Inn, Willerby, England
THEME: Dinner with a town crier and his wife

Michael Wood is keeping the ancient art of town crying alive and well in northeast England. He’s an award-winning town crier who loves his work. But it’s just one of many unusual careers he’s enjoyed. During a meal of fish and chips, Michael -– accompanied by his wife Margaret — told me about how he went from a “chaotic” childhood to his current role.

STRANGER: Ines Verbeke
LOCATION: Etete, Washington, DC
THEME: Learning about one woman’s bicycle ride across America

Ines Verbeke was born in the United States but raised in Belgium, and has always wanted to visit the country of her birth. So at the age of 25 she has launched an ambitious effort to cycle across America, starting in the Northeast. During Ines’ brief stay in Washington, I met with her for a meal of Ethiopian food and to learn about her nationwide ride.

#83 The Swiss Ambassador
November 6, 2015

STRANGER: Martin Dahinden
LOCATION: The Swiss Residence, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with the Ambassador of Switzerland to the United States of America

Martin Dahinden, Ambassador of Switzerland to the United States of America, is eager to reveal stories about Swiss influence on cuisine that people might not know. We met at the Swiss Residence for a four-course meal inspired by one of the country’s residents who moved to America, and during our dinner Martin told me about his work as a diplomat.

#82 Night Of The DC Dead
October 12, 2015

STRANGER: Vaughn Irving
LOCATION: The Lost Dog Cafe, Alexandria, Virginia
THEME: Hearing about planning a Halloween attraction

Actor and writer Vaughn Irving is one of the creative minds behind “DC Dead,” a Halloween attraction that offers residents of the District the chance to race through an abandoned building while fending off zombies. He told me how the idea came about, what it’s like to run a haunted house-type attraction, and also about his life in the theater.

STRANGER: Amber Murray
LOCATION: La Bonne Bistro, Washington, DC
THEME: Interviewing an immigration attorney

Immigration attorney Amber Murray talks about the highs and lows of her specialized work on asylum and human rights cases. She explains how, despite the extensive time and effort the cases resolve, she’s certain that this is her right career path.

STRANGERS: Mary Burns, Buzzy “Beano” Langford & Brobson Lutz
LOCATION: Antoine’s, New Orleans
THEME: Reflections on Hurricane Katrina one decade later

In the second and final part of my two-part interview focusing on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I find out what three former Dining With Strangers interviewees from New Orleans have been doing since they were featured on this site.

STRANGERS: Mary Burns, Buzzy “Beano” Langford & Brobson Lutz
LOCATION: Antoine’s, New Orleans
THEME: Reflections on Hurricane Katrina one decade later

Roughly one decade after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, I met with three long-time residents of the Crescent City who have previously been featured on Dining With Strangers. In the first part of a two-part interview, they talk about how the Big Easy has changed on the 10th anniversary of what they call “the storm.”

#79 Young At Heart
August 31, 2015

STRANGER: Barbara Crocker
LOCATION: Le Diplomate, Washington, DC
THEME: Finding out how one woman stays young at heart

Barbara Crocker just celebrated her 62nd birthday, but over dinner she told me she feels like she’s getting younger every year with her busy schedule that includes fundraising for Georgetown University and treks to the top of two famous mountains.

#78 FuckUp Nights
July 30, 2015

STRANGER: Meredith Denbow
LOCATION: Jyoti, Washington, DC
THEME: Learning about a group that discusses business failures

Since moving to Washington, DC, a few years ago, Meredith Denbow has been working to grow a local branch of FuckUp Nights. The unusually named organization hosts seminars across the globe where people talk about business failures and the lessons they learned.

STRANGER: Jenny Wang
LOCATION: Marrakech, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with a public relations executive

Jenny Wang was born in China but spent her childhood in Connecticut and rural Pennsylvania, before moving to the District of Columbia to work in public relations. During dinner at Marrakech restaurant in DC, Jenny told me about her experiences growing up and why she loves the career she’s chosen.

STRANGERS: Fred Melamed & Leslee Spieler Melamed
LOCATION: The Palm, Beverly Hills, California
THEME: Dining with a Hollywood actor and his wife

In part two of my interview with actor Fred Melamed (A Serious Man, In A World…) and his wife Leslee, Fred talks more about his adoption his experiences meeting his birth mother and father moving from New York to Los Angeles his interest in writing his return to the stage what he and his family do when he’s not working on a role and more.

STRANGERS: Fred Melamed & Leslee Spieler Melamed
LOCATION: The Palm, Beverly Hills, California
THEME: Dining with a Hollywood actor and his wife

In this first part of a two-part interview with actor Fred Melamed (A Serious Man, In A World…), he discusses how he first developed an interest in acting, and how his training at Yale helped shape his craft. Accompanied by his wife Leslee, Fred also talked about the highs and lows of his on-screen career.

STRANGER: Mark Echeverria
LOCATION: The Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood, California
THEME: Dining with the proprietor of a landmark Hollywood restaurant

Mark Echeverria is the current proprietor of the Musso & Frank Grill, a restaurant that since 1919 has catered to Hollywood celebrities and regular diners alike. But he never planned to be a restaurateur. Mark explained how he learned the ropes of the restaurant business and how he’s working to keep the Musso’s legend alive for years to come.

STRANGER: Federico Leidi
LOCATION: Ristorante Pizzeria Maurzzella, Milan, Italy
THEME: One night in Italy with a Beatles tribute band member

During a recent trip to Italy, I had dinner in Milan with Federico Leidi. He told me about his three big interests: his work in business, his interests in Italian politics, and his love of music including performing as Paul in a Beatles tribute band.

#73 Dating In DC
April 23, 2015

STRANGER: Craig Schattner
LOCATION: Mintwood Place, Washington, DC
THEME: A platonic dinner to discuss dating in the District

Craig Schattner has been on almost 100 dates in four years living in Washington, DC, and he’s still single. So he’s started a documentary series called Dated to try and answer the question: Is the problem him, or is it the city?

STRANGER: Jacki Barnett
LOCATION: Bourbon Steak, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with a fashionable charity fundraiser

Dinner at Bourbon Steak in Washington, DC, to meet Jacki Barnett. She’s one of three co-founders of In Christy’s Shoes, an organization that hosts shoe fashion shows in memory of Jacki’s late friend Christy Levy Peters.

STRANGER: David Sherer
LOCATION: Le Chat Noir, Washington, DC
THEME: Dining with a writer/anesthesiologist/inventor

Dr. David Sherer is getting ready to retire from the world of anesthesiology and focus on his love for writing, which includes a recent book he wrote about his quest to reunite with the maid from his childhood home.

#70 Empire Of Sin
January 29, 2015

STRANGER: Gary Krist
LOCATION: Acadiana, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner to discuss the battle for modern New Orleans

A Southern-themed dinner with New York Times best-selling author Gary Krist to discuss his book Empire of Sin, which chronicles sex, jazz, murder and morals in New Orleans in the early 1900s and the battle for the city’s future.

#69 The Bee Lady
December 22, 2014

STRANGER: Jean Bishop
LOCATION: The Beehive, Hull, England
THEME: Lunch with a long-running charity fundraiser

During a Christmas trip to England, I had lunch with Jean Bishop. For more than 30 years she’s dressed in an eye-catching bumblebee costume to raise thousands of pounds for Age UK, a charity for the elderly that’s close to her heart.

STRANGER: Caecilia Kay
LOCATION: The Carolina Kitchen, Washington, DC
THEME: A single mother shares her hopes for the future

Single mother Caecilia Kay shares her story of the struggles raising a child on her own, balanced with fulfilling her dreams of working in social media and public relations.

STRANGER: Brobson Lutz
LOCATION: Galatoire’s Restaurant, New Orleans
THEME: Dining with a long-time French Quarter doctor

On a return trip to New Orleans, I had a lengthy, lavish dinner with Brobson Lutz, a doctor and long-time French Quarter resident. He shared stories of falling in love with the Big Easy, Hurricane Katrina, practicing medicine, and more.

STRANGER: Stephen Tobolowsky
LOCATION: Art’s Delicatessen, Sherman Oaks, California
THEME: Breakfast with a character actor/storytelling writer

In the second part of my interview with character actor Stephen Tobolowsky, he explains how he started writing and storytelling, including his podcasts and book The Dangerous Animals Club, and why he now prefers writing to acting.

STRANGER: Stephen Tobolowsky
LOCATION: Art’s Delicatessen, Sherman Oaks, California
THEME: Breakfast with a character actor/storytelling writer

Part one of a two-part interview with actor/writer Stephen Tobolowsky, perhaps best known for his role as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day. In this first installment, Stephen talks his extensive career acting on stage, in television shows, and in movies.

STRANGER: Michael Hitchcock
LOCATION: Taste on Melrose, West Hollywood, California
THEME: Lunch with a character actor and writer

Lunch in West Hollywood with actor and writer Michael Hitchcock, talking about his current work writing for the television show Glee his extensive career acting in film and TV and his love of improvisational comedy.

#64 All About Omnism
September 16, 2014

STRANGERS: Jesse & Sarah Smith
LOCATION: Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
THEME: Learning about a couple’s discovery of omnism

During a visit to Santa Fe, I had dinner with Jesse and Sarah Smith. The couple were struggling with major questions about their Christian beliefs, but experimenting with the hallucinogen DMT led them to the discovery of omnism.

#63 Working For Veterans
August 12, 2014

STRANGER: Marlene Hall
LOCATION: Eamonn’s, Alexandria, Virginia
THEME: Fish and chips with a former Air Force officer

Marlene Hall’s eight years in the Air Force helped develop her passion for helping veterans. She told me about her work with veterans organizations, as well as her other interests including freelance writing about music and arts in the Washington, DC, area.

STRANGER: Melissa Creighton
LOCATION: COFFEED, Long Island City, New York
THEME: Lunch with the Jim Henson Creature Shop’s production manager

Jim Henson Creature Shop Production Manager Melissa Creighton didn’t always want to be a puppeteer. During lunch in New York City, she told me what first sparked her love of puppetry, and how she ended up working for the company behind Sesame Street.

#61 Matt Of All Trades
July 21, 2014

STRANGER: Matt Bauman
LOCATION: Locanda Verde, New York City
THEME: Dinner with an actor/realtor/coaching website owner

Matt Bauman always wanted to be an actor in New York City. He achieved that goal, but also wound up with two other careers he never planned on. Matt also launched a website of theatrical coach listings, and spends the rest of his time working as a realtor.

#60 Behind The Craft
June 30, 2014

STRANGER: Brendan Kelleher
LOCATION: Pizzeria Paradiso, Washington, DC
THEME: Dining with a beer brewing enthusiast

During a dinner of beers and pizza, former Chicago-based futures trader Brendan Kelleher told me about his move to Washington, DC, and the launch of Behind The Craft, a website where he interviews craft beer producers.

STRANGER: Daniel Lelchuk
LOCATION: Tujague’s, New Orleans
THEME: Luncheon with a cellist

Born and raised in the Northeast, professional cellist Daniel Lelchuk never planned on living in New Orleans. But during lunch in the Big Easy, he told me about the path that led him to the city where he’s now part of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

STRANGER: Mary Burns
LOCATION: Deanie’s Seafood, Metairie, Louisiana
THEME: An afternoon with a former teacher/zydeco dancer

In the second part of my two-part interview with New Orleans-based zydeco dance teacher Mary Burns, she explains what first got her on the dance floor. The article also features two videos: one of Mary showing off her moves, and the other of me trying raw oysters for the first time. The latter didn’t go so well.

STRANGER: Mary Burns
LOCATION: Deanie’s Seafood, Metairie, Louisiana
THEME: An afternoon with a former teacher/zydeco dancer

For more than 30 years, Mary Burns was a Catholic school teacher. Now she’s a zydeco dance tutor. I spent a fun afternoon with her in and around New Orleans, and there’s so much to tell this interview is in two parts. The first focuses on her life as a school teacher.

#57 Amplified Louisa
May 8, 2014

STRANGER: Louisa Hall
LOCATION: Big Bear Cafe, Washington, DC
THEME: An evening with a ukulele-playing singer-songwriter

A few years ago, Louisa Hall picked up a ukulele and started strumming. Cut to the present day, and I had dinner with her in DC to find out how she’s busy writing offbeat, funny songs about what she sees as the quirky things in life.

#56 A Perfect Fit
May 6, 2014

STRANGER: Edwin Schiff
LOCATION: Tash, Washington, DC
THEME: Chatting with a costume technician

Costume technician Edwin Schiff doesn’t have a firm plan on what he wants to do with his future, but he knows that it will involve the world of theater and costumes, a profession that’s a perfect fit for him.

#55 Yes Woman
April 1, 2014

STRANGER: Elizabeth Moore
LOCATION: Pesce, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with a woman who says “yes” to everything

Elizabeth Moore used to be an introvert, until she realized that the quiet life was making her miss out on potentially great life experiences. Over dinner, she told me how she performed a 180 degree character change and now says “yes” to as much as possible.

STRANGER: Jeffrey Johnson
LOCATION: Ted’s Bulletin, Washington, DC
THEME: A local actor describes his unique one-man show

By day, local actor Jeffrey Johnson is a mild-mannered, easygoing guy. By night, he dons a dress and hot pink wig, and steps behind a piano for his one-man cabaret show Special Agent Galactica. He shared stories of the very unique performance, his experiences growing up as an actor, and his time running DC’s first dedicated gay theater company.

#53 Born To Run
February 19, 2014

STRANGER: Matt Abbruzzese
LOCATION: Fainting Goat, Washington, DC
THEME: Dining with a DC ANC candidate

New York state native Matt Abbruzzese fell in love with the District of Columbia when he moved to the city for an internship. He now lives and works in the city full time, and this year is running for a seat on a Neighborhood Advisory Commission. Matt told me what inspired him to run and what he thinks he’ll bring to the commission if he wins the election.

#52 The Jazz Man
January 30, 2014

STRANGER: Aaron L. Myers II
LOCATION: The Mediterranean Spot, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with a jazz musician

The first interview of 2014, sitting down to dinner with jazz musician Aaron L. Myers II. He’s the resident performer at the Black Fox Lounge, and minister of music for his local Baptist church. He told me about his music, and about his past experiences in the Army, trying to make it in Los Angeles, and getting involved in politics.

STRANGER: Richard Kiel
LOCATION: Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington, DC
THEME: Dining with Jaws from the James Bond movies

Richard Kiel, perhaps best known as the villain Jaws from two James Bond movies, was in Washington, DC, to appear at a 007-themed event. After doing the rounds at the party, over dinner he told me about his life as an actor and his other interests, including writing a book about an anti-slavery crusader.

#50 Storyville
August 30, 2013

STRANGERS: Josh & Natalie Harvey
LOCATION: Coquette, New Orleans
THEME: Lunch with owners of a t-shirt company

The second of two interviews from a recent trip to New Orleans, this time with a duo. Josh and Natalie Harvey are the owners of custom design t-shirt company Storyville, and they told me about what inspired the company, the ups and downs of starting a business in the Big Easy, and their future plans.

#49 Hungry Town
August 29, 2013

STRANGER: Tom Fitzmorris
LOCATION: Tommy’s Cuisine, New Orleans
THEME: Dinner with a restaurant critic

New Orleans is famed for its food, and a recent trip to the Crescent City gave me the chance to sit down to dinner with an expert on the topic. Tom Fitzmorris is a restaurant critic in the city who also hosts a daily radio show dedicated to discussing food.

#48 Life And O’Death
February 24, 2013

STRANGER: David Rogers-Berry
LOCATION: Mesa Coyoacan, Brooklyn, New York City
THEME: Lunch with a goth country musician

Lunch in Brooklyn with David Rogers-Berry, drummer in the band O’Death. He’s focused on ensuring the band’s integrity through steady growth rather than through hype as the next big thing. Even in the face of personal battles — including a fight with bone cancer — he’s never wavered from his vision for the band.

#47 Mistress Of Melody
January 2, 2013

STRANGER: Lorraine Bowen
LOCATION: Searcys St. Pancras Grand, London, England
THEME: Dinner with an English singer, songwriter and musician

Outgoing self-titled Mistress Of Melody Lorraine Bowen specializes in writing and singing quirky songs about unusual subjects, but also has experience playing in bands with the likes of Billy Bragg. Over dinner at a train station in London she told me about her career and her love of the randomness of life.

#46 La Gitana
October 14, 2012

STRANGER: Katelan Foisy
LOCATION: Cosmopolitan Café, New York City
THEME: Breakfast with a visual artist

A Sunday morning meeting in New York City with visual artist Katelan Foisy, who told me about her move to the Big Apple and how her ever-growing circle of creative friends keeps her busy working with them on tarot, acting and other projects.

STRANGER: Antonio Biaggi
LOCATION: Beacon Bar & Grill, Washington, DC
THEME: Brunch with an out gay porn star

Two years after interviewing a gay for pay porn star who hated his work, I sat down to brunch with Antonio Biaggi. He’s an out gay man who has worked in gay porn for several years. It’s just a job for Antonio, who sees porn as his “second life” in his ongoing attempt to keep his porn life and his private life separate.

STRANGER: Kay Cameron
LOCATION: Kramerbooks, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with an English literacy tutor

Back to Washington, DC, for a meal with a fellow Brit. Kay Cameron is in America’s capital until August due to her husband’s job. She told me about the volunteer tutoring work she’s doing with the Washington Literacy Council during her time in the city.

#43 Drawn Together
April 28, 2012

STRANGER: Ben Claassen III
LOCATION: Golden West Cafe, Baltimore, Maryland
THEME: Chatting with a cartoonist

A weekend trip to Baltimore to have lunch with Ben Claassen III, a cartoonist who created the Dirtfarm comic strip. Over a plate of chicken and biscuits, Ben told me about his lifelong interest in drawing and the unusual story behind how his comic began.

STRANGER: Rozanne Weissman
LOCATION: Bangkok Joe’s, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with a marketing communications executive

The first dinner of 2012 is with Rozanne Weissman, a public relations specialist who also has plenty of other interests including a volunteer stint at a local playtime center for homeless children and a history that includes reporting on Capitol Hill and teaching people the best way to gatecrash parties.

#41 Here Comes Santa Claus
December 15, 2011

STRANGER: Ed Downey
LOCATION: Red Lobster, Silver Spring, Maryland
THEME: A mid-December dinner with Santa Claus

December is a busy time of year for Ed Downey, who performs as Santa Claus at parties and other events. But as I found out during dinner, there’s much more to his life than the festive season. Ed has traveled the globe and had dozens of different jobs, all of them providing fodder for an endless list of interesting stories.

#40 Fighting Against Hunger
December 10, 2011

STRANGER: Shamia Holloway
LOCATION: Busboys & Poets, Washington, DC
THEME: Lunch with a food bank communications manager

Shamia Holloway often finds herself working long hours and into the weekend in her role as communications manager for the Capital Area Food Bank. But she’s happy to do the work, helping to provide nutritious food to Washington, DC’s, citizens living in hunger.

#39 Forever Young
October 16, 2011

STRANGER: Burt Young
LOCATION: Louie’s Oyster Bar & Grille, Port Washington, New York
THEME: Brunch with an actor/artist/writer

People might know Burt Young best from his role as Paulie, the unsophisticated brother-in-law of Rocky Balboa in the Rocky movies. But as I learned over Sunday brunch, there’s so much more to the New York-born actor, artist, and writer.

#38 Meeting The Mayor
October 14, 2011

STRANGER: Ed Koch
LOCATION: Bryan Cave, New York City
THEME: Coffee and cupcakes with a former mayor

I interviewed former New York City Mayor Ed Koch in his law firm office over an afternoon snack, instead of meeting at a restaurant. As we drank coffee and ate cupcakes, we talked about his career, current events, and what he’s working on these days.

#37 The Doctor Is In
September 29, 2011

STRANGER: Andrea Bonior
LOCATION: La Canela, Rockville, Maryland
THEME: Dinner with a clinical psychologist

Dinner with Dr. Andrea Bonior — clinical psychologist, college professor and writer of the “Baggage Check” advice column in free DC newspaper Express — to learn what it’s like to listen to other people’s problems for a career.

STRANGER: Caroline Nuttall
LOCATION: Caviar & Bananas, Charleston, South Carolina
THEME: Celebrating culture in Charleston

A Sunday lunch with Caroline Nuttall, learning about her creation Charlie, an online-only magazine that promotes art, food, music and other culture in Charleston.

STRANGER: Jason Ryan
LOCATION: Lana, Charleston, South Carolina
THEME: An evening with an author

Over dinner in Charleston, Jason Ryan explained how he came up with the idea for his non-fiction book “Jackpot,” detailing the history of marijuana smuggling in the South.

STRANGER: Will Soto
LOCATION: Salute! On The Beach, Key West, Florida
THEME: Lunch with a tightrope walker

Chicago-born Will Soto fell in love with Key West when he visited the island 30 years ago. The former navy man has lived there ever since, performing a weekly tightrope and juggling show for cheering crowds of tourists.

#33 We Dance To The Beat
July 16, 2011

STRANGER: Julia Kulakova
LOCATION: Josie’s West, New York City
THEME: Dinner with a dancer

An interview with Russian-born dancer Julia Kulakova, who teaches a gypsy dance class in New York City. The video included with this article confirms once and for all my inability to pull shapes on the dance floor.

#32 Viva Las Vegans
June 30, 2011

STRANGER: Katelyn Sornik
LOCATION: Founding Farmers, Washington, DC
THEME: A meal with a vegan food blogger

My first ever vegan meal as I sat down to dinner with Katelyn Sornik, who gave up a meat-eating diet several years ago but only recently turned fully vegan. She blogs about her experiences being a new vegan, including experimenting with new recipes, reviewing vegan food and life after giving up being a carnivore.

#31 Keeping The Faith
May 15, 2011

STRANGER: Patrick Walker
LOCATION: Acqua Al 2, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with a pastor

Sunday dinner with Patrick Walker, who realized from an early age his calling was to be a baptist preacher. It’s a role that’s taken him across the country and overseas spreading the word of God, but also seen him take a lead role in the fight against a law to allow same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia.

STRANGER: Anne Rolfes
LOCATION: Lüke, New Orleans
THEME: Eating with an environmentalist

During brunch in the Big Easy I asked Anne Rolfes about her work as founder of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an organization that works with communities living near refineries to collect air quality data and fight for pollution reductions.

STRANGERS: Michael Krebs & Debra Ann Miller
LOCATION: Phillips Seafood, Washington, DC
THEME: An evening with Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln impersonators

Back in Washington, DC, I sat down to dinner with Michael Krebs and Debra Ann Miller. They’re both actors and tour the country as Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd, performing in a 60-minute educational play about the couple.

#28 A Voice For Radio
January 13, 2011

STRANGER: Zeb Soanes
LOCATION: Andrew Edmunds, London, England
THEME: Dinner with a BBC radio presenter

Dining With Strangers goes international with the first interview outside of the United States. My evening meal companion was Zeb Soanes, whose polished voice is a main reason behind his long-running work as a BBC radio presenter.

#27 British Ink
December 2, 2010

STRANGER: Paul Roe
LOCATION: Montmartre, Washington, DC
THEME: Talking about tattoos

Paul Roe spent his early career working in the fine dining industry, but eventually jumped into the world of tattoos. Find out what got him into the business of inking skin, and his unique approach to what he describes as “haute tattoo.”

#26 The Write Stuff
November 21, 2010

STRANGER: Kyle Michel Sullivan
LOCATION: Heartland Brewery, New York City
THEME: Words with a writer

An author of some rather controversial novels describes how he uses the art of writing his “immoral morality tales” as a way to address what he sees as modern social injustice.

#25 Weaver Ward One
October 5, 2010

STRANGER: Bryan Weaver
LOCATION: Marvin, Washington, DC
THEME: Talking politics in the nation’s capital city

Bryan Weaver has lived in America’s capital city for almost 20 years. He’s a community activist who recently ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the city council. Found out what inspired him to run and why he’ll keep working to improve the city.

#24 Food For Thought
July 24, 2010

STRANGER: Albert Yee
LOCATION: Garces Trading Company, Philadelphia
THEME: Brunch with a restaurant review blogger/photographer

A return to Philadelphia to interview Albert Yee. He moved to the city several years ago knowing little about it, but now he runs a popular restaurant review blog, works at a local food non-profit and even manages some photography in his spare time.

#23 Winston Unzipped
July 20, 2010

STRANGER: Winston Gieseke
LOCATION: Dear John’s, Culver City, California
THEME: Supper with a singer/gay porn site editor

Hours before a flight back to Washington, DC, I had dinner with stranger Winston Gieseke. He’s the managing editor of a gay porn blog but has an interesting history as a writer for television shows and cable movies after moving to Los Angeles when he was 18.

#22 Gay For Pay
July 19, 2010

STRANGER: Malachi Marx
LOCATION: Los Angeles
THEME: An afternoon with a gay for pay porn actor/escort

While on holiday in Los Angeles for my 30th birthday I had the chance to interview Malachi Marx, a gay for pay porn star and escort. Malachi (not his real name) told me how various pressures in his life led him into the world of straight men who have gay sex for money.

#21 Bloody Mary
May 27, 2010

STRANGER: Mary Millan
LOCATION: Muriel’s, New Orleans
THEME: Dinner with a voodoo priestess

On a return visit to New Orleans I had the chance to interview Mary Millan, who is a genuine voodoo priestess, ghost tour guide, psychic healer and more. Find out how she got started in the religion and what daily life is like for a voodoo practitioner.

#20 A Natural Voyeur
April 25, 2010

STRANGER: Amy Messere
LOCATION: Caffe Dolce Vita, Providence, Rhode Island
THEME: Brunch with a strip club waitress/photographer

The fourth of four interviews with strangers in Providence. Rhode Island-born Amy Messere is a keen photographer and would like to make it a full-time job. But for now her main income comes from working as a strip club waitress.

STRANGER: Bob Black
LOCATION: Andreas, Providence, Rhode Island
THEME: Dinner with a realtor/blogger

Bob Black is a realtor with no less than three blogs. He’s got a lot to say and many goals in life. Find out about his history with Rhode Island, his love for his home state, and his plans for the future.

STRANGER: Mary Ann Sorrentino
LOCATION: Mediterraneo, Providence, Rhode Island
THEME: Lunch with an abortion rights advocate

Another interview in Providence, this time with Mary Ann Sorrentino. This always-energetic woman was a former director of Planned Parenthood in Rhode Island, a radio talk show host, and too many other roles to summarize here.

#17 Artist By Design
April 23, 2010

STRANGER: Robin Tafel
LOCATION: Camille’s, Providence, Rhode Island
THEME: Dinner with a design student

The first of four dinner interviews from a weekend trip to Providence. Meet Robin Tafel, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. As she gets ready for graduation, she’s trying to figure out what to do next.

#16 Teresa’s Toys
December 6, 2009

STRANGER: Teresa Suarez
LOCATION: Alice’s Tea Cup, New York City
THEME: Tea and sex toys

Brunch in Manhattan with Teresa Suarez, a busy woman with three jobs. One of them revolves around selling sex toys and other adult entertainment. Find out how she got started in the business and why she loves the work she does.

#15 They Call Him Mister Fry
December 5, 2009

STRANGER: Jack Freiberger
LOCATION: Tony’s DiNapoli, New York City
THEME: Talking with a teacher/actor

A visit to New York City led to an interview with Jack Freiberger, a part-time teacher, part-time actor who is successfully combining both professions into a one-man play about the ups and downs of being an educator.

#14 Magic Moments
November 27, 2009

STRANGER: Michael Chamberlin
LOCATION: Thaiphoon, Washington, DC
THEME: Dining with a magician/stage director

Back in Washington, DC, for an interview over Thai food with a magician who splits his time between New York and DC. Click on the picture above to read all about his magical career, and his ever-growing interest in theatre.

STRANGER: Buzzy “Beano” Langford
LOCATION: Bayona, New Orleans
THEME: Meal with a musician

New Orleans is the home of jazz in the United States, but what about rock and roll? I had dinner with Buzzy, a guitar player in a local cover band who is living out his dream by making music, both as a career and a hobby.

STRANGER: Jerry Gandolfo
LOCATION: The Court of Two Sisters, New Orleans
THEME: Curious about a curator

Voodoo is one of the main attractions for many visitors to New Orleans. On a recent trip to the city I sat down to dinner with a man who runs a museum dedicated to the subject to find out more about the world of voodoo.

#11 In The Picture
August 15, 2009

STRANGER: Lars Stephan
LOCATION: Diner, Brooklyn, New York City
THEME: Prying into a photographer’s life

An evening meal in Brooklyn to find out about the life of a young photographer who moved from Germany to New York, and is starting to make a name for himself by using the Internet to post his work.

STRANGER: Cecil Baldwin
LOCATION: Belcourt, New York City
THEME: Acting up in Manhattan

Brunch in New York City with a waiter working to be a full-time actor. Forget any preconceptions that previous sentence may conjure up, because his life history so far testifies to the dedication he has to acting.

#9 A Slice Of Pizza
May 25, 2009

STRANGERS: Michael Wilkinson & Alicia Wilkinson-Mehr
LOCATION: Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, Washington, DC
THEME: Making a pizza with strangers

Back to Washington for lunch with brother and sister twins who are bringing New Haven style pizza to the nation’s capital. Not sure what’s meant by New Haven style? Click away on the picture above to have your question answered.

#8 She Loves New York
May 10, 2009

STRANGER: Gretchen Auer
LOCATION: Ta Cocina, New York City
THEME: Big fan of the Big Apple

Another dinner in New York, this time with a stranger who was born in Ohio but long desired to move to Manhattan. Now she’s achieved her dream and is enjoying life in the city so good they named it twice. But if it’s that great, why not name it three times?

#7 No Regrets
May 9, 2009

STRANGER: Lynda Eselp
LOCATION: AOC Bistro, Brooklyn, New York City
THEME: Breaking bread in Brooklyn

Back to the Big Apple to meet another stranger. This time it’s a woman who has had more than her fair share of bad things happen, but she turns everything into a positive experience.

#6 Clowning Around
March 26, 2009

STRANGER: Diego Barquinero
LOCATION: The Counter, Santa Monica, California
THEME: Chatting with a clown

On a recent holiday in California I got the chance to have dinner with a genuine circus clown. Click above to learn all about this stranger’s life under the big top.

#5 The Prince Of Petworth
March 24, 2009

STRANGER: Dan Silverman
LOCATION: CommonWealth, Washington, DC
THEME: Dining in the District

The inaugural dinner in Washington, DC, with a stranger took me less than a block from my house to meet up with a locally well-known blogger who’s all about promoting the positive aspects of the city. Hard to argue with that.

STRANGER: Ralph Archbold
LOCATION: City Tavern, Philadelphia
THEME: Hungry for history

For more than 30 years, Ralph Archbold’s job has been taking on the role of Benjamin Franklin for school events, public speaking, promotions, and even White House celebrations. Find out more about how he got into such a career, some of his favorite moments performing as Ben, and even hear a fine story about oysters.

STRANGER: Margarita Pracatan
LOCATION: Fusha, New York City
THEME: Chatting with a Cuban singer

Learn all about Margarita Pracatan, a Cuban singer living in New York. She’s a true individual whose endless enthusiasm and love of singing make her a genuine pleasure to be around. The article also includes videos of Margarita and I performing a couple of hits. You may want ear-plugs.

#2 Funny Man, Funny Man-Date
November 28, 2008

STRANGER: Jim Piddock
LOCATION: Mistral, Sherman Oaks, California
THEME: Interview with an actor/writer/Brit

The second dinner with a stranger, this time with a celebrity. Click on the bright shiny picture above to read about my meeting with Jim Piddock, learn about his climb up the Broadway and Hollywood ladders, and some of the projects he’s working on these days.

#1 My Dinner With Joseph
November 15, 2008

STRANGER: Joe Matar
LOCATION: The Spotted Pig, New York City
THEME: Genesis of the site

Lunch in New York City with my friend Joe Matar (not a total stranger) to talk about my initial idea for Dining With Strangers, while also learning more about Joe’s story.


The Tragic Story Behind Why Padma Lakshmi Has a 7-Inch Scar on Her Arm

The Top Chef host was in a brutal car accident when she was 14.

  • Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi has a noticeable scar on her right arm.
  • The scar resulted from a brutal car accident when she was 14.
  • Initially, she was super self-conscious of the mark, but now she embraces it.

On the September cover of Women&rsquos Health, Padma Lakshmi exudes power and strength&mdashas does the seven-inch scar tracing her proudly sleeveless right arm. In her interview with Women&rsquos Health&rsquos Amy Wilkinson, the Top Chef host didn&rsquot mention the abrasion&mdashmost likely because she has told the story behind it, and why she chooses not to hide it, plenty of times before.

In 2001, Lakshmi wrote a personal essay for Vogue in which she detailed the moment her parents&rsquo car leaped off of the freeway, dropping 40 feet into an embankment where a tree broke their fall. She was 14.

&ldquoThere was a loud bang, and I looked out the windshield and saw nothing but the prettiest blue sky,&rdquo she wrote. &ldquoOur red Ford Mercury sedan was airborne.&rdquo Upon landing, she and her parents were covered in glass and debris, and waited for 40 minutes before paramedics used &ldquothe jaws of life&rdquo to free them from the vehicle.

&ldquoA helicopter landed in the middle of the highway to take my parents away,&rdquo she wrote. &ldquoAn ambulance carried me to the hospital. I finally passed out. When I woke up hours later, I had tubes coming out of several places in my body. My right arm had been shattered and my right hip had been fractured. After surgery, I regained the use of both of them but was left with a long scar on my arm.&rdquo

Initially, Lakshmi explained that she was super self-conscious of the mark, to the point where she perfected a pose that would hide it when she crossed her arms. She remembered wishing the doctor would&rsquove operated from the back side. When she started modeling in college, she covered it with stage makeup and powder. But as she got older, she learned to embrace it as a reminder of her survival.

&ldquoMy body is almost a map of my life, for good and bad,&rdquo she told SELF in 2016. &ldquoMy attitude about my body has grown and changed and morphed and evolved, as has my body.&rdquo

Now, she&rsquos attached to her scars&mdashnot just the impressionable one on her arm, but those from childbirth, and other life experiences. &ldquoIt&rsquos what sets me apart and makes me me,&rdquo she added. &ldquoAnd even if someone could wave a magic wand, I really don&rsquot think I would choose to eliminate my scar.&rdquo

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