Chef Ashley Christensen won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast. The news was announced Monday.

To Christensen, a restaurant is not just a place where you sit down to eat.  It’s an entire concept.  She carefully plots an immersive experience for her diners.

Photo by mtsofan / John / found on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

The National Weather Service is calling for an ice storm, not unlike one that crippled the state in 2002. Home and business owners are on the lookout for rock salt, but they're having trouble finding it.

Eileen Beatty manages Pope True Value Hardware in Durham. She says winter inventory has gotten slim since the last snowstorm.

“We don't have anything here. All the salt is gone. Kerosene heaters are gone. Electric heaters are gone. I got two snow shovels left... Two saucers and two sleds,” Beatty said. “And that's it.”

Tony Geraci


Tony Geraci is best known as "Cafeteria Man." He is on a mission to transform menus at school cafeterias and give students healthier options. He launched a farm-to-school program in Contoocook N.H. Then he went on to make changes in larger school systems in Baltimore and Memphis.

Journalist Audra Ang spent seven years reporting from China.
Greg Baker

Audra Ang worked as a foreign correspondent for the AP in Beijing, China for seven years. 

John F. Blair


In the South, food has purposes beyond sustenance and certain items like biscuits, buttermilk, and bacon are sacred. 

Vivian Howard, Chef and the Farmer
Vivian Howard

Working in famous New York City restaurants, Vivian Howard swore she’d never move back to her home state of North Carolina.  Then, in 2005, when she decided to open her restaurant, her family offered financial help with a catch: She had to open the restaurant near her home town.

"I was against it," she remembers.

But Howard and her husband Ben Knight wound up moving to the 20,000-population city of Kinston, N.C., and opened an upscale restaurant.

In the wake of a school shooting at Carver High School in Winston-Salem, parents and students are raising concerns about school safety. The school board will discuss the matter at their meeting this evening. Also, new healthy food guidelines are causing some schools to drop out of the federal school lunch program. But Winston-Salem/ Forsyth County Schools are finding success in the new system. 

Culinary Historian and Judaics Scholar, Michael Twitty / Afroculinaria

This summer, celebrity chef Paula Deen’s use of the N-word stirred controversy. Food historian Michael Twitty wrote an open letter to Deen criticizing her appropriation and misinterpretation of African-American culinary tradition. Twitty will cook and speak about his work at Historic Stagville Plantation's Harvest Festival in Durham this Saturday, September 7th.  

Visitors harvest lavender at Bluebird Hill Farm in Chatham County. Agritourism.
Bluebird Hill Farm

The Triangle foodie scene is growing its digital footprint. A new website called TriangleGrown launched by the Destination Marketing Organizations for Orange, Durham, Johnston, Chatham and Wake Counties aims to promote agritourism by being a go-to resource for people interested in exploring the local farming community.

NC FAST is the new electronic food stamp system.

The state's new electronic food distribution system or NC FAST has been beset by a myriad of software and other problems that have caused backlogs and delays in issuing food stamps.  The new system was rolled out to all 100 counties this past February in hopes of streamlining services for those in need.  David Atkinson is director of the Carteret County Department of social services. His county was one of the first to implement NC FAST. He says while his staff is among the most skilled at using the system, it only works about three quarters of the time.

Frozen yogurt shops are being inspected by the state.
shadeofmelon via Flickr, Creative Commons

Summer is in full swing, which means it’s high season for frozen yogurt shops around the state.  But the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is urging customers to be wary: what you pay for might not be what you get. Many yogurt shops determine price based on the weight of the yogurt and toppings, but they are required to subtract the weight of the cup or package first (which is called the tare weight). According to Jerry Butler, NCDA & CS Weight and Measures program manager, not every shop is aware of that.

The Farmery at American Tobacco
Leoneda Inge

There’s a movement in the Triangle to reinvent the grocery store.  A prototype of this new urban market is open for business at American Tobacco in Durham.  It’s called The Farmery

The urban market is made out of a converted 20 foot by eight foot shipping container with living wall planters hanging outside.  The concept of The Farmery is to grow and sell at the same site.

“Almost every person that walks by asks us a question, when, where, why, how, what’s this for?” 

Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
Michele Hayslett / Flickr Creative Commons

Environmental officials are asking for public input about whether they should replant genetically modified crops (GMCs) at national wildlife refuges in North Carolina. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosts a public meeting at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Thursday.  That refuge and three others in eastern North Carolina have been using a farming program to plant genetically modified crops like corn and soybeans since the 1990's.

A shopper examines produce at Deep Roots grocery.
Deep Roots Coop

Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill are gathering massive amounts of nutritional information to create a better picture of what Americans are eating. 

Scientists are looking at caloric data for every packaged food on the shelves and comparing that to food sales in order to see how they work into Americans' diets.  Professor Meghan Slining says the research will show how quickly manufacturers change ingredients in each product and how that changes nutrition.

NC Strawberry Association

Researchers at N.C. State say oils extracted from herbs and spices could act as a natural disinfectant for fruits and vegetables. 

A joint project with the University of Tennessee aims to find an alternative to chlorine used on produce grown for mass consumption. Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie is a horticultural science professor at N.C. State's research campus in Kannapolis.  She says pungent spices tend to be best at fighting harmful germs.

"They have a very distinct odor, like cinnamon, for instance," Perkins-Veazie says.

James Beard Foundation
James Beard Foundation

The James Beard Foundation announced the recipients of the 2013 Restaurant and Chef Awards on Monday night. Raleigh’s Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner was in the running for Best Chef in the Southeast, but the final award for that category went to Joseph Lenn of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. Christensen was North Carolina’s only James Beard Award Nominee (finalist) this year, out of 13 semi-finalists in the state. Hear her interview with WUNC's State of Things.

Chef Ashley Christensen is a finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast.

To Ashley Christensen, a restaurant is not just a place where you sit down to eat.  It’s an entire concept.  She carefully plots an immersive experience for her diners. 

Dogs wait in line for treats from the Waggin' Wagon.
courtesy of McKinney

The Triangle has some of the state’s most sought-after flavors: a recent slew of James-Beard Award semifinalists and Durham’s newest title, “Tastiest Town in the South,” have people chatting happily about the region’s good tastes.

There are days for cake, and days for ice cream and cookies. But every now and then, you crave a different kind of finish to a satisfying meal. Enter Atlantic Beach Pie, a salty and citrusy staple of the North Carolina coast.

Shelly Green with Durham's award for the Tastiest Town in the South
Leoneda Inge

It’s a booming year for the Durham food scene. In February, four of its restaurants became James Beard semi-finalists, and today Southern Living magazine declared Durham the “Tastiest Town in the South.”

John Anton, bar manager at Mandolin
courtesty of John Anton

If you’ve never heard of pisco, then you're not alone. But  Mandolin bar manager John Anton hopes to change that.  He wants to introduce pisco – a Peruvian grape brandy – to people in the Raleigh area willing to give it a go, and he believes that a trip to Peru to witness the makers of the spirit can help him do it. Anton will head to the Peruvian town of Ica next month, courtesy of pisco-maker Campo de Encanto, to watch a 90-year-old master pisco distiller in action.

A shopper examines produce at Deep Roots grocery.
Deep Roots Coop

Residents in Greensboro haven’t been able to shop downtown for fresh produce, seafood and prepared meals in decades. The city had two A&P Grocery stores in the early 1970s, but since they left no other markets have filled the void. That changed this week when Deep Roots Market relocated to North Eugene St.

Phoebe Lawless
Lissa Gotwals

People who bake pies for a living usually do so because they love it. Not to win awards. So when Phoebe Lawless of Scratch bakery learned recently that the James Beard Foundation named her a semi-finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef – an honor she shares with only 19 others in the country – she was thoroughly shocked.   “I certainly did not expect to find myself on the list,” she said.  Lawless learned of the honor while at home on her couch, when someone mentioned it on Twitter.  

Fullsteam's First Frost persimmon ale

Like last year, Sean Lilly Wilson of the Durham brewery Fullsteam found out that he was on the list of 2013 James Beard Award semi-finalists via Twitter.  And he thought it was a mistake.  His reaction?  “Profound disbelief,” he says.  Wilson’s Fullsteam made the semi-finalist list for the Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional Award, joining names like Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Buffalo Trace Distillery, and The Brooklyn Brewery.

Even though he’s been a James Beard Award semi-finalist for three years in a row, Chef Aaron Vandemark of Hillsborough’s Panciuto was caught off guard last month when he learned that his name was on the list yet again. He was checking his email and received a congratulatory note, at first not realizing what it was for.  But that’s not too different from last year, Vandemark says. In 2012, he was alone in his kitchen cutting up lamb parts when he received a phone call from a writer in Raleigh who gave him the news.  “I’m always surprised by how informal it is,” he admits, referring to the fact that The James Beard Foundation does not notify its semi-finalists directly.