Taste Carolina’s Parties Revisited

Last night, Taste Carolina celebrated the holidays with a dinner party. I try to give two parties each year where all the tour guides get together, one in January for the holidays and another one in the spring to celebrate Taste Carolina’s March anniversary. Over the years we’ve celebrated at Toast, Acme and Carrboro Beverage Company, Panciuto and The Wooden Nickel, Bull City Burger and Brewery, Centro and Foundation (with Crumb), Vimala’s and TOPO, and, last night, Jose & Sons and Crank ArmImage

After beer hour at Crank Arm, where we enjoyed really delicious beers, we arrived at Jose & Sons, where yuca fries with chimichurri, beef flautas, and, my favorite bite of the night, tostones (fried plantains) topped with pimiento cheese and bacon, were out on the table. We all ordered margaritas and other drinks. I really loved my cucumber margarita.

I’m fortunate to have fantastic tour guides. I make it a point to hire people who are way more bubbly than I am, who are wonderful hosts, resourceful, and who love the concept of Taste Carolina and the cities they show off each week. I think Dean has been with Taste Carolina the longest, and Neesey is the newest. I’ve never had to let anyone go, but I have had turnover: guides who want their weekends back, whose day jobs have become too demanding to have a second job, or who have moved. It’s hard to lose talented employees because they are very hard to replace – and because I like everyone a lot and miss them when they leave the company.

I can’t wait for the next party, and I’m thinking that it won’t be a sit-down dinner. Perhaps some kind of stand-up, cocktail-like party. Something high energy for this high energy group! And with an awesome cake.



PS: If you are interested in working for Taste Carolina or who know anyone who would make a great guide, please contact me.


Cat leads Durham, Chapel Hill/ Carrboro, and Hillsborough tours, but being a certified jack of all trades, she can sometimes be found in Raleigh, too. She’s a natural host who makes everyone feel at ease while keeping the group entertained.

What is your occupation? Director of Marketing at Straw Valley Food and Drink.

Where are you from? Dayton, Ohio- The birthplace of the Wright Brothers.

When did you move to North Carolina? 2011.

What do you love best about North Carolina? The weather and ample supply of pimento cheese.

What do you love best about leading food tours? Meeting new people and showing off our area.

What are your favorite foods? (List three) Pizza, all kinds of cheese, and eggs Benedict.

What is your comfort food? Any kind of breakfast food.

What is your favorite drink? Bourbon and ginger.

What food/s won’t you eat/ try? I will try anything once.

Who is the one person you would love to cook with? Jacques Pepin.

What are your hobbies? Watering plants (I won’t call it gardening yet), volunteering with the Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties, and riding bikes.

Favorite restaurant? Deep Wood in Columbus, Ohio will be my favorite for a long time. Its where I got married!

Favorite sandwich? BLT with a fried egg.

Favorite cookie? Gingersnaps, the soft homemade kind.


Chris leads Durham tours. He and his wife, Sandy, are our first husband/ wife tour guide team! Chris is always entertaining and full of insight.

What is your occupation? Global Account Director.

Where are you from? Born and raised in New Jersey but have lived in the following metropolitan areas prior to moving to NC: New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, San Jose.

When did you move to North Carolina? 1999.

What do you love best about North Carolina? The weather is wonderful; not too cold in the winter, not to hot in the summer, and long spring and fall seasons. Plus great beaches, mountains, and fun cities to explore.

What do you love best about leading food tours? The people: I always meet interesting people and have fun hosting them on their culinary tour of the city. I also learn something new each time I take a group on a tour… something about the city’s history I didn’t know, or a restaurant I have not been to yet, or even a great new movie to see.

What are your favorite foods? (List three) I’m a meat eater, so I enjoy many forms of animal protein, but Bacon is probably at or near the top, along with barbecue. I also love most Italian food, Pasta being a favorite. As for sweets, I’d put Chocolate at the top.

What is your comfort food? When I’m not feeling well, I go for simple: chicken noodle soup or a grilled cheese sandwich.

What is your favorite drink? Every day I like ½ sweet tea (even after 15 years, I still can’t drink 100% sweet tea). On the alcohol side, I like both beer and wine, and my favorite cocktail is a gin & tonic (Tanqueray please).

What food/s won’t you eat/ try? I’ll try anything once, or twice.

Who is the one person you would love to cook with? Alton Brown. He seems like a cool person to cook with, but I’d also like to ride motorcycles with him (a fellow BMW bike owner).

What are your hobbies? Traveling, Skiing, Working out, Hiking, Motorcycling, Yoga, Tennis, Golf, Reading.

Favorite sandwich? An Italian sub or a French dip.

Favorite cookie? It’s not often I find a cookie I don’t like, but I’d have to pick the old Chocolate Chip as top of the list.


Sandy leads Raleigh tours, and her husband, Chris, leads Durham tours! Sandy enjoys her day job as an IT consultant a lot, but she loves her weekends, too, and she’s thrilled to be able to show Taste Carolina customers all the best that downtown Raleigh has to offer.

What is your occupation? IT Software Consultant.

Where are you from?  Suburban Philadelphia (Springfield), PA.

When did you move to North Carolina? 1999 via “Silicon Valley”, California.

What do you love best about North Carolina? The Carolina blue sky, the quality of life, and the friendly people.

What do you love best about leading food tours? Meeting new people, sharing the history of the area, and exploring/ supporting the local farm-to-table movement.

What are your favorite foods? (List three) Fresh Summer Tomatoes, Crab Cakes, and any Farm Fresh Cheese.

What is your comfort food? Mashed potatoes (with a few lumps).

What is your favorite drink? Bloody Mary (with horseradish) or un-sweet iced tea.

What food/s won’t you eat/ try? I’ll try anything once or twice, if I don’t have to do the dishes.

Who is the one person you would love to cook with? Jamie Oliver – great British accent and a sense of humor.

What are your hobbies? Traveling, yoga, gardening, motorcycling and trying new restaurants.

Favorite restaurant?  The Weathervane in Chapel Hill.

Favorite sandwich? Grilled cheese with fresh tomatoes — of course.

Favorite cookie? White Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Oatmeal (crunchy not soft).

Kelly: When a Customer Becomes a Tour Guide

After attending four different Taste Carolina tours, Kelly was a fan of Taste Carolina and the local food scene. And, as it turned out, she was an ideal tour guide. So Kelly made the transition from customer to tour guide, and it’s been fabulous (for us, and we hope for her, too) ever since. Her teaching skills and friendly personality make the Chapel Hill/ Carrboro tours that she leads a delight for all.

Starting with the basics: 

Occupation : Well, I am an elementary reading teacher, but right now I’m on sabbatical. I’m staying home with my toddler. I have an 18-month-old, Paxton. Where are you from? I grew up in Danville, California, which is right outside of the Bay Area. When did you move to North Carolina? I moved here 15 years ago when I finished school at Wake Forest. My parents grew up in Durham, so I’ve always been interested in the area. My dad and step-mom would bring us to Myrtle Beach every summer, and my mom is a proud southerner. She would always try to get Duke games on in California. She and my step-dad now live in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

What do you love best about North Carolina? I always had a desire to discover everything about my own personal history. But now that I’m here, I’m just fascinated by the culture and the people. It’s such a vibrant area. It’s just interesting here. And it’s constantly changing with new people coming in. And, of course, you have the mountains and the beach…. I just think it has so much to offer.

What type of music do you listen to when you’re cooking in the kitchen? I’ve just started cooking since I had my son. I am so not a cook, but I’ve trying to learn . I try to cook when he’s napping, so I usually just try recipes that allow me to keep it quiet. Also, I have to concentrate so much since it’s new to me. I think music would be a distraction.

Top 5 favorite foods? (anything goes) (1) I have a big sweet tooth, so lots of desserts would be at the top of the list – especially chocolate; (2)French fries; (3) I love fruit; (4) I generally like any kind of Mexican food; (5) Sushi rolls.

What is your comfort food? Probably grilled cheese with tomato soup – and a chocolate chip cookie. Or if it’s hot out, I love smoothies. I used to work at smoothie shop in Santa Barbara, and those were the best.

Are there any foods you won’t eat/try? No, and some people are surprised because of my personality, but I I’ll try anything once, and that includes food. I don’t like super hot foods, but I’ll try anything.

What is the last memorable meal you’ve eaten recently? The last meal I cooked that was really good was from Rachel Ray Magazine. It was fettuccine with Italian sausage and kale. It was really yummy; my husband was like, “wow”. We hardly ever eat out anymore, but we recently went to Rue Cler for brunch for my birthday, and it was delicious. Everyone from our family went, and they loved it. I keep telling everyone to go.

The ingredient you currently can’t stop using is: Lately I’ve noticed that anything that has curry in it, I want to try it. I just feel like it’s good with everything. I tried it with fish last week and it was great. If I find something I like I’ll stick with it…  I’ll order anything off a menu if it has the word avocado in it.

You have a day with absolutely no obligations. How do you spend it? Oh gosh, since having my son this hasn’t happened to me. I think I would want to spend the day on me if I didn’t have to take care of my son. So let’s see… I would go get a pedicure, meet my girlfriends for lunch at Toast (I get their goat cheese with honey crostini), then I would probably take a short walk or hike somewhere, and read a book. Oh, and go see a movie.

What are some cooking challenges or techniques you would like to tackle? Oh gosh, I feel like all of it is a challenge right now. It’s a process. Like the other day, I tried to cook tofu for the first time, and I had to throw the first batch out. I didn’t understand what pressing was, so I had to go on YouTube and figure it out. But it didn’t bother me. Now that I’m home and not working, I enjoy getting to experiment with cooking. It feels like, wow, I accomplished something. Another challenge is cooking for my 18-month-old son, because right now he doesn’t like anything. So if I find something, hallelujah. Also, my husband is allergic to chicken and turkey, and it feels like every recipe has chicken in it. So we’re trying meatless dishes.

Who is one person you’d love to cook with? I would definitely want to cook with this season’s winner of Master Chef, Christine.  She is an amazing cook who happens to be blind. I would love to learn how she uses her senses, taste and touch, to create her meals.

Kelly’s list: 

Favorite Restaurant: There are too many good ones! For brunch: Acme or Vin Rouge.  For lunch: Foster’s Market or Parker and Otis.  For dinner: Provence or Papa’s Grill.
Favorite dish: Lobster stew and popovers at The Jordan Pond House in Maine.
Favorite drink: Cherry Coke.
Favorite cookie: Chocolate Whopper from Foster’s.


Sharon leads tours in Raleigh and, more recently, in Durham. She is incredibly enthusiastic – about everything – but mostly about making sure that everyone around her is having a great time!

What is your occupation? Got a few – Yoga Instructor and Integrative Health and Lifestyle Coach.

Where are you from? Trinidad & Tobago, West Indies.

When did you move to North Carolina? In 2005 from New York City.

What do you love best about North Carolina? Weather, people, small city with big city feel, and the FOOD.

What do you love best about leading food tours? Meeting exciting people and introducing them to the food and chefs — the amazing and passionate chefs in our small city.

What are your favorite foods? (List three) Pumpkin/ butternut squash curried soup, Seafood – grilled with roasted vegetables, West Indian “Callaloo”.

What is your comfort food? Curried pumpkin/ squash soup.

What is your favorite drink? Bellinis, drinks that are bubbly but not too sweet.

What food/s won’t you eat/ try? Anything still alive.

Who is the one person you would love to cook with? Michael Chiarello.

What are your hobbies? Practicing yoga and throwing parties at my home.Sharon - August PIC2

Favorite restaurant? Oooh Tough One – it’s a trifecta – Centro/ Sitti/ Bida Manda.

Favorite sandwich? Grilled Portobello with baby spinach and roasted red peppers on whole grain with a balsamic vinagrette.

Favorite cookie? Chocolate Chip – although I am always looking for another.

Get to Know Darren: The Durham-Hillsborough Guide

Besides delivering deft alliterations during Durham-related sentences, Darren Davis has gotten to know the Triangle very well since he moved to Chapel Hill to attend the University of North Carolina. After earning his undergraduate degree in Economics, Darren migrated over to Durham. Now that he works at Eurosport in Hillsborough, he knows these three cities very well.  He currently leads Taste Carolina’s Durham and Hillsborough food tours.

 Starting with the basics:

Occupation: Inventory buyer for Eurosport. Where are you from? My hometown is Orlando, Florida. When did you move to North Carolina? I moved to Chapel Hill in 2004 as an undergrad at UNC, and then I eventually moved to Durham in 2011.

What do you love best about North Carolina? I really like the mixture, especially in this area; it’s a small town with all the amenities and features of larger cities. I like the close-knit community, the farm culture. I like that there aren’t a lot of chains, especially around here.

What type of music do you listen to when you’re cooking in the kitchen? I listen to some version of drum and bass, Dead Mouse or something like that. It keeps a constant beat.

Top 5 favorite foods? (anything goes) (1) Filet Mignon, (2) Blackened mahi-mahi, (3) Beef stroganoff, (4) Nachos with a lot of guacamole, (5) Spicy Thai green curry.

What is your comfort food? I’d have to say getting a big juicy burger somewhere. That and dark chocolate Raisinets.

Are there any foods you won’t eat/try? Yeah – insects. I just got back from Thailand, and in Bangkok they had these carts with fried scorpions, crickets and other insects. There was a brief second where I was like, “Oh yeah I’ll do that.” And then I saw a girl eat one, and I saw I her face, saw the crunch, and couldn’t do it.

What is the last memorable meal you’ve eaten recently? Last night I was at Six Plates, where I had the lamb meatballs and Israeli couscous.

The ingredient you currently can’t stop using is: Lately, I’ve been using a lot fresh red chili peppers from my friend’s garden.

You have a day with absolutely no obligations. How do you spend it? I’d get a group of friends together and go and see a movie. Right now I really want to see The Master. Then, I’d go and try some new beers, especially some microbrews, and read.

What are some cooking challenges or techniques you would like to tackle? I really don’t know anything about baking, and I think it’d be nice to add desserts to some of my meals. Also, it’s hard to find the time and discipline to cook, that’s probably one of the toughest things.

Who is one person you’d love to cook with? I’d love to cook with Gordon Ramsay. I think I’d learn a lot, but it would also be terrifying and stressful.  Oh, and Mario Batali would be great to cook with too.

What would you consider to be some of your hobbies? Well, I really enjoy staying active and working out.

Darren’s Favorite List: 

Favorite Restaurant: Pancuito in Hillsborough. Favorite Dish: I once had this perfectly cooked triggerfish from Magnolia Grill. Out of all of the meals I’ve had, it’s my favorite. Favorite Sandwich: I think I might go old-school on this one. There are two: it’s a tie between turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce and mayo after thanksgiving, and a good meatloaf sandwich. Favorite Drink: The Hopslam Ale from Bells BreweryFavorite Cookie: The vegan double chocolate cookies from Weaver Street Market. You see them and think “vegan,” but man those things are good.