Charlie Jennings

One of the thing that interests me about food is, well, all the interesting people doing interesting things with food both at home and in business. Over the next few months Mockingbird will send questions to different food people for different reasons.

Charlie Jennings is a former co-worker of mine. His blog CharlieTuna is one of my favorites. Below he talks about his food experiences.

Name: Charlie Jennings
Hometown: Knoxville, TN
Occupation: Concert Promoter

What do you remember about eating growing up?
As far as eating out goes, it was McDonald’s hamburgers, pizza, chicken nuggets, “Japanese” food or Outback Steakhouse on a special occasion, and so on.  I still get those things occasionally for the nostalgia…not so much the nutrition….

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house on my dad’s side of the family until I was about 15, so the food I ate there is really strong in my memory.  A few highlights were cubed steak, chicken & dumplin’s, biscuits, pork schnitzel, and all sorts of awesome side dishes, especially the green beans.  My mom’s mom’s cooking is equally vivid in many ways, but a little more recently.  Both families resided in upper East TN and served “country cooking,” but my grandmother on my mom’s side serves a “cleaner,” slightly healthier country cooking.  You know, olive oil in the beans instead of butter, but with equally great flavor.  They have a farm in Joneborough, TN, so I’ve had a lot of great farm-fresh vegetables there.  I loved (and still do) their corn, Cherokee purple tomatoes, potatoes, Asian pears, Concord grapes and more.

Of course, I remember my mom’s food.  I loved her spaghetti and red meat sauce, chicken and rice casserole, Christmas jam pasty, and all sorts of other stuff.  I still enjoy all of that today.

I miss some of the unique food spots in Bristol area…Blue Circle hamburgers, Ed’s Pizza Parlor, Ridgewood BBQ, and others.

How did you get into food and cooking?
There’s many things I credit with it, but I imagine it has a lot to do with food being a key part of holiday celebrations with both sides of my family and watching food TV when I was younger.  There was once a show on TLC, I think, called Great Chefs of the World.  It was a 3 part show, if I remember correctly, that featured a dish from three different chefs from different parts of the world, mostly Europe.  I watched if after school, I believe.  Then, in the early to mid-90s I started watching the Food Network in its early stages.  That’s when it was just Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, and others cooking in a kitchen in their white chef’s jackets – no B.S.  It was more instructional than entertainment. That’s changed, obviously.  Julia Childs, Graham Kerr, and Martin Yan were still on Public TV at the time, so I watched those, too.

Favorite album(s) to cook to?
I am still working on a kitchen audio solution, honestly, but it’s usually something ambient or jazzy or soulful, not my longtime favorite type of music, i.e. heavy metal, but something more soothing.  Metal takes too much of my attention.

Three-four restaurants you want to eat at this year.
I want to go to Blackberry Farm.  I am hoping to do that for my birthday.
I’d like to go to one of the new hot spots in Atlanta, maybe Miller Union or Holeman & Finch.
There’s some great new places in Vegas getting excellent press, so maybe one of those.
And then there’s a handful of places in Knoxville, like Chez Liberty or Kaya Korean, that I’ve said I would go to but haven’t yet.  I usually stick my standards.  I need to expand locally.

Favorite kind of dining experience?
My favorite dining experience, unquestionably, is food and service quality, presentation, and creativity at the level of fine dining, but served in an unpretentious, comfortable environment.  L’atelier De Joel Robuchon is the epitome of this, in my opinion.  (Other favorites are Restaurant Iris in Memphis and Town House in Chilhowie, VA.)

Other than that, it’s just good food, no matter where it is served – on the side of a road, like a taco truck in California, or in a shopping mall, like the Asian restaurants in Vegas’ Chinatown.

Favorite kind of cooking experience?
It’s definitely cooking in my kitchen with a bottle of wine open and with really good ingredients that came from the store that day.  If I’m being lazy, I like things I can prepare quickly on high heat, either on a grill or in the oven, but if I am fully committed, then I like something involving more technique, like a risotto or homemade pasta and red sauce.