food

An excellent meal

by Steve Brock on March 10, 2015

Kings Kitchen InteriorAlmost a year ago, my colleague and I are in Charlotte, NC for business, hungry and confused by the various recommended food options on Yelp. So we find a restaurant the old fashion way: We drive around and see what is crowded.

We spot an intriguing looking restaurant on the corner, The King’s Kitchen. We double check on Yelp. Great reviews. We park and go in.

Even at 1:30 p.m., the place still has the ambient hum of multiple white collar workers finishing up their lunches. This is uptown Charlotte, blocks away from the headquarters of financial giants like Bank of America. We are seated. The menu is “new Southern” and inviting. I order something I’ve never had in a restaurant before, pot roast with three sides of various vegetables.

I can’t verify that my eyes close when I take the first bite, but I can say I’ve never tasted a better pot roast in my life (sorry, Mom). Every aspect of the meal generates excited comments between my colleague and me. As our plates are cleared and we’re waiting for the check, however, I look around and realize something seems out of place.

The restaurant has a great vibe, modern with an island-like bar surrounded by tables which in turn line the two large walls of windows. But something seems different from other trendy restaurants and that’s when I realize what it is: the music.

The background music is contemporary Christian. Not something you hear in cool restaurants where I live.

The manager comes by and asks how things are. We rave about the food. Then I ask about the music. She smiles. “We’re not just a restaurant. We’re a ministry. Stick around another hour and we’ve got a bible study starting at 3:00. Come here Saturday morning and you can help distribute food to the homeless. Come here Sunday, and the owner, Chef Jim Noble (who is also an ordained pastor) will be preaching at our church service. And your waiter and all the others? Most come from the streets or out of rehab programs or prison and are trained here.”

As we leave, the manager introduces me to Jim Noble He’s here meeting with an architect, one who, it turns out, designs restaurant interiors all over the world. They’re discussing ways to make further improvements to the space. I tell Jim how impressed we are, how it not only is a great ministry, but great food.

He nods. He runs several other award-winning restaurants in the area. “You can have the best intentions, but if the food isn’t up there, you won’t succeed,” he says.

********

Last month, I’m back in Charlotte with another colleague. I tell him about the King’s kitchen (I only notice the intentional capitalization later) and he eagerly agrees to go there for dinner. I order salmon with a winter squash puree, glazed oyster mushrooms, brussels and bacon. If possible, this meal is even better than my first.

Afterwards, we talk to Steve Hendrick, the general manager (pictured in the photo). I tell him of my previous experience, of our praise for what they’ve done here. He’s appreciative. He informs us that they are now fully self-supporting as a business (even though 100% of profits go locally to feeding the hungry). That they are packed most every night. That they’ve just been nominated as one of the top restaurants in Charlotte.

We congratulate him. And most of all, we thank him for what he, Jim Noble and all the staff and volunteers have accomplished: They have done ministry with excellence.

*******

Excellence. It’s not always a word we associate with ministries. But when I see a place like the King’s kitchen doing good and doing well with quality, I’m deeply inspired. It makes me want to apply those same standards to all I do. Not just in my profession, but also at my church or in my volunteer work with other non-profits I know.

Most people say excellence matters. But if you’re ever in Charlotte, go to King’s kitchen and see what it looks like in action. Or even better, go and taste it for yourself.

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It just takes one

by Steve Brock on June 27, 2014

Grand Bazaar EntranceMy Uber driver and I start to chat. He’s driving me to the airport in Southern California last week and it doesn’t take long until we land on a topic of mutual passion: travel.

He’s retired and now drives part-time for Uber (a taxi-like service where drivers use their own cars and your rates are all determined ahead of time) to support his travel addiction. His travel mode of choice: cruises.

We discuss the pros and cons of cruising and in particular, the dilemma of food: you have a menagerie of delicacies available to you 24/7 on the ship, so why bother eating on shore? There’s one good reason: You’ll never gain a taste of the authentic food of the region on your floating hotel.

And so he tells me about his stop in Istanbul, one place where he definitely wanted to partake in the local cuisine.

Grand Bazaar MarketHe was visiting the Grand Bazaar with his wife and friends. They were having a very pleasant conversation with one of the ubiquitous purveyors there of rugs, lamps and interesting clothing options (the photos you see here are from my time at the Grand Bazaar a few years back including the outfits shown below). This particular rug seller had been extremely friendly and helpful, so my driver asked him about good options for lunch.

Belly Dancing OutfitsThe merchant said he knew just the place and personally walked them to a restaurant around the corner and spoke to the owner who seated the group of four enthusiastically. The women in the party opted to wait for food on the ship, so the two men ordered, asking their hostess to select “typical Turkish cuisine” for them. Soon, she brought out a series of appetizers and finally the main course.

Grand Bazaar Lamps

My driver described how it was all tasty, but then they got the bill: for just two of them at lunch at a casual restaurant, the total came to over $150. He and his friends were outraged. They quickly realized they had been scammed, but at that point, they realized also there was not much they could do about it without causing even more of a scene.

They returned to the ship poorer yet wiser. But worst of all, they left with a bad taste in their mouths: a negative impression of the whole place caused by one unethical restaurant owner (or perhaps two if you figure the rug merchant was likely involved as well).

My driver stated that he cannot blame all the people of Turkey for one bad experience. And yet, just one encounter like that can’t help but influence you and affect your perceptions of a place. I work in branding and marketing and thus, though we may not like it, I know from experience how much perception is our reality.

That was an unfortunate situation for my driver, but it made me realize something else. It just takes one bad encounter to tarnish our view of an entire country or culture. But do we ever think about that in reverse? Meaning, did you ever realize you may be the only American (or whatever your nationality) that a person in another country meets?

We think of the people we encounter on a trip as windows into their culture. And they are. But it’s a two-way window.

That adds both great responsibility and a great opportunity to us and our trips. What kind of impression will we make? What kind of memory will we leave, about us and about our country? We may not feel as if we represent all Americans but someone overseas doesn’t necessarily know that. To them, we are America.

 It doesn’t take hundreds or thousands of Americans to make an impression on someone overseas.

It just takes one.

 

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Waiting, waiting, waiting…

by Steve Brock on April 15, 2014

Delft CafeI’m normally about as excited by the prospect of waiting as I am of going to the dentist, seeing the friendly neighborhood-roaming Jehovah’s Witnesses approach my front door or having a water pipe – upstairs – burst.

I change lines at the store and lanes on the freeway at least twice (usually ending up worse off) and I will enter 1:11 on the microwave instead of 1:00 (alas, our microwave doesn’t offer the coveted “1 min.” button) just to save a few milliseconds required to move my finger the 2 inches to the other keys. Getting someplace too early is, to me, a greater violation than paying retail. Delayed flights? Don’t ask.

It’s not that I am inherently impatient. Okay, I am. But I like to think that I’m optimizing life: I’d rather be spending time on all those wonderful things that delight rather than standing in some line somewhere for longer than I should because someone in front of me isn’t, well, optimizing life.

So imagine my reaction last summer when faced with the prospect of waiting seven hours for my oldest son to attend a concert. Not any concert. The North Sea Jazz Festival (one of the jazz world’s top gatherings each year in Rotterdam, Netherlands). He had been looking forward to this as the highlight of our European trip. Which was great for him but left my wife, younger son and me…waiting.

Actually, we used the time well by driving out to see a jam-packed Dutch beach and the major sites of The Hague before stopping in the quaint town of Delft.

This beautiful old city – home of the famous blue and white china that bears its name – was a joy to explore: the main square, churches, canals and windy streets. All of these made for a great way to spend our time as we waited for my oldest son.

Most of the shops and points of interest closed by 6 PM and we still had over three hours to wait. So we found a small tree-lined square several blocks from the more touristy main square, selected a restaurant both by sight and due to a guidebook recommendation and sat down at an outdoor table for dinner.

For three hours.

Yes, I know the Europeans do this all the time. But me? Three hours just sitting there?

Sure, the meal was extremely good: salad leisurely followed by the main course (barbecued pork something: our waiter’s excellent English failed to find the word for this part of the pig put he reassured me it was a noble – and tasty – section. He was right.) Eventually, dessert and coffee, all spread out over three hours. Three hours just waiting.

The funny part? When it was finally time to go, we were not ready.

We’d had great conversations among ourselves, with our waiter, with another waitress who was delighted when we gave her the page from the guidebook with the restaurant’s write up, and even nearby couples were also enjoying their leisurely meals.

By the time we picked up our son at the jazz festival, the three of us who had “endured” the lengthy wait all wondered the same thing: Why don’t we do that more often?

I can still be impatient. But I realize that waiting isn’t the issue. It’s how you do it that can make it feel like a curse…or an amazing blessing.

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Traveling hungry – Part 2

by Steve Brock June 19, 2013

On trips, you get pretty hungry and are willing to eat almost anything. Almost. And sometimes you get a pleasant surprise.

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Traveling hungry – Part 1

by Steve Brock June 7, 2013

Finding food on a trip can be one of the best parts of travel. Or one of the worst…

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The hunger for a quest

by Steve Brock May 8, 2013

An article in the paper about the best baguette in Paris sparks the idea for a quest to find the baker for the sheer joy of having a quest.

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When your trip goes awry – Part 4

by Steve Brock January 25, 2013

When I finally make it to my destination after many missed flights, gratitude should be my first response. But why isn’t it?

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