Sunday, September 29, 2013

North Carolina Theatre thanks donors with music and spa services


By Dathan Kazsuk | Sep 29, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

Up until a couple years ago, one would never have expected to find me at a symphony or a musical. I use to think – granted back in the day – the these things were for just girls. I guess a lot has changed over the years.

Lauren Kennedy and her daughter Riley Campbell.
In recent years, I’ve seen classics such as Wicked, Rent, Jeckyll & Hyde and Anything Goes. I’ve seen some of the obscure ones as well, in the likes of Avenue Q, Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors. I’ve also seen some very witty performances such as War Horse and Nerds (which I have to admit was a great show).

Sharing a table with a couple cast members of Les Miserables, 
and the owners of Synergy Spa.
Thanks to Theatre in the Park, I’ve been behind the scenes for A Christmas Carol, getting to meet Ira David Wood. With the North Carolina Theatre, I’ve met cast members of Legally Blonde and actress, singer/model, Cybill Shepherd. I’ve talked to North Carolina Symphony’s lead conductor, Grant Llewellyn, prior to him conducting a performance in France. Durham Performing Arts Center has hooked me up with interviews by cast members of The Jersey Boys and West Side Story. I’ve talked to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs … oh, wait, the actors who portray them onstage, that is.

A couple performers of the play, CATS.

I’ve kind of been around the block. Or around the World from where I stood three years ago.

Recently, I was invited to come to a party thrown by the North Carolina Theatre to thank their members and donors. The event took place at Synergy Spa & Aesthetics in Raleigh off Glenwood Avenue and brought in around 70+ patrons. There I had the opportunity to meet Lauren Kennedy and her daughter, Riley, who will both appear in NCT’s performance of Les Miserables this season (starring as Fantine and Cosette). 

A couple girls from the Spa pose for a photograph.
Inside the spa, I strolled through the rooms and eventually found myself getting a 10-minute chair massage by massage therapist Terri Campbell.

“You can’t write about it, without experiencing it,” she says. Sure enough I was coaxed into a good, deep massage that left me rather relaxed.

The evening ended with Lauren singing a few songs to the crowd, which unfortunately I had to miss due to a prior engagement. But I’m hoping this year to get my wife to the theater to view the performance of Les Miserables. The show runs from Feb. 11-23.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Taste of Award-Winning Wines: Bell Wine Cellars

Bell Cellar Wines from Napa Valley.

By Dathan Kazsuk | Sep 27, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

If you haven’t figured it out by now, you must not read my blogs. 

But to say I enjoy wine and beer is an understatement. There are a lot of great wine and beer shops around Raleigh that offer up some great deals and great tastings. If you don’t take these places up on their offers, then I’m assuming you don’t enjoy the finer things in life like I do.

My latest tasting of some great wines came courtesy of the Bedford Wine Club. Well, actually of The Wine Cellar located in Sutton Station in Durham. Store owner Danny Moran supplied the wines, while Dana Clark, president of the Wine Club, gathered the troops for this event.

Around 30 people attended the September club to try 4 wines from the California label, Bell Wine Cellars. Hailing from Napa Valley, co-founder Anthony Bell has been around since 1991 created some artisan wines. The wines included in our $10 tasting fee included the following:

  • Bell Wine Cellars “Big Guy” Red ($30) - This red was named after Anthony’s dog, Ty, which he calls “big guy.” A blend of Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
  • Bell Wine Cellars “Canterbury” Syrah ($50) - A dark, ruby red wine with spice and cracked white pepper aromas.
  • Bell Wine Cellars Claret Cabernet ($45) - Rich in fruit aromas – with hints of licorice, plum and violets.
  • Bell Wine Cellars Cabernet ($65) - A blend of several cab clones, softened with Cab Franc and a dash of Merlot.
Now I have to admit, these were some good wines, but I really wished I could have tried a little more than a 1-ounce pour of each. At the end of the tasting, I was able to try a little bit more of the Claret … but when 20 other people rush to fill their glasses as well, you really don’t get that much more than an extra 2-ounces.

But it was still a deal. While checking out Bell Wine Cellar’s website they offer their tastings for $20 per person! Sorry, this boy isn’t going to pay those high dollar Napa wine tasting games. Wait … I’m going to Napa in April of next year. Let’s hope I can use my wonderful charm and contacts in California to avoid those incredible mark-up fees.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fundraising with Wine and The Piano Man

By Dathan Kazsuk | Sep 15, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

Joe O'Keefe, center, plays songs on his keyboard along side his
daughter and college friend.

Finding great customer service these days is like finding a needle in a haystack. 

And I know every time I make my way into Wine 101 in Wake Forest, the needle is always there to welcome me. A handshake. A pat on the back. A sample of a new beer on draft that I would probably like. It’s all there. All thanks to Joe, Jeffrey and Rufus.

My last visit to Wine 101 just so happened to be on Sept. 13. It was a Friday. It's one of those nights where Mr. Jason Voorhees gets a lot of attention. But not that night. One that freaky Friday, all the attention was upon Wine 101 store owner Joe O'Keefe. 

After the store closed its doors to the general public around 8:30 pm, a flock of around 30 stuck around for a fundraiser to help support a new Wake Forest community theater. Forest Moon Theater is helmed by the team of Bob Baird and Cathy Gouge, they along with O’Keefe, were on hand for this night of entertainment.

If you know O’Keefe, like I do, you know that even though he runs a wine shop, music is his passion. And he showed the crowd his passion for music that night when he sat behind his keyboard and pounded out tunes to some of his favorite artists.

Billy Joel. Elton John. Ben Folds. Don McLean … to name a few. He kicked off his set with Joel’s Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, which starts up aptly enough with the lyrics, “A bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rose´ instead …”

We enjoyed around an hour of tunes by O’Keefe, which had us all singing along with him to Elton John’s Benny and the Jets, Don McLean’s American Pie, and the final song of the evening, the timeless Billy Joel classic, Piano Man. My hats off to O’Keefe and Wine 101 for hosting this fundraiser.

And I can’t wait to catch a performance at the new Forest Moon Theater in Wake Forest.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

ECU Pirates fall short to Virginia Tech


By Dathan Kazsuk | Sep 14, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

Purple! Gold! Purple! Gold!

This color combination was seen and heard a lot on Sept. 14, when I made my first ever appearance to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium … home of the East Carolina Pirates.

The stadium, which seats 50,000 Pirate fans, were up on their feet when their home town team went head-to-head against the Hokies of Virginia Tech. The game started off pretty good for the Pirates, who took their opening drive 75-yards for the team’s only touchdown of the afternoon.

A view from our seats in the Pirate Club Seating.

Yes. I said it. The Pirates only scored 1 touchdown … and 1 field goal. But it was fun watching the game with my wife and two of our friends, who were nice enough to invite us to the game. Along with giving us tickets to watch the game in the Pirate Club seats, they also invited us to their “breakfast tailgate.”

The ECU band's formation is in the shape of our state.

After we had a few alcoholic drinks, we made our way into the stadium, and up to our seats. The seats had us looking down around the 40-yard line, so we had a great view of every play. But there was one thing that we could have used … some clouds! The sun was beating down on us the entire game, and with no sunscreen, I got baked!

My forearms, knees, nose and neck were beet red when I got home. The same applies to my wife, who is also as bright as a red solo cup.

One of the highlights of the game was Virginia Tech’s kicker, who kept the Pirates hopes up all day. Cody Journell missed two easy field goals, one extra point, and would have missed a third field goal if it wasn’t called back due to a penalty on the Pirates. I joked with my friend, telling him that “Cody was the Pirates best player.”

A video clip I took in between plays.

So, after the Pirates lost the game 15-10, I broke down the game to my friend.

"Your quarterback stinks," I said.

"I wasn't expecting them to win this game anyway," he replies.

"You won't win many if he continues to play like that. The O-line is bad, and no receivers can get open. But their record is 2-1, so who knows."

ECU's next game is against the dreaded Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. This is one game where I hope the Pirates come out of there 3-1. Yeah, I'm not a UNC fan ... sorry.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Wine Down Wednesday

By Jen  | August 30, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

Wine Down Wednesday …. sounds great, doesn't it?   I thought so too when I first came across this Meet Up during the Fall of 2012. Advertised as a “dynamic networking and professional development group,” it is definitely that and more.  What really caught my eye was, of course, the wine tastings!  I’m definitely not big at networking and find myself out of my comfort zone when attending events alone –  but sometimes you need to break out of that comfort zone – and just take a chance.  And wine always helps in those situations!  So, by now you are probably asking yourself, ‘What is Wine Down Wednesday, exactly?’ This meet up group visits local wine bars around the Triangle and couples a wine tasting with two motivational speakers who present their experiences and leadership skills as well as a featured non-profit.  After attending a few events at the end of 2012, I found myself with some scheduling conflicts and have just now started attending again and can honestly say, I walk out of there feeling inspired … inspired to work on those “ideas” we have to supplement our lives, whether to increase our incomes or quite honestly, just to increase our lives!

I attended the last Wine Down Wednesday this past week at a new wine boutique, Vino Amoari, with around 30 or so other members!  As usual, I arrived a little early and found everyone still setting up for the evening. I eventually found my spot at the bar anxiously awaiting the first speaker as I joined in on some conversations with other attendees.  The wine manager, Karleigh, was a fantastic host as was the wine distributor and shop owner, who were also there. 

The wine tasting consisted of 5 wines for $6 served throughout the event and included a Baby Prosecco, Hunter's Chardonnay, an Albarino, Secreto de Viu Manent 2007 Syrah (good enough to even buy a bottle on the way out the door) and a Treasure Hunter Bordeaux Blend out of Napa Valley. These were all paired with cheese, meat, hummus and strawberries soaked in Prosecco!  And if that was not enough, the speakers were amazing and inspirational, as always!

The first speaker, Dr. Barnsley Brown, author of “Get Out of Debt and Get On With Your Life,” spoke on the Three Secrets to Financial Fitness and Power!  This was not quite what I was expecting as I was thinking this would be more a talk of how to manage your money. Dr. Brown took a totally different approach to prosperity by asking us what our highest values were … what is important to “YOU” and what drains “YOU!” Ironically, although I put family, career and volunteerism as my top three highest values, my number one was really my cat, Oreo!  Although I did not take advantage of purchasing an autographed copy of her book, I’m wishing I had!

Next, Lisa Bamford from Doing Good Network (DGN), the charity sponsor for night, introduced Fred Fletcher as he spoke about his life, the organization, and the work they do to raise funds for nonprofit organizations that are in need of funding.  Fred also announced Bands 4 Good Challenge 2013 which is a virtual music video competition that will provide exposure to unsigned, aspiring musicians along with the opportunity to raise funds for nonprofit military support organizations.  For more information, go to 

After a short break, Megan and Barton Cutter took the “stage” (if you will) to talk about how to transform your personal vision into lasting results. The Cutters are the authors of Ink in the Wheels: Stories to Make Love Roll, a memoir about their journey as an inter-ability couple. What I took away from this presentation was have a vision, live your life to its fullest potential, never give up and accept who you are.

Following the presenters, the networking continued and I met some great people and made some great contacts. Ironically, however, I was asked at least three times why, if I work for a corporation, do I attend such events?  Interesting. Well, I can honestly say that I attend, other than for my love of wine, to learn from others, be inspired by others, hope to take our ideas and gain the confidence and inspiration to make our dreams come true. It is not always about money. I have to keep telling myself that since our inspiration and passion revolve around starting a non-profit.  And if nothing else, I made some contacts for our Wine and Beer club.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pairing Sparkling Wine with Homemade Sorbet to Celebrate Summer

By Jen  | August 27, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

It was a typical August evening with slight humidity and stale air as we prepared for our second at-home Wine & Beer Club event. Thankfully we chose the theme of Sparkling wine paired with homemade sorbet. This proved to be a perfect combination on such a warm evening.   

We had a small but lively group tasting the different arrays of sparkling wines from Spain, Italy, France, and even New Mexico!  Dathan had the honor of doing the pouring and talking about the wine as I remained busy in the kitchen preparing the homemade sorbets to be served. I think I confirmed what I already knew which is that food prep and service are not my forte! 

As I frantically scooped sorbet into small “favor” glasses wondering what I was thinking with that suggestion aside from the cute and classy look, I could hear the “oohs and ahhs” in the other room as everyone took their first sip and again when paired with a refreshing sorbet.  Most thumbs up and some thumbs sideways but overall, from what I observed and heard, I would say Alex at Total Wine did an excellent job of selecting our wines for the evening.  We even had the pleasure of tasting a “bonus” French champagne, compliments of Club member, and neighbor, Matt!

As the wine continued to flow, with each new sip the conversations grew louder as new friends and contacts were made. One lucky winner walked away with a $10 gift card to the local wine shop and cafe, Uncorked, and two “unadvertised” Angel of Grace bracelets were sold with proceeds being donated to the American Heart Association. There is nothing like wine to bring people together!  

We started the evening with New Age White from Argentina as guests began to fill our house.  The selections and pairings for the evening were:

Marques de Monistrol Seleccion Especial Cava 
from Spain

Santi Nello Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore from Italy 
paired with Cantelope sorbet

Gruet Blanc de Noirs – Methode Champenoise 
from New Mexico 
paired with Honeydew Melon sorbet

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Rose 
from France

Piemonte Brachetto Soria 
from Italy 
paired with Strawberry sorbet

As the evening drew on, we paused for a quick survey to help us, as a club, choose our next themed tasting for September at Uncorked.   The choices were: 

South America Wines
South Africa Wines
Wines of Oregon & Washington State
Pick 5:  Regional Malbec Wines
Rose’ Wines

The Varietal Alphabet:  “P” (Petite Verdot, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pintotage, etc.) 

By an overwhelming majority, Wines of Oregon & Washington State were chosen for the September event. Even had I voted, I would not have been able to sway this vote!  September will be amazing as well!  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fire in the Triangle: Center Stage with Chef Dean Thompson

Chef Dean Thompson of Flight's Restaurant has made it to the Fire in the Triangle finals.

By Dathan Kazsuk | Aug 19, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

In my previous blog, “title,” I mentioned that the Fire in the Triangle competition is coming to a close. It’s been a delicious ride for those involved in this sell-out event. The Triangle chefs each night of the competition have created some wonderful dishes. Some better than others. And that’s why we find ourselves down to the final two.

We’ve had a total of 84-dishes crafted by 16 local Triangle chefs in the course of 14 days. We’ve had great beer in the likes of White Street Brewing Company, Gizmo Beer Works and Natty Greene’s. We’ve had great food bloggers documenting each night with their photos and tweets. And you can’t have a competition like this without a brilliant host in the likes of one Mr. Jimmy Crippen.

The finals comes down to chef Scott James of Midtown Grille and chef Dean Thompson of Flight’s Restaurant. If you didn’t know this already, both restaurants hail from within the friendly and popular confides of the North Hills Shopping Center.

I talked to Scott James in my last blog, which you can find here. And now we find out a little about our second competitor, Dean Thompson.

You’re brand new to the Fire in the Triangle competition. Were there any jitters prior to stepping in the kitchen and finding out your secret ingredient for the first time?

Thompson: I did go through the process with Chef Dean Wendel last year.  We didn't get as lucky last year and got beat in the second round.  Regardless, there is always butterflies going into every event.  This isn't something we do on a regular basis, so you're not sure how you match up to the competition.  When they name the secret ingredient you feel a quick sense of anxiety, but 10 minutes later you find your focus.  The hardest part of the day to me is watching my intro video, and hearing the scores for each dish.

Tell me a little about your background?

Thompson: I've been with the company Concord Hospitality and Renaissance Raleigh since the hotel opened in 2008.  I worked under the tutelage of Chef Wendel for 4.5 years.  We are very close to this day.  Chef Wendel is the best chef I've ever come across. Previous to my tenure at Renaissance Raleigh I was the Sous Chef at Hope Valley Country Club, in Durham NC.  I've also worked in some of the best restaurants in New England, Mill's Tavern and Mediterraneo Caffe. My management style is that I can be a coach, cheerleader, mentor, teammate, or physiologist.  I'm a leader who will do whatever it takes to create an environment of passion, pride, and team work.  My cooking style is based on the things I enjoy most.  Mostly with regional American influence.  I use fresh product and interesting flavor combinations, with an emphasis on using a minimal amount of ingredients.   I worked very hard to get to the Executive Chef position at Renaissance Raleigh and Flights restaurant, and we've had a lot of successes along the way.  I started as the Executive Sous Chef, and was given the opportunity to run the daily kitchen operations, everything from hiring, scheduling, menu development, food production, and everything else that goes into managing a full service hotel kitchen. 

I know it’s a friendly competition in the kitchen. Did you get along well with all the chefs you have battled against?

Thompson: Yes, I've gotten along with all the chefs.  I don't think we will be spending a lot of time together in the future, but to me this is like a fraternity.  It's a tough business so there's a mutual respect for the journey that we've all been through.  In order to be successful you have to have a confidence in your ability but humble in your approach. 

Competition Dining has some greats that everyone loves. Some of these amazing people include Jimmy Crippen, Chef Willard and Kristen Baughman. 

Thompson: My thoughts on the competition dining staff are simply put – professional.  I love working with the chefs, both Lawrence and Billy.  Kristen is sweet and Jimmy is a hard working genius.  I've been able to work with all of them, especially when they hold the Final Fire in our hotel.  Win, Lose, or Draw it's been great to be a part of such an amazing experience.  These are memories that don't go away!

Fire in the Triangle: Center Stage with Chef Scott James

Chef Scott James of Midtown Grille in Raleigh has made it to the Fire in the Triangle finals.

By Dathan Kazsuk | Aug 19, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

So now Triangle, with an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you in the words of Michael Buffer: “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

Yes, it’s that time again. Time for the Fire in the Triangle to come to a close. By the end of tonight there will be 1 chef standing above the rest. The chef who will prevail will take home the coveted red chefs jacket and $2,000.

In the blue corner, hailing out of Midtown Grille in the heart of Raleigh’s North Hills Shopping Center is Executive Chef Scott James. Chef James made it to the quarterfinals last year, where he lost by a narrow margin to Weathervane’s chef Ryan Payne. Payne later went on to win both the Fire in the Triangle and Final Fire competitions.

I caught up with Chef James and asked him the following questions regarding his experience in the kitchen.

You were part of last year’s Fire in the Triangle competition. What did you learn from last year that might have helped land you here in the finals?

James: Last year we had kind of an ‘awww shucks’ mentality which really was why we didn’t defeat Chef Payne in the second round last year. Well that and a potato donut, but we wanted to come in this year with intensity and focus. It’s very easy to underestimate this competition and think because you make great friends at your restaurant everyday that you can do it in this pressure packed and limited time scenario. So bringing our game faces and no mercy philosophy I think has made a big difference.

Working in the kitchen, especially for a dining competition like this can be crazy. What, in your opinion, is the hardest part in these battles?

James: The waiting is the hardest part, just like Tom Petty said. As chefs, we like to be prepared in many different ways. “Mise en place” is what we call it. To most chefs, it’s a way of life meaning all things in place covering the things you need to execute your responsibilities in the kitchen. In other words being mentally, physically and prep-ready to go. In Fire in the Triangle, that is not possible, so anxiety builds when you’re not able to prepare properly.

Dr. Steven Bolick (CEO of Eye Care Associates and co-owner of Midtown Grille) had no doubt you’d make it to the finals, due to your expertise and artistry. Did you ever have any doubts with any of the ingredients that were sprung upon you?

James: Not yet. Elderberry took some thought, but as soon as we tasted it and realized that the flavor was not too far from some wines, we knew how to apply it. We will see what Chef Ref has for us in the final. Fingers crossed.

I know it’s a friendly competition in the kitchen. Did you get along well with all the chefs you have battled against? I thought you also mentioned doing a project with chef Ryan Payne. Is that still in the works?

James: We have had such a great time meeting all the chefs and the staff from 1705. Working with the other chefs and promoting our restaurant is why we are involved. Winning is just the gravy. Chef Payne and I are good friends. We have been talking about cooking together at some point but it's hard to find time when working in this business to do much outside of work. Between charity events and managing my restaurant any off time I spend with my wife Karla and son Connor.

Good luck. Check out my next blog when I interview the other chef vying for the red chefs jacket, chef Dean Thompson of North Hills Flight’s Restaurant.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cirque du Soleil's Quidam fascinates Raleigh fans

One of the performers prior to opening night of 
Cirque du Soleil's Quidam.

By Dathan Kazsuk | July 14, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

Now we know what Zoé does when she gets bored.

She makes up a world of high-flying acrobats, wickedly insane costumes and a headless, umbrella-wielding person who likes to keep a low-profile. One would think Zoé was taking an acid trip – but that is not the case. Zoé is used to being ignored by her parents, and with a little help of her imagination, she created this new world.

This world is known simply as Quidam, which means a nameless passer-by. 

And that’s the name of Cirque du Soleil’s latest performance ,which enthralled fans at the PNC Arena in Raleigh during it’s stay from July 10-14.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to PNC prior to opening night on July 10 to witness the behind-the-scenes magic. When I arrived, I was introduced to Cirque’s publicist Jessica Leboeuf, who escorted me backstage to see how the performers unwind prior to a show.

There were a lot less “props” backstage in Quidam than there was with Dralion, the last time I was also backstage. But as Leboeuf points out to me, Quidam is more about people than with Dralion, which featured large Chinese creatures which were, you guessed it, part dragon and part lion.

This time around, a lot of the performers were stretching and getting loose on a large blue mat which made its home right behind the backstage curtains. Men and women contorting their bodies in ways that, if I tried that at home, someone would be calling 911 to take me to the hospital.

Out on the main stage, which I was informed takes 10 hours to erect, a handful of performers worked on their routine. It was amazing seeing the men and women climb up these 30-foot ropes and twirl, spin and drop with such ease. 

That same night I was able to catch the show, and I must say I was impressed. Half the time I didn’t know what the plot was, but the 45 performers who come out on stage really knew how to keep the crowd entertained.

This is only my third Cirque du Soleil show I’ve seen in my lifetime, but hopefully there will be others … maybe the next time I go to Las Vegas!