A Moveable Feast | Dinner with Sunny & Butch Spyridon

Sunny & Butch Spyridon |  All photos by Emily Dorio

Sunny & Butch Spyridon | All photos by Emily Dorio

They say that life is like high school. If that’s true, and Nashville really is just a cool campus with an especially great music program and a righteous athletics department (Titan up!), then Sunny and Butch Spyridon are most certainly our Prom Queen and King.

The Spyridons are very much people-people (they’d be a shoo-in to win the “Friendliest Couple” if our general elections ever decided to support campaigns for superlatives). By all appearances, they are equally comfortable driving the welcome-wagon that greeted the 600,000 visitors who descended on downtown Nashville during April’s record-breaking NFL draft — which, it must be mentioned, would not have happened were it not for the hard work of Butch, who is president of the Convention & Visitors Corp — as they are hosting an intimate group of neighborhood friends in their home.

In March, A Moveable Feast dropped in on one of their smaller gatherings: a springtime dinner at their home on Granny White Pike, where they had gathered a warm and spirited group of pals for drinks and a light dinner.

“Butch and I both are pretty casual people,” said Sunny, who is very involved in the Nashville community as a volunteer. ”Especially when we’re at home, we like comfort and ease. And when you’re here, we want you to feel the same way.”

Mission accomplished. 

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The evening’s meal came courtesy of chef Matthew Mosshart, of Two Spoons. Matthew was right at home in the Spyridon kitchen, having cooked there many times before: his partner is Sunny and Butch’s daughter, Alyssa. (The party was a true family affair for Matthew: his sister, Alison, was also in the house.) “When Matthew is in our kitchen cooking, everything feels right in the world,” Sunny said.

The dinner format was light bites, a nod to Sunny and Butch’s proclivity for eating toward the top of a menu. Translation: they are all about the apps.

“I believe this must have started 21 years ago, on our very first date,” she said. “We have both always loved to have food for the table to share, whether it’s just the two of us or a large group. Our closest friends know that if they go out to eat with us, Butch will ‘take a lap around the appetizer menu.’ Plus, we always have snacks at home. I can throw an appetizer platter together at the drop of a hat.”

This time, she left that pleasure up to Matthew, who curated a menu of foods that could be eaten by hand or from a small plate, ranging from a gorgeous spread of dips and light veggie dishes to shrimp rolls and slices of beef tenderloin. Folks started the party gathered around the dining room table and in the kitchen (and, ok: the bar area). Some never moved, sticking to their comfortable posts throughout dinner, only moving slightly during breaks in their conversations, to reach over the table for another bite. Others drifted outside, where a fire crackled in a backyard pit.

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Sunny and Butch’s besties are a diverse bunch, reflecting the broad scope of the couple’s histories and interests. This dinner party included business leaders and budding creative entrepreneurs, media chiefs and fashion professionals — even a rock star or three. And to get there, none of them had to stray too far from home.

“We are lucky to have so many of our dearest friends live so close to us,” Sunny said. “With everyone’s schedules being so busy these days, there are plenty of impromptus — last-minute dinners, a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning, coming over for a game, or just to be together. We watch out for each other. We celebrate each other. We are family!”


At The Table

Brooke Baxter, Chris Caputo, Julie Caputo, Ceri Hoover, Craige Hoover, Jessie Followill, Nathan Followill, Wes Marshall, Erin McCarley, Alison Mosshart, Barbara Moutenot, Roger Moutenot, Tim Nichols, Becca Sudduth, Steve Sudduth, KS Rhodes, Darren Potuck, Tamara Potuck, Stacie Standifer.

 In The Kitchen

Chef Matthew Mosshart of Two Spoons Catering & Events

BUTCH SPYRIDON, SUNNY SPYRIDON AND MATTHEW MOSSHART.

BUTCH SPYRIDON, SUNNY SPYRIDON AND MATTHEW MOSSHART.

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The Look

Sunny’s early spring tablescape was a splendid mix of old and new spiked with fresh seasonal greenery. “I like a nice mix of pieces that are mismatched,” she says. Many of the vintage piece are heirlooms from her Greek mother-in-law, who loved to entertain. “She gifted me the Spyridon silver, the white dishes, and the stemware years ago. Some pieces were her mother’s. I use it as often as possible. I do not believe that you should just bring out the good stuff for special occasions. Any time is the right time!”

The Menu

Arugula, Delicata & Prosciutto Salad
Sourdough breadcrumbs, Manchego, lemon vinaigrette

Marinated Heirloom Tomato & Fennel
Chile, mint, sesame

Dips, Chips & Veg
Whipped feta, smoked trout dip, black olive tapenade, West Indies crab
Spiced pita chips, parmesan croutons
Crudites

Shrimp Rolls
Toasted roll, pickles, lemon, horseradish

Slow Roasted Beef Tenderloin
Green beans, garlic, herbs

Flourless Chocolate Torte
Strawberry sugar, whipped cream

The Recipes

Marinated Tomato Salad

4 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into cubes
½ bulb fennel, thinly shaved  
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes  
1 teaspoon white toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon black toasted sesame seeds
Handful mint leaves, torn by hand

In a bowl, gently mix the tomatoes, fennel, fish sauce, and grapeseed oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl or plate.  Garnish with Aleppo, sesame seeds and mint.

 
Slow Roasted Beef Tenderloin

1 trimmed beef tenderloin (2-4 pounds)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper

Tie tenderloin at 1-inch intervals using butcher’s twine. Season with salt.  Place on wire rack over a baking sheet tray and refrigerate uncovered for to 2 days or up to a week. Preheat oven to 225°F.  Season tenderloin with black pepper. Place tenderloin in oven and roast, using a meat thermometer pull out tenderloin when internal temperature reads 120°F to 125°F, about 2 to 3 hours. To finish, preheat grill or broiler to high heat, sear and turn each side to produce a charred surface.  Let tenderloin rest 15-30 minutes before serving. Slice to desired thickness.

A Moveable Feast | Dinner with Author Caroline Randall Williams

Caroline Randall Williams | All photos by  Emily Dorio

Caroline Randall Williams | All photos by Emily Dorio

Caroline Randall Williams has no idea what time she went to bed the night of her Moveable Feast dinner. All she knows is that it was well past midnight and that people were still dancing in the downstairs parlor of her 1913 Prairie-style manse on Blair Avenue when she headed upstairs to kick off her high heels and fall into bed.

And who could blame her guests for their late-night reveling? Earlier that day, the majority of the group — which included several dancers from the Nashville Ballet ­, a handful of musicians (one of them with a Grammy to her name), three poets, an historian, a fashion designer and more than a few published writers— had wrapped the inaugural run of Lucy Negro Redux, a multi-discipline performance based on the poems in Caroline’s book of the same name.

In the book, the Nashville native imagines the life of the Elizabethan brothel owner known as Black Luce, aka Lucy, a dark-skinned woman whom scholars have determined was well “acquainted” with Shakespeare and his merry band. The book debuted in 2016, as a small run of 300 copies, one of which ended up in the hands of Nashville Ballet artistic director Paul Vasterling, who imagined a dramatization of the storyline that included dance, live music, and Caroline as narrator. Flash forward three years, and the show is a big hit, selling out of its Nashville performances and getting ink in the New York Times. (Lucy was given its second run last week, at Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival.)

Indeed, there was a lot to celebrate the evening of Sunday, February 10, when a group including cast members Kayla Rowser, who danced the part of Lucy, and Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi, the acclaimed musician couple who scored the show, joined a group of Caroline’s proud family and friends for a congratulatory meal prepared by City House chef/owner Tandy Wilson and pastry chef Rebekah Turshen.

On the subject of food: upon entering the house, guests were greeted by a huge rectangular palette crafted from 1,000 cookbooks in the entrance hall. If that sight sounds odd, consider that Shakespeare is far from Caroline’s sole topic of expertise: much of her professional writing has been in the food sector. In 2015, she joined her mother, author Alice Randall, to write Soul Food Love, a book presented healthy approaches to dishes traditionally identified with black culinary traditions hailing from the American South.

It was Alice who commissioned Nashville artist Herb Williams to construct the entry area art piece, which incorporated just over half of the titles in the massive (and quite well-known) congress of cookbooks that Caroline inherited years ago from her godmother. The rest of the collection lines a long wall in the kitchen.

Alice and her husband, historian David Ewing, moved into the Blair Avenue house in 2000, when Caroline was barely a teenager. The Ewing-Randall household has always been a party-hearty place. The couple’s annual parties were legendary, with each commemorated with a Hatch Show poster. The collection now hangs in the kitchen, over the wall of cookbooks.

After a drinks hour featuring “Dark Lady” cocktails, one made with local Belle Meade Bourbon and another a non-alcoholic version concocted in honor of the occasion (check out recipes from the dinner below), guests headed to the dining room, dominated by a long table custom-built to sit 18 (though that number seems almost quaint, considering that Alice shared that she once hosted a dinner for over 90). There, bowls heaping with Tandy’s soup beans and turnip greens, roasted sweet potatoes, late-winter cabbage sprouts, and braised chicken with grits and cheese were passed family-style.

As the third dish made its way around the table, Alice introduced the chefs to the table and shared some anecdotes about entertaining on Blair Avenue. “These dinner parties are a tradition,” she said. “And with this dinner, I’m turning it over from my generation to the next.”

Caroline was happy to assume the mantle. “It feels like the house is back to doing its job,” she said, as the dinner wound down and guests headed to the entrance hall to take selfies on the book pallet. “This is what this house is for. And it feels good to have Lucy pass the torch.”

Speaking to the table, Caroline admitted that she never imagined that a story like Lucy’s would have a life outside the pages of her book, let alone a ballet. “I don’t expect the world to say yes to weird black girl stuff,” she said, going on to thank Paul, her fellow performers, and Chet Weise of Third Man Books, who re-released the book last month.

“I thought that I was going to live a life that wasn’t my dream, because that’s what most people do,” she said. “You just don’t know how big people will help your dream grow.”

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ABOUT THE FEAST

At The Table

Adia Victoria, Chet Weise, Chris Scribner, Ciona Rouse, Doug Fitch, Francesco Turrisi, Jason Facio, Kayla Rowser, Mason Hickman, Nicholas Scheuer, Nick Tazik, Owen Thorne, Patrick Luther, Paul Vasterling, Poni Silver, Rhiannon Giddens, Stephanie Wilson, and Virginia Henry.

In The Kitchen

Chef Tandy Wilson and pastry chef Rebekah Turshen, both of City House.

The Vibe

Some houses were made for entertaining — and 2126 Blair Avenue is one of them. Alice Randall and David Ewing have thrown countless parties in the house; Caroline has taken up the mantle with a personal flair. Before-dinner cocktails were served in the main living room, where guests gathered for conversation in formal seating vignettes or clustered around a record player spinning Americana and rock albums. In the dining room, the central table was strewn with red roses (a la the kind that get thrown at the feet of curtain-calling ballerinas) and lined with 18 place settings including French glassware and silver that has been in David Ewing’s family for more than three generations.

To Drink

Locally made Belle Meade Bourbon was the hearty base for a tipple called Dark Lady II, which featured straight liquor served in a martini glass with three twists of orange peel. Teetotalers were not left out, thanks to Dark Lady I, a smoky tea-based drink that sprung from a collaboration between food writer Julia B. Bainbridge and D.C.-based bartender Evan Zimmerman.

Dark Lady I

Steep an excellent quality lapsang souchong black tea at a ration of one heaping teaspoon of tea to one cup of water. (Use an extra heaping teaspoon for a pot for five to six minutes.) Chill. Mix with equal parts cold-pressed unsweetened cherry juice, chilled. Pour into an old-fashioned stemmed champagne glass. Express the oil from one lemon peel strip into the drink; drop in the peel. Serve.

To Eat

Tandy is a longtime friend of the Randall/Ewing family. At dinner, Alice shared that for the last 15 years, every time she finishes the draft of a book, she celebrates by asking him to cook her dinner.

 Tandy’s MO for Caroline’s Moveable Feast was to cook foods that she loves to eat and that he loves to make. “I believe that I cook soul food in many ways, be it the ingredients that I choose, the love that’s behind them, or the constant desire for a meal to be sustenance, physically and mentally,” he said. “Many of the thoughts of who I am as a chef have come through talks with Alice and sometimes Caroline. So the opportunity to cook in the house where our friendship began was a special one.”

For Rebekah’s part, she paid homage to the world of a ballet by making individual pavlovas, a traditional dessert named for the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova that is often served at celebratory meals.

Menu

Soup Beans, Hearty Greens, Sorghum Dressing, Hot Water Corn Crunch

Roasted Sweet Potatoes  Tahini, Crispy Rice, Peanuts, Lemon, Herbs, Chilies

Frico, Tomato Braised Cabbage Sprouts

Braised Chicken, Tomato, Cauliflower, Grits and Cheese

Pavlova Meringue

THE RECIPES

BRAISED CHICKEN, TOMATO, CAULIFLOWER, GRITS AND CHEESE

Tandy is well-known for his use of braising and roasting methods to prepare meat. “I like to cook the chicken until it’s tender but not over-cooked and stringy, and then let it rest in the cooking liquids,” he said. “I brown the chicken and then build the flavor with onion, garlic, anchovies, oregano, chilies, white wine and tomato.”

As for the all-important base: “Grits and cheese are something I grew up with and will always love,” he said. “I have reduced the cheese in this recipe and we mill our own grits. But other than that, this is Nana’s recipe.”

2 cups good quality grits
3 eggs, slightly beaten
6 cups water
1 stick butter (½ cup)
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
Salt

Cook grits at a simmer until tender and thick. Stir regularly and season with some salt. Just as they finish stir in the butter and cheese. Check salt and then temper in the eggs. Transfer to a greased baking dish and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

PAVLOVA MERINGUE

Eight large meringues plus 32 small for crushing

1/2 cup egg whites (usually 3-4)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup toasted crushed pecans
1 tablespoon vanilla 
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 300. Combine sugars and cornstarch. Put egg whites and salt in stand mixer. Whisk on medium high until whites have turned opaque and you see slight whisk pattern on the surface of the mixture. Add sugar mix 1/4 cup at a time and increase speed to high. Meringue will continue to thicken and become glossy and strong peaks will form as whisk is removed. Dump nuts and vinegar on top of meringue and fold in with a wide rubber spatula. Scoop 8 meringue with a 1/4 cup sized cookie scoop at least an inch apart onto the first parchment-lined baking pan. Pan spray the back of a kitchen spoon to press divots into the middle of meringues. Scoop remaining meringue with the tablespoon-sized cookie scoop onto the other baking pan. Bake approximately one hour. Meringues should be light tan with a peek of white inside the very middle when ready to pull.

To assemble the dessert: Spoon desired fruit and preserves, sherbet or ice cream, and whipped cream into divoted meringues. Crush smaller meringues for garnish, save in airtight container for snacks or share with guests in tiny gift bags. Meringues can be baked ahead and will keep for several weeks in an airtight container.

A Moveable Feast | Dinner With Emily & Julian Dorio

A Moveable Feast | Dinner With Emily & Julian Dorio

Emily Dorio was born to entertain. “Giving parties is in my DNA,” she says, giving credit to her two grandmothers who were both known for their dinner party prowess. She’s also had a lot of practice. In the late Aughts, while living out her post-college “salad years” in Athens, Georgia, Emily and her best lady friends, Jesse Warner and Lily Noel, staged epic dinner parties. Last month, she brought the tradition to Nashville to kick off A Moveable Feast, a new TCR series that documents how Nashvillians eat and entertain, circa 2019.

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