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November 25, 2006

Georgia-Produced Show Offers Practical Tips on Becoming a “Real Savvy Mom” (Points North, November 2006)

Georgia-produced PBS show Real Moms, Real Stories, Real Savvy is set to launch in the Atlanta market. I interviewed Hector Herrera, the show's producer, and host Liwaza Green, host of the show and a local girl to boot. Read on to catch the story -- I'll put up a PDF soon.

Georgia-Produced Show Offers Practical Tips on Becoming a “Real Savvy Mom”

What’s for supper? How can I exercise safely after giving birth? How do I keep a spark in my marriage after kids come along? These questions and many more are answered by Real Moms, Real Stories, Real Savvy™, a show coming this month to Georgia’s public television network. The show celebrates moms, their kids, and all the stages of motherhood, from prenatal care to dealing with teenagers.

Real Moms, Real Stories, Real Savvy™ offers a unique blend of expert opinion and practical advice from real moms. “Today’s moms are different from moms in the past,” says executive producer Hector Herrera. “They’re much more technologically savvy. Ninety-six percent are online, hungry for information. They want to hear what the experts have to say, but they also place a lot of value on what their friends have to say.”

Part of the show’s success is due to the producers’ willingness to put an ear to the ground, relying on the experiences of real moms to drive the show’s format. At the show’s companion Web site, realsavvymoms.com, over 250,000 unique women visit on a regular basis, participating in mommy blogs, message forums, and surveys that help determine episode content. “We really listen to what moms are telling us. We focus on the questions they ask and the issues they find pertinent,” says Herrera.

Herrera says he and fellow producers Lisa Taylor and Kate Rolston had simple goals: “We wanted to take content and give it to women at multiple points of contact, answering questions like how to have a happy, healthy pregnancy, how to deliver, and how to have a healthy baby.” Some of the episodes treat serious issues, such as domestic violence. Other episodes look at the joys and trials of giving birth to multiples, offer tips on planning and cooking healthful meals, and show how to make family travel fun. The show has won seven “Telly” honors, awarded for excellence in television production, since launching nationally last year.

Alpharetta resident and co-host Liwaza Green agrees that the show is nothing if not practical: “We cover the things you don’t read in a book -- the things only other moms can teach you.” She speaks from experience, since all the hosts are mothers. Fellow presenter Kathie Larkin, who lives in Marietta, has three kids, two of whom are teenagers, and her co-hosts watch her carefully. Liwaza laughs: “Having Kathie on the show is preparation for what is to come. She is both preparing us and scaring us.”

November 24, 2006

Spotlight: The Warren City Club (Southern Hospitality, Nov 2006)

The Warren City Club (or "The Warren") is a fantastic pad where everybody knows your name and you can eat great food or drink a cocktail without having to fend off guys (or gals, I guess) you don't like. Young chef, wonderful owner, great view. Read my piece in Southern Hospitality or skip to the full article below.
The Warren City Club

You may assume a private club is only for stiff-upper-lip types in mysteries filmed across the Atlantic. Or that clandestine nooks with dedicated servers are solely for rock stars and other high flyers. But you’d be wrong. Owner Kristi Warren used the European tradition of the private club when she launched her eponymous restaurant, The Warren City Club, a few years ago. The Atlanta restaurant is open only to members, who sign a membership agreement and pay an annual fee to join, entering the restaurant using electronic keycards at the bottom of an unassuming flight of stairs. Too high-concept? Hardly—there are 400 to 500 members on the club’s roster, with more on the waiting list.

The Warren is located in the city’s vibrant Virginia-Highlands shopping district, away from Atlanta’s Buckhead club scene. The club is three stories above the street, with a view of the cityscape through the trees that are at eye-level with the lush outdoor patio. The entire space has a rustic, loft-like feel, with five fireplaces surrounded by rough, weathered beams and wood floors smoothed by age. A DJ booth sits discreetly in a corner, screened by curtains from a plush conversation area with sofas and ottomans that is cleared and turned into a dance floor on weekends for late-night guests. Members have also contributed items to the space’s décor, which features a rotating exhibition of local art as well as a member-drawn portrait of Kristi’s late father, Warren, on the wall.

The city needed just such a watering hole, says Kristi. “The club concept is rare, but this neighborhood in particular needed it, without making people travel to Buckhead.” She also wanted to avoid a meat-market reputation. (To appeal to mature members, the Warren is open only to the 25-and-older crowd.) The early arrivals tend to be professionals coming in for dinner or a drink at the bar. Late-nighters attend parties thrown by members or impress their friends in The Warren’s VIP area, its comfortable seating set off from the main area by curtains and furnished with its own fireplace and restroom.

The refined-yet-relaxed atmosphere is matched by the stellar food that comes out of the club’s kitchen. The restaurant’s menu has evolved with the club. “Originally we served tapas and small plates, but we’ve graduated to a full restaurant with our own chef and a more upscale menu,” says Kristi. She and chef William Taylor, a Johnson and Wales grad, recently held a prix-fixe food tasting for 25 members to garner comments on the menu, which changes seasonally. The current menu offers an espresso-dusted filet of beef with a blueberry reduction as well as lighter fare, such as upscale salads, tuna carpaccio and wild mushroom ravioli. Vegan and vegetarians are welcome, and club members often ask the chef for special orders.

Despite the club’s exclusivity, “we try to be good neighbors,” says Kristi. Once a month, the club opens to the community for an open house, welcoming friends or just those whose curiosity spurs them to duck inside. During member appreciation week, a party every night celebrates the conviviality and friendships grown over the past year. A few couples have even become engaged after meeting at The Warren, and Kristi has hosted rehearsal dinners, baby showers and parties galore.

Corporate memberships allow professionals to host meetings at the club. Kristi welcomes her corporate clients, who often throw parties or set up special meetings to get their clients or colleagues out of the office. “The corporate card is designed for people who want to lend it to their clients for an evening out, or to their top employees as a perk to be passed around.” A list of registered users keeps The Warren from being overrun by outsiders.

All members regularly receive invitations to private parties and theme nights, including special wine and scotch tastings, a New Year’s Eve bash, and an Oscar-night party to celebrate the Academy Awards in style. But the parties are just a perk of belonging to a club that celebrates the ordinary comings and goings of its members just as much as it does the milestones.

Despite her ability to throw a party at the drop of a hat, Kristi maintains that the core appeal of The Warren is in how easily members get to know each other and how quickly their tastes are noted by the owner, chef and staff. And unlike at most of the restaurants and bars in town, says Kristi, “People actually talk to each other here.”

10 Innovative Ways to Allow Health-Conscious Guests Enjoy a Guilt-free Stay (Southern Hospitality, Nov 2006)

If you travel frequently for any reason, you'll be pleased to know that you can enlist the help of hotel staff to keep extra pounds at bay. Read my piece in Southern Hospitality and take it on your next trip. The tips are for hotel owners, chefs and staff, but the list gives travelers a guide to healthful living away from home.

Here's the full article, for those who don't want to skip to the SH site:

10 Innovative Ways to Allow Health Conscious Guests Enjoy a Guilt-free Stay

As obesity rates rise in the United States (nearly 65% of the adult American population is now considered overweight), concern is growing over how to combat weight gain while away from home. Business travelers are often at the mercy of a lifestyle that reduces free time for exercise. Vacationers of any size worry about going away to rejuvenate, only to arrive home pounds heavier. The hospitality industry is taking notice, with exercise options and healthful menus that allow dieting visitors to feel pampered and non-dieting guests to feast guilt free. Luxury hotels often have more resources to spend on the thoughtful touches that can keep health conscious guests coming back, but smaller hotel chains and independent hoteliers can modify the following suggestions to suit their clientele and their budgets.

1. Stock the in-room honor bar with healthful snacks and water.
The Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta removes typical snack foods and replaces them with Power Bars and water upon request. The Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation changes out the bar according to guest preferences or dietary needs, often for parents, children in tow, who ask that candy be removed and replaced with healthful, kid-friendly snacks.

2. Provide workout equipment for in-room use.
Many hotels provide exercise bands and DVDs for in-room workouts, but some hotels really go the extra mile (so to speak). The Westin Resort at Hilton Head Island, S.C., is one of several Westin properties that provide guests with the ability to choose a special WestinWORKOUT™ room, complete with an indoor cycle or treadmill. The rooms also come with Reebok Pilates and cycling DVDs, dumbbells, bottled water and even a small fitness library, including Bicycling and Runner’s World magazines and Runner’s World maps.

3. Provide personalized fitness training and information on local running routes.
According to Marsha Middleton, public relations director of the Four Seasons Atlanta, many business travelers take advantage of the hotel’s cadre of personal trainers. With an hour’s notice, a trainer can be available to assist a guest, either in the guest’s room or in the hotel’s health club. The Four Seasons also provides personal trainers to run with clients, helping guests maintain pace while discovering the city safely. At some Westin Hotels locations, a “Running Concierge” leads runs (or walks) that include a warm-up stretching session, complimentary bottled water and towel service. At the Westin Resort Hilton Head Island, guests can run or walk on a three- or five-mile scenic path around the resort, using maps provided by the hotel.

4. Offer alternative exercise or spa options tailored to your location.
The Four Seasons Palm Beach offers yoga on the beach and Pilates classes as well as other personalized fitness services year-round. At the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, guests can add yoga, stretching and relaxation classes to a more traditional workout, following up a personal training session or spa package with complimentary herbal tonics served every afternoon.

5. Accommodate allergy requests where possible.
Guests with special dietary restrictions are finding they no longer have to bring an entire pantry with them to prevent starvation on a trip away from home. According to Executive Chef Robert Gerstenecker of the Four Seasons Atlanta, “Allergy requests, such as peanut-free and gluten-free food, have blossomed in the last few years. As time goes on, people are figuring out what these allergies are and asking for help in dealing with them.” In response, he has created a gluten-free version of the Four Season’s celebrated afternoon tea at its Park 75 restaurant, offering gluten-free scones and pastries in addition to the traditional spread. Some of these are made from scratch, but Chef Gerstenecker also keeps gluten-free breads, including those made from rice flour, in his freezer.

6. Make lower-fat dining luxurious.
Executive Chef Scott Haegele of the Ritz-Carlton Lodge notes that lighter fare is becoming more popular than ever: “We don’t have an asterisk that identifies health food or spa cuisine per se. What we do have are healthful options. For example, in summer, we have more fish, lighter entrees, salads, coulis and lighter sauces overall.” In Atlanta, Chef Gerstenecker has followed the trend of using less butter and margarine than he used to. “I use more olive oil and canola oil in my cooking rather than butter, margarine or lard. The oil provides a cleaner flavor, and you can add a little butter at the end to finish the flavoring.” He also incorporates more vinaigrette into his salad dressings, creating emulsifications that “keep the creamy taste, but not the fat associated with it.”

7. Juice up the menu.
Chef Gerstenecker relies on subtle touches that work for dieters and non-dieters alike, and uses juices in his sauces and dressings to lighten up a plate without sacrificing flavor. “I sauce an ahi tuna dish with carrot juice, reduced, with olive oil and a little lime juice and ginger to bring out the flavor. I’d rather put a lot of flavor in the dish than just the fat component.” His oft-requested tomato vinaigrette is made from reduced tomato juice, with a little olive oil added to boost the flavor. “You’d be surprised at how creamy it can be without all the fat in there.” But he adds that the emphasis should be on achieving balance in the diet. “People are fat obsessed sometimes. We need fat in our diet—it’s important not to be extreme.”

8. Offer innovative beverages tailored to the menu.
In years past, guests who wanted “light” drinks were limited to garden-variety iced tea or diet soda. But many hotels and restaurants have begun offering a variety of drinks tailored to the setting or to the nightly menu itself. Vernona, the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota’s signature restaurant, offers a variety of specialty iced tea drinks, including the “Metabolic Frolic,” a Ceylon black tea with mango. The aptly named “Moment in the Sun” mixes green tea with passion fruit and other flavors to combat the Florida heat. And at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge, “peach-ade,” a blend of soda water, ginger ale and peach extract, is the perfect foil for Chef Haegele’s traditional Southern cuisine.

9. Use local ingredients in season.
Hotel restaurants often can find better produce by looking to nearby farms and suppliers, who can offer fruits and vegetables that have been naturally ripened in the field or orchard. Reduced travel times can also result in cheaper produce that arrives in better condition than produce grown and shipped across the country. In Sarasota, the Ritz-Carlton’s menu at Vernona changes often, in part because its commitment to all-organic ingredients means that Executive Chef Frederic Morineau buys produce from local and regional growers, according to what’s in season. At the Four Seasons Palm Beach, Executive Chef Hubert Des Marais serves Floribbean cuisine, a blend of local Floridian and Caribbean cultures, using native ingredients to create a menu that relies on regional fruits and vegetables in their prime. At the Ritz-Carlton Lodge’s Gaby’s by the Lake restaurant, Chef Haegele has a nightly change-up of suppliers, at least of fish, citing the restaurant’s slogan of “You catch it, we cook it. People fish in Lake Oconee and want to enjoy what they’ve caught that day or evening.”

10. Encourage guests to ask questions about special accommodations.
Chef Haegele encourages guests to let the hotel know if they have specific dining restrictions or desires. If given notice, he says, “I can sometimes buy special products, such as gluten-free bread. I’m here to take care of the guests.” At Park 75, Chef Gerstenecker does what he can to help guests follow diets or incorporate more of certain ingredients into a meal. “We get guests who are doing specific food diets: eight ounces of protein, four ounces of vegetables. We’ll weigh that out for them and help them in that respect. Often people feel uncomfortable that they’ll inconvenience the kitchen, but we try to help them out.”