Volunteer Experience Leads to Opportunity of a Lifetime

It’s not every day you meet a living legend. To say I had an amazing weekend would be an understatement. As a volunteer for the Inaugural Saint Simons Food & Spirits Festival at Gascoigne Bluff on St. Simons Island, I got to spend time with the mother of all Southern cooks, Nathalie Dupree, hang out with culinary producers, food writers and some of the finest chefs in the state. I have great aspirations of joining the food world, so this event was truly an opportunity of a lifetime. The event was the first of its kind to benefit the local Hospice of the Golden Isles, featuring four incredible Georgia culinary talents, regional farmers, local artists and over 25 area restaurants. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and the location? Out of this world. When I heard about the festival, it was a no brainer that I participate. Amazing food and live music on the Georgia coast? It’s not rocket science!

I was assigned to the Culinary Creations Cooking Stage where the cooking demonstrations took place to help serve and prep food, greet festival guests and clean up and re-set the stage after each demonstration. Practically heaven. It was my responsibility to do whatever Crystal, our cooking stage captain told me to do, and I considered it an honor. I did everything from golf cart chauffeuring and fetching pitchers of water for flower vases to picking up lunch for the volunteers. At one point, I was even sent to someone’s personal beach house to get several “real” forks. My day started around 8:30 a.m. and ended with the sun setting over the calm water beneath the Spanish-moss covered oak trees.

Enter Savannahian Culinary Producer Libbie Summers (left), author of The Whole Hog Cookbook and food blogger for the awesome Salted & Styled. Libbie was so cool. She was the first star I met that Saturday, along with Joshua, her sweet husband–a yacht Captain. We rode the golf cart together from the American Legion (our headquarters) to the cooking demo tent. I also got to pick her brain about her experience in the food world. We immediately bonded discussing the time and effort it takes to produce a quality blog. She laughed at my jokes and when she introduced me to her husband, she said my blog, having seen it because of Twitter, was adorable. Libbie Summers called my little blog ADORABLE! How cool is that? Libbie, if you read this: You rock! Thanks for all your insight. Here’s to living life with passion.

Hands down, the coolest part of the entire event was meeting Nathalie Dupree!! That’s her on the left and Cynthia Graubart (right) making Southern Biscuits for a cooking class in the Harbour Room at Coastal Kitchen. I got the chance to sit in on the class for a few minutes while picking up ingredients for Nathalie and Cynthia’s demonstration later that afternoon. Here, Nathalie was telling the class about the importance of a good casserole dish. In reference to making a casserole, she said, “Don’t get healthy with it.”  She was hilarious. Instantly lovable.

Aside from warming these biscuits for audience members, I considered my most important responsibility of the day making a run to the grocery store for an extra bag of White Lily Self-Rising Flour for Nathalie. It was of pristine importance that the brand be White Lily. So, there I was driving my tent captain’s Volvo around St. Simons Island with a pan of freshly baked biscuits on the backseat, a pound of butter and pint of heavy cream. When I got to the only convenient grocery store on the island, every bag of White Lily Flour was gone. Every other brand was there, but none of them would do. Thank God for the navigation app in my smartphone. I ventured over to Harris Teeter across the island and luckily found my flour. I made it back to the festival and as I’m carrying the biscuits to the golf cart, who pops out of the SUV parked right next to my ride but NATHALIE herself. She said, “Hey, where are you going?” And lo and behold, she wanted a ride. I walked over and hugged her neck and told her that my mom and grandma had been cooking from her cookbooks and watching her on TV for years. She responded with, “How wonderful” and greeted me like family.

If you know anything about Nathalie, she’s got a firecracker personality. Most folks would say “cheese” when they pose for a photo, but not her. As we were smiling for the camera, Nathalie said the word “sex” just for the pure fun of it. She is something else! Clockwise from left: Cynthia Graubart, Debbie (my mom), me and Nathalie. That’s right. That’s me with Nathalie Dupree. That’s how I roll!! Can’t. Get. Over. It.

The coolest souvenir I took home wasn’t food or drink. It was my autographed apron by Nathalie Dupree, Libbie Summers, Ted Dennard and Ford Fry. I intend to frame it with pictures from the event and hang it in my kitchen.

Check out my gallery below for more highlights from the big day.

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There were so many awesome stories from the day, too many to tell. To Festival Director Gena Berry and her staff, The Reynolds Group and the volunteers: job well done and thanks for all your hard work! The event was spectacular and I can’t wait until next year.

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