Photo by Pableaux Johnson

VarmintBites has nothing to do with a possum or coon — it’s far less exciting than that. I’m Dean McCord, a Raleigh-based father of 4 (ages 13-20), who eats too much, cooks for his wife just about every day, and has an opinion on most anything. I’m not a food critic. I don’t even eat out that often, but I like to talk about the local food scene and feeding my family. I like barbecue of all types and have cooked many a pig.

When I’m not eating or cooking or thinking about food, I’m a lawyer, of which there are plenty in this town. I am on the Board of Directors of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which is one of the most amazing organizations around.

Oh, and I’m called Varmint because that’s my moniker on the forums page of the great food organization, the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters, with which I’ve been involved for too many years to count. I retired from all my formal duties with eG, so I’m off to do my own thing. Don’t expect anything earth shattering, but with your input, it should be fun.

Feel free to Email me!

For a more detailed bio, here you go.

I was not raised in a food family. My mother tried, and did a solid job with typical middle-America meals, but what she did certainly wasn’t gourmet.  My hometown in Northwestern Pennsylvania had no ethnic restaurants except for some Italian joints (although there was an old-fashioned Italian bakery there that made awesome bread!). My first experience with Asian or Mexican food came in college during the early 80s.

I went to the University of North Carolina, and because I was a manager of the basketball team there, I suddenly became exposed to lots of different types of food. Before each season, our coach, Dean Smith, took the entire team to the Fearrington House, which was (and still is) nationally renowned for its elegance and upscale Southern cuisine. The purpose of that meal was to learn proper etiquette – how to eat an artichoke; when to use which fork; when is it appropriate to use your hands; how to use a fingerbowl. Seeing many of the players (and at least one of the managers) had little experience with fine dining, this was a fantastic opportunity to learn some important lessons of life.

Traveling with the team exposed me to even greater things. We went to Japan, Greece, Hawaii, San Francisco, New York, etc. In Greece, I remember eating at a restaurant at the foot of the Parthenon, and we were chowing on some great type of seafood. Michael Jordan (yes, that Michael Jordan) was raving about it – until someone informed us it was squid. I kept on eating it, realizing how awesome well prepared squid was. Michael refused to take another bite.  This particular incident made me aware how important food was going to be for me – the other members of the team just wanted steak and french fries with Fanta orange soda. I wanted to try the local cuisine, no matter how nasty it looked or initially tasted. When we were in DC, we stayed at the Watergate. The team was given the option of receiving a $30 per diem for meals or eating at the hotel. I, with one other player and two fellow managers, were the only ones to choose the hotel. Jean Louis Palladin’s cooking was extraordinary.

The other aspect of being with the team was how much beef we ate. Steak was the standard pre-game meal. We had steak or prime rib 6 nights a week at our training table. I truly got sick of it to the point where I went 2 years without eating steak. Fortunately, I’ve recovered from that mental lapse.

While I obtained my Ph.D. at Chapel Hill, I met an interesting guy who later became my roommate. He always had money and wanted to show off. Thus, he bought Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee or great French wines just because he could. I began to learn to cook, because he would pay for the food as long as I cooked it. I discovered Julia Child and simple French technique during this period. It was an awesome arrangement — why can’t I have someone bankroll me like that now?

It was also during that time when I had my big food epiphany.  I found myself at the bar at Crook’s Corner, when I started talking to the co-owner and chef, Bill Neal, the “godfather” of Southern cuisine.  I learned so much from Mr. Neal, and although he passed away years ago, I wouldn’t have the complete love of food that I do without his influence.

After this time, I focused my culinary efforts on barbecue. I traveled across the state to learn as much as I could about NC barbecue. I’ve hosted many pig pickin’s over the years, being so obsessed that I would brine the heirloom pig in my bathtub (not a pretty site).

After getting the Ph.D., I got married and moved to Milwaukee for three years for my wife to do her residency. I decided to go to law school at that time. In Milwaukee, I discovered Eastern European cuisines: Polish, Russian, Serbian, and German. I learned that Milwaukee was quite a good food town. Usinger sausages; Racine kringles; Kopp’s frozen custard; good Italian markets and bakeries.

I’ve been back in North Carolina since May of 1995. Mrs. Varmint and I have 4 great children, who all appreciate food. I’m also a partner in a medium sized firm, and I focus on health law. As a result of family and job considerations, I don’t spend nearly as much time on food matters as I’d like, but that’s something that I’ll have to sacrifice for now. But give me some time . . .

Oh, I also do a little free-lance food writing on the side, primarily for Walter Magazine here in Raleigh.


25 Responses to About

  1. Mary Williams says:

    Love the blog, Dean. Good stuff. Now, when will you divulge the recipe for blackberry cobbler and cinnamon ice cream. I’m not kidding – I had THREE helpings of it at your summer associate dinner!! Completely addictive.

  2. Varmint says:

    Mary, Mary, Mary. All you had to do is ask, as it’s one of the simplest desserts ever. I don’t hide recipes, I share them (although it’s rare when I use one). I’ll write about this cobbler in the summer, when the berries are plentiful, but drop me an email, and I’ll get the recipe to you.

  3. Steven Meralevitz says:

    Mazel Tov on hanging out your cyber-shingle, Dean!

    I still remember the “Ode to Varmint: If Sandburg Went to Raleigh” thread from Pig Pickins’ past…

  4. didion says:

    you’ve got a great blog going here. hope you don’t mind, but we’re linking to you off our site (http://www.didionville.com). don’t worry, though: you won’t be bombarded with hits. our traffic comes primarily from grandparents and some friends in los angeles. cheers!

  5. Hey….always enjoyed your eGullet comments.
    Just had Twelve Bones in Asheville for my daughter’s graduation party from UNC-Asheville this weekend. I think we are spoiled here in Raleigh with Ed’s and The Pit and Allen & Sons and Wilber’s…BUT…Twelve Bones is just fantastic. Awesome ribs, and the sides….oh my. They’re only open weekdays for lunch, with a line wrapped around the building for eating both indoors and under a huge roof outdoors. Chef/owner from Louisiana. Sweet, smoky ‘cue done right over hot wood coals.
    Check out my recently released THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK from Globe Pequot Press, and my blog “carolinafoodie.blogspot.com”. We’ve got very similar interests! BW

  6. Beach traveling foodies from the Triangle, be sure to stop at Chef & the Farmer in Kinston. Yes Kinston!!! Moreton Neal loved it (check to Metro Mag review), and you will too. Visit http://www.chefandthefarmer to get a peak of one of the best restaurants in the state.

  7. Laura says:

    I was just turned onto your website and I am already hooked. I am 2 1/2 years new to this area living in North Durham. Do you travel to Durham for any dining experiences? The Durham Marriott is redefining it’s restaurant with a renovation of it’s interior and menu. They have an awesome Exec Chef who cooks real food and is too good for a hotel restaurant. Durham is having a complete overhall of it’s down town and now with the new performing arts center I am hoping it will become a place to be seen rather than avoided.
    Just wanted to share and I look forward to keeping up with varmintbites.com. Thanks!

  8. Vanessa says:

    I just found your blog. I started a blog of my own that was basically in the same spirit, but I figured it that blogging isn’t for me. I think I’ll just read yours . . . btw, which part of NW PA are you originally from? Anywhere near Mercer County, by chance?

  9. Ellen says:

    My boyfriend and I just came across your blog and I wish we’d seen it sooner. We started a food-themed photo blog several years ago and it contains a lot of entries for Triangle restaurants. It was meant to be a personal record of meals we enjoyed preparing at home or dining out, so it’s not as interesting as yours (we’re too busy/lazy to write much). We’ve enjoyed reading your earlier entries and getting ideas for places to go in the area and dishes to try at home. Frazier’s and Vivace are two of our favorite restaurants, so we’ll be visiting Coquette soon. Thanks!

  10. panthur says:

    I like your blog – found it through facebook. I’ve added you to my blogroll. I also do some local Raleigh restaurant reviews. http://demandy.com. Keep it up!

  11. Alex says:

    Hi! Just wanted to clear up that Ciao Osteria has closed permanently and will not be opening in the Marketplace on Lake Boone Trail. 618 Bistro will be opening along with JK Steakhouse and others…

  12. Victoria says:

    Hey Dean…stumbled upon your blog looking for info on a restaurant in Chapel Hill. I always loved your posts on egullet and heard your pig pickins are epic

  13. Marie says:

    Hey Dean!
    I love your story of formative UNC years – what a great life you have led and are leading; with an open and fun spirit about it all, teaching yourself (with questions and great! travels!) along the way. This is very admirable —

  14. Susan says:

    Just found your blog when googling Greg Cox and ‘Allen and Sons’ and was thoroughly entertained. I’ve always been obsessed with food and regularly test out new restaurants in the area. Love Zely & Ritz, Watts Grocery, Revolution, Maximillian’s Pizza Kitchen to name a few. Unlike Mr. Varmint, I have never cooked a pig however, I am past due visiting Allen and Sons and plan to go this weekend. Thanks so much for the entertainment….your blog is well written!

  15. Joshua says:

    Hi Dean –

    This is pretty random. I stumbled upon your blog when reading about Bryan Zupon, who I just learned ran an underground restaurant at Duke for two years. I graduated from Duke in 2005, and also was a manager for the basketball team oddly enough. I will be back down to attend Fuqua in the summer. I live in New York City and am a big food guy and wanted to get involved with the food scene at business school, and perhaps as a career. Would love to get in touch and share stories of basketball and food when I get down there. Best, Josh

  16. Stephanie says:

    I’m working with the site TownMe.com, which aims to provide local information and interesting facts about Durham and other cities. We’ve read a bunch of blogs about Durham and felt yours would be great to include in our Durham Blog Directory, which we created to feature awesome local blogs. Please check out the site (www.townme.com), and if you get a chance, we’d love to have your feedback. I’m at stephanie@townme.com.

    Thanks! 🙂

  17. Randy Kennedy says:

    Very cool, Dean.

    Interesting background info on your life experiences shaping your appreciation of the ultimate vittles.

  18. ilinap says:

    Mmmmmm….Kopps frozen custard is amazing!

  19. Rachel Spafford says:

    Hello! I have an unusual question. I ran across your name from a post you replied to about Sub Zero refrigerators dated from 2005. I have recently bought a home with a Sub Zero fridge and freezer and your post said you had replaced the front panels with stainless. Please tell me if you went through Sub Zero for this or did you have stainless panels made? The units both work great but look really dated. Thanks! Here’s the link I found your comment on…. http://forums.egullet.org/topic/72754-sub-zero-refrigerators/

  20. e cig review About | VarmintBites

  21. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find
    this matter to be really something that I think
    I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me.
    I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang
    of it!

  22. Superb post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more.
    Bless you!

  23. anabolika says:

    It’s really a great and useful piece of information. I’m satisfied that you just
    shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this.

    Thanks for sharing.

  24. Chris peterson says:

    Dean, please contact her and then me, we need to talk soon. Thank you.

  25. Christopher Peterson says:

    Dean is of very questionable character. I don’t trust this guy, used to be a friend. He’ll stab you in the back.

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