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.