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Girls' Night

Southern Comforts

Good friends (and fine wine) are all restaurateur Tina Vaughn needs to whip up the tastiest chicken and grits on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line.

the menu
Appetizer
Cherry tomatoes with piquillo cheese
Main course
Coarse-ground grits, twice done
Peas 'n' snaps with corn and sautéed onion
Roast chicken with Texas Pete butter
Wine
Aveleda Charamba, Douro 2005
Arca Nova Vinho Verde, Minho 2007
Dessert
Rustic fruit tart with apples and cranberries

the guest list
Moreton Neal Food columnist and former pastry chef
Madeline Neal Moreton's daughter and a nutritionist who works with children
Laura Frankstone A friend of Tina's and a regular at Bonne Soirée

Standing center stage under a kitchen skylight, actress-turned-restaurateur Tina Vaughn is ready for action. "I'm on my third career, and I'm loving it!" she says. Today's performance? Preparing a leisurely Southern supper—the kind she remembers eating as a kid growing up in Virginia—with a few of her friends. They're cooking on location, not at Bonne Soirée, the restaurant that she opened in Chapel Hill, N.C., two years ago with her partner, Chip Smith. Instead, Tina, Laura, and Madeline have gathered at the home of Moreton, a restaurateur turned food critic.

Moreton first met Tina when she reviewed Bonne Soirée in the regional publication Metro Magazine, scooping the local newspapers. "I could almost feel the owners' confidence oozing out the front door," she wrote, "as if they expect foodies will sniff their way here like truffle hounds." Within weeks, that's exactly what happened, with a steady stream of people coming in to try such French classics as jambon persillé (ham-and-parsley aspic) plated with Southern potato salad.

These days, Tina rarely cooks at her own stove because of the killer hours she keeps at the restaurant. "On the rare occasions that I do make dinner, it's one-dish everything, since we eat so late," she says. "But my sweetheart does most of the cooking. Lucky me!" Today, however, she's made an exception and sweet-talked three friends into taking a break from their own hectic schedules to whip up a few of Tina's favorite regional recipes. Laura, an artist with an eye for design and color, will assemble the piquillo cheese and cherry tomato appetizer. Moreton, famous for the fig ice cream she once served at her Chapel Hill restaurant, La Résidence, will make the fruit tart, while her daughter Madeline, the novice cook in the group, will slice and dice the vegetables. Tina has reserved the two more-demanding recipes for herself: roast chicken spiked with hot-pepper sauce, and twice-cooked grits, a Vaughn family recipe that she's given a modern twist.

As guests arrive
By the time Laura and Madeline burst into the kitchen, eager to get going, the makings of the Southern supper are spread out on Moreton's center island: a plump Poulet Rouge chicken fetched from a local farm, fresh field peas, snap beans, corn, and full-of-flavor apples. The grits, prepared the night before to allow them to harden enough to be cut into triangles, are chilling in the fridge next to a bottle of crisp Portuguese vinho verde.

Donning chef's aprons, the women pause to discuss the day's meal and its choreography.

"The recipes are all yours, Tina?" Laura asks.

"Yes, with a little help from my mother and my grandmother," Tina says.

 
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