The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2014

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december 2014  /  the tasting panel  /  79 PREP I t was thanks to baseball that Carl Sobocinski—a Northerner from Durham, New Hampshire— became the culinary savior of the hungry-for-a- change Southerners of Greenville, South Carolina. Sobocinski was born and raised in New England, but his desire to play college baseball in the Atlantic Coast Conference led him to Clemson University in South Carolina. And once the South had gotten under his skin, he opted to stay, heading for nearby Greenville to change the way locals ate. These days, his Table 301 Restaurant Group includes Soby's, The Lazy Goat, Nose Dive, Passerelle Bistro, Papi's Tacos and Soby's on the Side. If you dine in Greenville, chances are better than even that it will be at one of his places. Though in the beginning, what he received was laughter rather than praise: No one thought his first location had a chance. Merrill Shindler: When you first tried to open Soby's, back in 1996, people thought you were out of your mind . . . Carl Sobocinski: That was on South Main Street. And it was pretty rundown. You had to go a long distance to find any life around there. There was a 35 percent occupancy in the neighborhood. There was a hotel that was boarded up. There were lots of homeless people. I was convinced that revitalization was possible. And I had to make the argument to people in city government that a restaurant would be the first step to bringing people back. It's a long way from New Hampshire to South Carolina. It is, and it isn't. I grew up in a rural part of New Hampshire, on a 20-acre dairy farm. And if you play college ball, the South is where you want to be. What were things like when you landed here in the '90s? Back then, there weren't a lot of choices—only a small selection of beers, wines, cheeses, even vegetables from local farms. We had lots of squash and okra. And that inspired you to help start a Saturday morning farmers' market . . . I wanted the local farmers to have a place where they could show off what they produced. And I wanted a steady supply of produce for the restaurant. There's nothing better than strawberries fresh from the farm. You also ran into problems when you lobbied for Sunday alcohol sales at your restaurant. Back then, they thought I was the Antichrist. Conservatives said Sunday sales would destroy the community. There was lots of mudslinging. And then, they found out I was Catholic—and it really hit the fan. There was a time when we had to serve alcohol out of mini-bottles. You lost in the City Council. But then, you went door to door and got enough signatures to put Sunday sales on the ballot. And you won. The funny thing is, we were closed on Sundays. But it was the principle of the thing. Like fresh produce from local farmers, the time had come. That's nice—you'll be a buff chef. But how does it help the process of cooking? In a restaurant kitchen, if using the press takes off 30 seconds of prep time, it adds up to a lot on a busy night. I use it on lamb skewers, roast chicken, fish that's grilled… and burgers, of course. I use it for pickling, and for sous vide, to keep food submerged. It's made of stainless steel, so it won't rust. It's a common man's tool, totally low tech. It's a classic. Who else in your family was an inventor? That would be my great- grandfather. He was a photographer and had 42 patents in his lifetime. I didn't really know him; he passed away when I was just two. But I've studied his life, and his sense of curiosity about things. And I think I have his spirit within me. One of his patents allowed him to open a ruler company that's still in business to this day, the Gaebel Ruler Company. The way they etch metal came from his photographic techniques. Can The Chef's Press be improved upon . . . or is it perfect? It can certainly be improved upon. I have multiple ideas for new variations. The design of the handle needs to stay the same. But anything in life can be improved on. It's funny inventing something low-tech in the high-tech Bay Area. But I prefer low- tech to high-tech. This is a hands-on business. Low-tech fits better. There must be some technology that you like . . . Well, I am a fan of the Stoelting Frozen Custard Machine. It's made by P. W. Stoelting in Wisconsin, which is the heartland for frozen custard. I did a web research to find the best frozen custard machine, and I found that Stoelting runs a school in Wisconsin to teach using their machines, a frozen dessert institute. So, I went to custard school. Real frozen custard has a lower air content, so it's very dense. It's made with egg yolks. It has half the fat of regular ice cream. And I've had to educate people as to what it is. I've tried lots of flavors. But you can't beat vanilla. Carl Sobocinski OWNER, TABLE 301 RESTAURANT GROUP, GREENVILLE, SC by Merrill Shindler PHOTO COURTESY OF TABLE 301 RESTAURANT GROUP

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