Kitchen reprieve: Let Hot Stuff do the cooking

If just thinking about the marathon cooking endeavor that is Thanksgiving leaves you breathless, help is at hand. Folks who love to eat delicious food, but don't have the time, talent, or energy to bring all the entertaining elements together have an option for future food-enhanced gatherings.

Hot Stuff is a brand-new enterprise owned and operated by Leslie Gregg and Barbara Shifflett. Shifflett's name brings to mind the local restaurant scene– she owns Mono Loco and Station and has also been the proprietor of Rapture and the Ivy Inn.

As for Gregg, those who've been in town for 15 years or so will remember her as the owner of Leslie Gregg Catering, a pioneer in the now-booming food-prep and presentation field. The two foodies and dear friends were looking for a lifestyle change (for Shifflett, fewer late-night hours) that still somehow involved food. So they dreamed-up this "kitchen genie" service they're calling Hot Stuff.

"When you're creative, the thing you need the most is change," Shifflett says. "Hot Stuff gives us the freedom do what we love: help people enjoy food."

For their Thanksgiving launch, Hot Stuff cooked and, more importantly, delivered a traditional feast consisting of dishes like fried turkey with cranberry chutney, old-fashioned pecan stuffing, sweet and white potato swirl, and a pumpkin ginger cheese cake. They plan to offer something similar (starring tenderloin, not turkey) for Christmas.

Though Hot Stuff does traditional catering (they design menus, and prepare and staff everything from small dinner parties to huge, tented country weddings), Shiflett and Gregg go outside the box by offering services like food-shopping and meal planning tailored to a client's taste preferences or dietary needs.

Yes, they actually food shop for you. I don't know about you, but I seem to spend a lot of time shopping in Charlottesville– one store for organic, another for household goods, another for wine or cheese– and no matter how much I spend, I still find it difficult to pull together a complete meal. Well, I mustn't be the only inefficient gourmet out there.

Hot Stuff is a sign of what appears to be a hot trend this Thanksgiving– everyplace from little gourmet shop Brix to mega-market Whole Foods is offering to do the cooking for us this Thanksgiving. And yet, my cupboard is still as bare as Mother Hubbard's. Maybe I really do need a kitchen genie.


Dine Around Town ­ for good cause

 Here's a gift idea for the food-lover that also gives back to some of our neediest community members. For a $45, Hospice of the Piedmont's Dining Around the Area booklet contains "buy-one-entrée, get-one-free" certificates for 40 different area eateries. A glance at some of the participating restaurants gives you an idea of the monetary value of this booklet, which doesn't expire until November 30, 2005.

You'll find long-time Hospice participants like Sloan's, Southern Culture, Ivy Inn, and Hamiltons' together with relative newcomers like Fellini's #9 and West Main. Dinner coupons for Fleurie, Clifton, and Oxo share fundraising space with Jinx's Pits Top and Zazu's. But the real value is in the giving itself.

Going into its 25th year, Hopsice of the Piedmont is a nonprofit community organization providing "compassionate care" to terminally ill individuals and their families. The brainchild of Director of Development Tal Haynes, who was inspired 16 years ago by a similar fundraising initiative in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Dining Around the Area is the Hospice's top fundraiser, bringing in around $100,000 each year for terminal patients without adequate insurance.

The booklets can be ordered using mail-in forms in local papers, as well as by calling 817-6900.

Leslie Gregg