At the Table: Farm to Stage

How fresh, local food fuels the Zac Brown Band and their fans.


Infographic is part of a larger infographic image designed by the team at   Photos top to bottom: Zac Brown and Chef Rusty greeting guests;    Watermelon salad; Chef Rusty and Eat and Greet team member inside “Cookie”, the mobile kitchen

Infographic is part of a larger infographic image designed by the team at Photos top to bottom: Zac Brown and Chef Rusty greeting guests; 
Watermelon salad; Chef Rusty and Eat and Greet team member inside “Cookie”, the mobile kitchen

Eat and Greet sign over tent

Eat and Greet sign over tent

What happens when a super-popular musician and an accomplished chef start chattin’ it up one summer night?

With Zac Brown and his buddy, Chef Rusty Hamlin, what happened was the idea for a new kind of preconcert event that puts a Southern hospitality-styled spin on the traditional “meet and greet.” The Zac Brown Band calls this unique event the Eat & Greet.

Before each concert, typically backstage, up to 200 lucky fans experience a very special home-cooked meal. Items on the menu are typical Southern fare, such as barbecue beef and pork, along with side dishes made from locally sourced ingredients personally picked out by Chef Rusty. For a special treat, the band members are the ones serving the meal! Then Zac and his band mates hang out, eating alongside the fans and meeting them individually.

I first heard about the Eat & Greet while visiting my folks in New Jersey and listening to a local country music station. The Zac Brown Band was scheduled to perform at the PNC Amphitheater in Holmdel, New Jersey, and the DJs were talking about it and off ering tickets to a lucky caller.


As a food/travel writer and host of a radio show about restaurants and chefs, I had to find out more about this concept. After a few email exchanges and phone calls, I was able to get two tickets to experience it for myself.

I invited my high school buddy Jeff Bernstein to join me. After arriving at the site, we received our Eat & Greet passes — which typically go for about $50 — and entered a tented area next to the concert venue. Next to the tables set for about 100 people was a specially designed mobile kitchen, which Chef Rusty calls “Cookie.”

This $750,000, 54-foot kitchen on wheels is gleaming and gorgeous, and has everything a chef could dream of to ensure he can create any type of dish he wants! The state-of-the art fittings include a six-burner stove, four ovens, a huge soup pot, large deep-fryers, a spice pantry, and a walk-in refrigerator.

I met with Chef Rusty before the Eat & Greet officially started, and he filled me in on how it all began. In a nutshell, he met Zac in 2001 in Atlanta, where he owns a restaurant called Atkins Park that Zac would frequent. The music-loving chef and the foodie country singer became good friends, and one day, while discussing fans and the concept of the meet and greet, they remarked how cool and different it would be to merge Chef Rusty’s expertise and love of cooking with Zac’s fan-greeting events.

Chef Rusty laughs when thinking back to how it started out with a tiny 14-foot food truck, dubbed the Miss Treated, running alongside the great big touring vehicles. Once they saw how popular the Eat & Greet concept was becoming, and what they could really offer fans with a better culinary setup, Chef Rusty created Cookie – his gourmet mobilized kitchen.

Nowadays, he says he loves the 12- to 14-hour days spent shopping, prepping and cooking for each Eat & Greet, and also relishes the chance to talk about recipes and swap stories with satisfied guests after the food is served. It’s all one big adventure for this Louisiana native. “In the restaurant business, chefs often don’t have any windows,” Rusty muses. “But we have no walls. I get to see the country, and not just see it, but experience it firsthand as well.”

Clockwise: Eat and Greet guests in buffet line; Yellow squash and green beans;    Zac Brown greeting guests at Eat and Greet; Watermelon, cherry tomato, and Kalamata olive salad

Clockwise: Eat and Greet guests in buffet line; Yellow squash and green beans; 
Zac Brown greeting guests at Eat and Greet; Watermelon, cherry tomato, and Kalamata olive salad


“People are blown away. They come out expecting hot dogs and hamburgers, and instead they get to experience food that they’ve never had before,” says Chef Rusty, who loves visiting with the farmers and taking advantage of what the seasons and the local markets have to offer. Rusty and his two sous chefs research each concert location ahead of time to find out what local organic farms and markets are in the area. They try to buy from as many as they can to supply ingredients for that evening’s dinner.

Chef Rusty never knows what he will create until he determines what is in season at that time and what looks good to him.

He asks farmers for their opinions on items and even has local celebrity chefs join him in the kitchen on occasion. The menu is never the same, except for a few staple dishes. This is important to Rusty, as it allows him to constantly reinvent himself in the kitchen.


Chef Rusty’s formal training, his Baton Rouge upbringing, the fresh ingredients he bought that day at Delicious Orchards in Holmdel, New Jersey, and his homespun creations made the meal at the Eat & Greet that I attended fabulous!

  • Avocado Cornbread
  • Zac’s Pocket Knife Cole Slaw
  • Cantaloupe Gazpacho Salad, with cucumber, red onion, basil, lemon, heirloom cherry tomatoes, peppers, and Bloody Mary Vinaigrette
  • Summer Corn Pudding, with oyster mushrooms, Brie cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and crispy parma prosciutto
  • Pork Tenderloin in Zac’s Love Sauce
  • Zac’s Georgia Clay Rubbed Beef Filet
  • N.J. Blueberry Fried Pie Cobbler with lemon whipped cream
  • Tuscan Sheep’s Milk Ricotta-stuff ed Zucchini Flower, with Parmesan and pine nuts
  • Grilled Green Beans, with artichoke, tomato, basil, kalamata olives and Romano

“I’m in a movement with a lot of chefs to keep people from buying imported produce and go back to where you get 100 percent of it from a local farmer, ” he says. “That helps not just our health — because we have no idea what they’re pumping into those [other] vegetables — but it also helps the local economy.”

In addition to shopping at local farms, the band gives free tickets to the farmers and mentions them before the dinner begins to show their appreciation. Zac’s fan club (the Zamily) now includes the farmers themselves, who are eager to off er their products in the feast.

I have to admit, in addition to being totally impressed by the meal, Jeff and I both got a kick that we were being served by the entire band — and of course, who doesn’t want to meet Zac Brown in person?

But the Eat & Greet is not just about a fabulous meal or meeting the band in a personal setting. It is about recognizing local sustainable farms and farmers across the country who deserve to be appreciated for their eff orts in a very tough economy. The Zac Brown Band and Chef Rusty do just that — deliciously.

Risa Feldman and Jeff Bernstein in front of “Cookie” at the Zac   Brown Band Eat and Greet in Holmdel, NJ,   photo courtesy of Risa Feldman

Risa Feldman and Jeff Bernstein in front of “Cookie” at the Zac Brown Band Eat and Greet in Holmdel, NJ, photo courtesy of Risa Feldman


  • Hear an interview with Chef Rusty on Risa’s Round Table Radio show at,
  • Find out more about Chef Rusty at
  • See the band’s tour schedule, join the Zamily fan club, and get tickets for an Eat & Greet at

At The Table: Perfect Pairings

For maximum enjoyment, choosing the right glass is just as important as choosing the wine
December 3, 2015


Most wine drinkers know the “basic rules” when pairing wine with food: Red with steak, white with fish/chicken. However, not many have enough wine knowledge to feel confident about choosing specific wines that would truly enhance the flavor of their meal.

And most wine drinkers are also aware that different wines should be poured into different glasses (e.g., reds should be served in a glass with a broad mouth). But, just like with food pairings, wine lovers do not realize how much of an impact the shape of a glass has on the taste of a wine—and there are many shapes to choose from. If you want to truly experience all a wine has to offer, using the right glass is a must!

So, Edible Palm Beach talked with Maximilian Riedel, CEO of Riedel glassware, and Wine Master Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan to get the lowdown on choosing both the wine and its container.

Edible Palm Beach: When drinking wine, how much does glass shape really matter?

Maximilian: Glassware’s shape matters immensely. Without the correct glass shape, a wine’s message can get muddled or lost. In a larger bowl, the wine has more space to “open up” in the glass, permitting greater interaction with the air—which allows for both greater release of a wine’s many aromas and also a built-in area for the nose to smell these aromas in a semi-enclosed environment, directing the aromas in a more focused way to the olfactory receptors.

Glassware shape likewise “focuses” the way wine is delivered to the palate. Wines with higher sugar, for example, or more tannins, are best perceived by different areas in the mouth. Varietal-specific stemware factors in a grape varietal’s inherent properties, ensuring that they are delivered to the part of the mouth with the appropriate receptors for sugar content, tannins and alcohol levels.

EPB: So not all white wines should be served in a smaller mouth glass, and not all reds in a larger mouth glass?

M: Exactly! The bowl shape really depends on the grape variety. Not all whites are best out of a small bowl. For example, our oaked chardonnay glass is quite a large bowl; this proved to be the best shape for this full-bodied grape, and offered the best surface space to allow this grape to open up and display the best characteristics. On the other hand, some reds are best served out of smaller bowls—for example Zinfandel.

EPB: When designing a glass, which comes first, a shape to enhance taste or the look? Is there a principle to this?

M: In developing our glassware, we follow the principle of functionality to determine the shape that best works. Working with leading winemakers and experts with knowledge of a given varietal, we conduct comparative wine tastings in many different glass shapes and sizes, until we achieve group consensus about which glass best enhances the beverage’s flavors and aromas.

EPB: What’s the most common misconception you hear about wine and the glassware that’s used?

Jennifer: That what glass you use doesn’t matter. It matters a great deal! The shape, thinness, and height determine when, how and which aromas get to your nose, and also the perception of how the wine falls on the palate as you tilt your head back to take a sip. This in turn impacts how you perceive the wine. However, sometimes you just want a glass that says PARTY!—and nothing says that better than a coupe or flute, particularly a trumpet-shaped flute. It won’t be as aromatic in a flute, and Champagne bubbles dissipate faster in a coupe; but if you don’t care about that, party away!

M: That flutes are the best glass shape to enjoy Champagne. I, along with many experts around the world, recommend using the proper varietal-specific glass to best enjoy Champagne’s flavors and aromas. Though Champagne flutes are elegant and sexy, they can often stifle aromas and affect where the wine hits the palate; whereas using the proper grape varietal-specific glass will ensure we smell the Champagne’s rich aromas and taste the best of the fruit.

EPB: If you were told you could only use one type of glass from now on, which line/glass would it be, and why?

M: My favorite single glass is the Riedel Sommeliers Burgundy Grand Cru glass, and I most often drink pinot noir. Riedel’s extensive research has proven that “bigger is better” when it comes to glassware size, and this glass allows the complexities of pinot noir to open up and perfectly show themselves.

J: The Riedel Vinnum Chardonnay glass is one of my favorites to use for both personal use and for trade tastings. It has a great all-purpose shape, and I find I get the most consistency across many different grape varieties and styles. Plus, I passed the MW exam with it!

EPB: Has the change in food culture/ dining in the last few years— with people eating healthier and chefs more daring in combinations of ingredients—affected the wine industry or the way people are buying/ drinking wine?

J: The U.S. is the top nation in the world consuming wine. Wine consumption has solidly increased in this country over the last two decades. We are a wine culture with room to grow! So it is not a surprise that there is an increasing popularity of pairing wines with food in restaurants and at home. There is the additional benefit that drinking wine—and more specifically red wine—with a meal is by far healthier than drinking it on its own like a cocktail.

EPB: Do you find that with the change in seasons, you tend to change the wines you drink? If so, how?

J: Absolutely. Winter in New York City has been very cold, so rich, full-bodied reds that warm me up are what I prefer. They go with the beef stews and comfort foods we tend to have at that time. When it gets to the spring, I want refreshing and delicate wines with crisp acidity to go with the salads and light dishes of the season.

EPB: Jennifer, can you recommend some affordable spring wines to our readers, and Maximilian, can you recommend what type of glasses to pair with them?

J: These three wines are delicious and under $20! While they may sound similar in certain respects, they are quite different: three different countries, three different varietals.

2011 Chateau Ducasse Bordeaux Blanc, 60% sémillon, 35% sauvignon blanc and 5% muscadelle: Medium white with elements that are the essence of spring—floral aromas with hints of fresh cut grass and crisp, minerals, and bright lemony acidity. ($17 on

Maximilian’s glass recommendation: Vinum Chardonnay/Viognier

2012 Gobelsburger Kamptal Grüner Veltliner, 100% grüner veltliner: Moderately light-bodied white wine with notes of lemon, lime, white peach, grapefruit, floral notes, minerals and white pepper spice. This is one of my favorites; it has excellent flavor concentration for such a light white and definitely has some finesse. ($15

Maximilian’s glass recommendation: Vinum Riesling

2011 Antonopoulos Moscophilero, 100% moscophilero: A fairly light-bodied white wine with citrus, pear and peach fruits with notes of jasmine, minerals and crisp acidity. ($12 on

Maximilian’s glass recommendation: Vinum Sauvignon Blanc

At the end of the day, the most important rule to follow when drinking wine is to stay true to your palate, sit back and enjoy it.


RIEDEL: See the Riedel Glass Guide at

SIMONETTI: Experience how users can identify wines based on personal characteristics and preferences

JENNIFER SIMONETTI-BRYAN is the fourth woman among only 34 people in the United States who have attained the title of Master of Wine (MW) since 1955. Jennifer has been honored with an international tasting trophy by the Institute of Masters of Wine and holds an additional five leading wine and spirits certifications. She is the author of The One Minute Wine Master, co-author of Pairing with the Masters: A Definitive Guide to Food & Wine, and a frequent guest on national television, including NBC’s Today Show, Fox, Bloomberg TV and CNN/Money. In addition, Jennifer is a senior partner in Wine Ring, a new cloud-based, personal-tech company that changes the way people discover, buy and share wine.

MAXIMILIAN J. RIEDEL, CEO and president of Riedel Crystal, is the 11th generation of the familyowned company based in Kufstein, Austria. Joining the family business at age 18, Maximilian shadowed his father, Georg J. Riedel, who had learned from his father, Claus J. Riedel—the first to discover that the shape, size and color of glassware affect how we enjoy wine, and thus developed the world’s first varietal-specific glasses in 1958. At age 25, Maximilian became CEO of Riedel Crystal of North America. In less than 10 years, the United States and Canada became Riedel’s largest export market, with sales more than quadrupling—and soon thereafter, Maximilian was named as head of the company.