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Fig & Olive Tapenade

During the summer before Watershed Restaurant opened its new location in South Buckhead, Chef Joe Truex often found his way to the kitchen of my Inman Park home for weekend dinners with friends. My PR company had represented his last venture, Repast, which had been named among Esquire Magazine's best new restaurants. He was a great chef and a good friend and our dinners would come together loosely, as one or the other of us would pluck whatever looked fresh from the grocery store that evening. With little advance planning, Joe would expertly prepare the meal. In fact, many of the dishes on the restaurant's opening menu were first created in my home. I would invite an interesting group of folks and we would enjoy cocktails and conversation while he came up with something amazing that we hoped that they would talk about.

Running a PR firm involves constant planning and strategizing, as well as the more-than-occasional pivot - whether for a last minute deadline or a major crisis. A lot of people depend on me for their success and livelihood, a responsibility I don't take lightly. At home I tend to be more relaxed, and this freestyling philosophy holds true with my cooking. I don't always come at dinner with a plan. Sometimes I'll try to replicate a dish I had at a restaurant. Or I'll invite friends for dinner, and then decide what I'm cooking that evening at the grocery store. Granted, it's a safer bet to try this with a trained chef like Joe Truex in your kitchen. Still, I get a little thrill at the rush of waiting until the last minute to plan a menu, and not knowing if I can pull it off.

The other night our friends Bob and Caroline came over for a weeknight dinner. I usually grab some great cheese and a fresh baguette for hors d'oeuvres, but when I got to the store inspiration stuck me, and I decided to make my fig & olive tapenade. I had developed the recipe years ago after trying something similar at a cafe in Seattle, on the occasion of my friends, Doug and Chris's wedding. I found everything except the figs. So, after wheeling around the store to the procure the rest of the ingredients, I decided to swap out the figs for dates. They're way sweeter and denser, which made it a risk. But that little rush of not knowing if it would work kicked in, and I went for it.

Chef Joe Truex has since gotten married, had a baby and moved away to dazzle some far away kitchen. Watershed was just named among Atlanta Magazine's top 50 restaurants, the most recent of many well-deserved accolades it received under Joe, and now it's current chef, Zeb Stevenson, who is also a friend. I remain inspired by the laissez faire approach that so many of my chef friends take in the kitchen. I've made a lot of mistakes cooking over the years. But the tapenade with dates turned out great. And a fun night was had by all.

Here's the recipe. It's easy to adjust - it's just one part figs to two parts olives and a handful of arugula. If you use dates instead of figs, cut the portion in half.

1 C pitted black olives

1/2 C figs (fresh when in season, dried if not))

1 C loosely packed arugula

Olive oil

Finishing salt

Give the first three ingredients a rough chop and blend them in the Cuisinart. Pour into a bowl and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Serve with crackers.

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