By R. Gregg, The Raleigh Telegram
DURHAM – At a fantastic dinner in his honor, author Daniel Wallace of Chapel Hill recently announced that his book “Big Fish” will be made into a Broadway musical that will start next year. The author made that announcement, along with news of the release of his book into paperback, at a “Big Fish” themed dinner at the Washington Duke Inn in Durham earlier this month.
“I don’t know what else can happen to my book,” Wallace joked to the lucky diners who participated in the special evening. Those at the event both enjoyed spending time with the well-known author and also were treated to an amazing meal prepared by executive chef Jason Cunningham of the Washington Duke Inn’s Fairview Dining Room.
Wallace was referring to the fact that his award-winning novel has been translated into eighteen languages and was adapted for an Academy Award Nominated film in 2004 starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup and Jessica Lange. The novel has also recently been printed in paperback after being in hardback form for many years.
“All the words are the same inside,” Wallace promised the diners jokingly at the event, who all received an autographed copy of his book.
Wallace said that he had seen practice sessions of the new musical “Big Fish,” which is set to debut in 2013 and that he was impressed with what he has seen so far.
“The songs are amazing and the cast is so talented,” he said.
This reporter was lucky enough to sit next to Wallace for the dinner and found both the author and his lovely wife, Laura, to have a wonderful sense of humor. They both seemed to appreciate meeting the fans of “Big Fish” at the dinner and the author gladly signed autographs and had his picture taken with diners at the event.
Talking with guests at the dinner table, Wallace said that his wife reads all of his works before they go to press. Depending on his level of motivation and support needed, he joked that his wife can change her editing intensity. Sometimes she reads his works as a supportive wife and sometimes she reads them on a little more critical level, he joked, but he added that she was “always right” in her suggestions.
Wallace said that he moved to Chapel Hill several years ago and almost chose to move to New York, but found the college atmosphere attractive. As he attended college at UNC, he was already a fan of the town. He currently teaches creative writing on campus and said he hopes to never have to retire from being a professor, as he enjoys it so much.
One interesting fact that most people may not know about Wallace is that he used to collect glass eyes. He said he grew up with a friend across the street who had a glass eye and they would be allowed during grade school to go clean it in the bathroom a few times a day.
“He didn’t really need help cleaning it,” he joked. “I just wanted to get out of class.”
Since then, Wallace has gathered glass eyes from estate sales, from fans, and from antique shops, until he said jokingly said that his wife finally suggested that he stop collecting them as he has so many already.
Wallace has written four other books other than “Big Fish” and said that he had penned those works before getting “Big Fish” published in 1998. He said that it took 14 years of rejections before finally getting a publisher to print his first book.
In addition to writing, Wallace is somewhat of a doodler, and when asked to sign copies of his books or the special “Big Fish” menus during the evening, he also included some drawings of cats, dogs, and even a car for one diner who collected Corvettes.
Talking with Wallace is a treat as he has a talent for witty conversation. Part of the author’s friendly charm is that he a great sense of humor, even laughing at this reporter’s outlandish stories about running a newspaper in a small town years ago where moonshine stills and fights between motorcycle riders and horseback riders were common.
Everyone who was in attendance for the evening seemed to agree that the Fairview Dining Room had pulled out all of the stops to make the dinner a special event.
Both the author and his wife seemed to delight in the unique dishes, as the food came out in several courses, all of which were carefully designed by executive chef Jason Cunningham.
“I just tried to get creative and come up with some things inspired by the book,” Cunningham told the group at the hotel.
While dining, guests enjoyed looking at the quotations from Wallace’s book written on paper fish on the table and the special lights strung overhead to create an atmosphere that seemed to be right out of “Big Fish.”
Also on each table were fish bowls filled with edible fish, coral, and even brown sugar as sand on the bottom. The lights overhead added to the atmosphere, as did the fun addition of the pair of shoes hanging over one of the lines.
Of course, the main star of the show, other than Mr. Wallace himself, was the food, which was served in four main courses.
The first course was inspired by the witch in the book and was the watermelon gazpacho, which was both spicy and sweet at the same time. The tasty dish’s ingredients included kirby cucumbers, athena melons, and jalapeno oil.
The next dish brought out to diners was the dish inspired by the mermaid — herb roasted wild striped bass. The ingredients in this attractive dish included applewood bacon butterbean succotash, okra, heirloom tomato vinaigrette, and filets of wild striped bass that were personally prepared from the whole fish by the chef.
The main dish of the evening was the grilled axis venison, which was a culinary reference to the werewolf in “Big Fish.” A truly delightful and tender dish, the venison had an amazing flavor due to the truffled potatoes, haricots verts, grilled mushrooms, and the red wine reduction.
And for dessert, a wonderfully whimsical display of hand-crafted pastries made its way to each of the tables and guests enjoyed a totally different flavor in each of the beautifully displayed items. Among the pastry treats were white chocolate raspberry, chocolate macaroons, and a blackberry almond tart with locally grown fruit.
As the evening wound down, the guests seemed to agreed with Mr. Wallace’s comments earlier that with great food, great conversation, and creative flair, the event was a night to remember.
“This is magical and lovely,” he said. ::
Article Posted: Friday, July 27th, 2012.
PHOTOS: THE RALEIGH TELEGRAM
PHOTO: COURTESY OF DANIELLE KASPAR