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Cooking on the Clock with Tom Parks

Story by Crystal S. Tatum

 When it comes to cooking, there’s no place like home for Tom Parks, vice president and general manager of Coastroad Hearth & Patio Supply Company in Shallotte. But if you happen to be strolling along Main Street on Fridays, you’ll see — and smell — that the self-proclaimed “foodie” occasionally dons an apron and brings his passion to work.

 At Coastroad Hearth and Patio Supply, Tom demonstrates the many specialized grills and tools he carries in the store, and he makes use of the outdoor kitchen model, ironically located inside. On the particular Friday afternoon I visited, he had fired up the TEC G-Sport, an infrared grill, which heats from infrared energy instead of hot air, thereby preserving the natural juices of grilled foods.

 Snipping tongs in anticipation, Tom refers to the vibrantly colored tomatillos and chiles on the grill: “The key is to put them on slow heat. It brings out the sugars and fuller flavors without burning.”

 Once the vegetables are roasted to perfection, Tom snatches them up to go alongside husk-grilled corn, both components to Southwestern Soup, a dish he creates for family and employees while humming happily in the kitchen.

 For the last three months, Tom has committed himself to grilling out at his family-owned and operated business, mainly as a venue to share ideas with people about cooking, grilling and food. Recently he expanded his cooking obsession to Facebook with a page devoted to Coastroad and streaming live feeds of his Friday cooking process from prep to finish.

 Tom tries something different each week, from crab-stuffed jalapeños to beer-can birds, and he’ll even take suggestions from fans. “It has pushed me to be more creative, to try new things,” Tom says, adding, “It doesn’t hurt to have a nice lunch or dinner on Friday; other people get to look forward to it, too.”

The greatest satisfaction is, of course, reserved for those lucky people who get to taste Tom’s cooking. “Food is one of the basic things everyone can enjoy. There’s something deeply satisfying about getting together with friends over a meal.” Tom says.

Tom seems to delight just as much in sharing his expertise with customers as he does in sharing his actual cooked food.

“Take something you enjoy eating and learn to cook it well. Master one thing,” the San Francisco Bay–area native advises. According to Tom’s wife, Liesl, he has mastered cedar-plank salmon, among other things.

The following Friday, Tom’s enthusiasm really sparks when a fellow barbecue lover is drawn in by billowing smoke and the aroma of grilling turkey breast. As proof of his barbecuing expertise, I learn that Tom has just become a certified barbecue judge.

“I like ‘em real, real lean,” Tom says, exchanging opinions on ribs while rocking back on the heels of his black Chuck Taylors.

“Brisket can be great, but you’ve got to do it right, and that is what you’ll want to be using,” Tom says, pointing to the grill, while the customer nods. “If you like to sauce it, do it in the last hour.”

A second eavesdropping customer places a hand over his stomach and says aloud with urgency, “He’s making me hungry.”

“Everybody loves to talk about food,” Tom responds in an aside, smiling slightly — ever so pleased.

To follow Tom grilling out at Coastroad on Fridays, go to http://www.facebook.com/pages/Shallotte-NC/COASTROAD-Hearth- Patio/120237809466 . Better yet, visit his store yourself. You’ll find Coastroad Hearth & Patio Supply Company at 4733 Main Street in Shallotte, (910) 755-7611, www.coastroadonline.com

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