by Brian Clarey

Oh, to be a member of the prestigious culinary journalism elite! You know – the types who wear disguises when they conduct restaurant reviews, get free samples of truffles in the mail and have standing reservations at Commander’s Palace, the French Laundry, Pamplemousse, Balthazar and the Capital Grille.

Were I not such a piddling little food scribe, I could have been an invitee to the James Beard Awards this past weekend instead of hacking away at this little dispatch.

Once again I was overlooked in the press categories. In fact, the only nomination in all of the Beardies that landed in North Carolina went to Durham’s Magnolia Grill, one of five for the Outstanding Restaurant Award.

Meanwhile the snobs from the New York Times Dining & Wine section – or, at least four people from their “spirits panel” – sampled 80 martinis, each made with a different type of gin, for a story.

And that, my friends, is what’s known as “good work if you can get it.”

It was Plymouth English Gin, by the way, which garnered the top spot from the panel.

Meanwhile here in the real world we have our own modest culinary traditions. For instance: Did you know that the beer industry contributes $3.84 billion to North Carolina’s economy? That’s according to the website, an arm of the Beer Institute and National Beer Wholesalers Association, so it’s safe to say there’s an agenda there.

Also: Local produce hits high gear this month, with blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, corn, white potatoes, squash and watermelon beginning their prime growing weeks. Next month brings local peaches and peppers, a nice prelude to August when the tomatoes come in.

In other produce-related news, the Slow Food Piedmont booth at the Greensboro Farmers’ Curb Market will be closed throughout the month of May.

But Saturday at that quaint bazaar near the old stadium on Yanceyville will be Strawberry Day, with strawberry pancakes from Cheesecakes by Alex.

That same day will see Salute! The North Carolina Wine Celebration on 4th Street in downtown Winston-Salem with more than 30 participating vineyards and food vendors that include Noble’s and 6th and Vine, and also a chili cook-off at the Piedmont Triad Farmers’ Market, where Strawberry Day happens next Friday.

This Thursday the Press Wine Café will hold a tasting of wines from Delectus Winery, a Napa vintner that crafts California wines utilizing Austrian tradition known for cabernet sauvignon and syrah.

Earth Fare’s Culinary Series will touch upon the power of tzatziki sauce on Wednesday and an ode to linguine on Friday.

And Taste, billed as “A culinary sampling and silent auction” and sponsored by the Guilford County Hotel/Motel Association, will put on its 2007 event on Monday at the downtown Marriott from 5:30 to 9 p.m. More than 20 food and beverage vendors will participate, and proceeds from the auction will benefit the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

All in all, not too shabby for us epicurean outliers.