What I Ate at the Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers

I’m on Weight Watchers, and I gotta say, the food at the Greenbrier would’ve made Jean Nidetch spin in her grave. Not that it wasn’t good, mind you—can’t say I hated anything I tasted, though I definitely enjoyed some dishes more than others—but the endless parade of cream-, cheese-, mayo-, and deep fryer-based dishes was a little crushing. I did my best, but lordy I’m dreading tomorrow’s weigh-in.

SUNDAY, arrival day

  • 2 tablespoons extremely delicious and addictive candied & spiced sunflower seeds

3 Weight Watchers POINTS

(dinner, plated, each course paired with wine)

  • Smoked tomato bisque with basil cream and eggplant croutons. Yup, it’s as good as it sounds. Licked the bowl, and immediately started to sweat about what the next few days held.
  • Mesclun salad with peach preserves and raspberry vinaigrette. Since I don’t do pig (with very specific exceptions), I had them hold the shaved Virginia ham.
  • Pistachio-crusted avocado fillets (pan-fried), topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella and tomato jam, with frisee salad. This was the vegetarian plate I requested in place of the butter-poached lobster tail and roasted veal tenderloin with lobster risotto, creamed spinach, and sauce homard. The avocado was the more diet-friendly choice, but not by much.
  • Bread pudding, soft and creamy and irresistible. I skipped the small pitcher of vanilla sauce that accompanied it.

30 POINTS, just for that dinner. THIRTY. I get 22 points for an entire day. Immediately clear: this is not going well.

Post-dinner treat, waiting for me in my room: Pumpkin spice cupcake. Oy. I tried to resist, really I did…

(breakfast, buffet)

  • 2 small blueberry pancakes with a faint drizzle of maple syrup
  • 1 slice crisp bacon (see, I said I make exceptions)
  • 1 cup mixed fruit


(lunch, buffet. The theme was “state fair.” You can imagine how Weight Watchers- friendly this turned out to be.)

  • 1 small piece cornbread
  • 1 small barbecued chicken thigh, skin removed
  • 1 piece smoked barbecued brisket (ohmygod this was fantastic)
  • 1/2 cup vinegar-based coleslaw, pretty much the only vegetable available
  • 1 oz chocolate milkshake from the milkshake bar, with crushed Butterfinger crumbs and hot fudge sauce. I couldn’t resist—could you?

(I skipped the fried cheese curds, lobster corn dogs, and a trillion other coronary-inducing options.)

(dinner, served family-style at a lodge on the property, again with beaucoup wine)

  • 1/3 cup roasted peanuts. There were no snacks served between meals, so by cocktail hour I was ravenous. This was the best choice, over house-made kettle chips and bar mix.
  • Carrot sticks & radishes (hallelujah, a vegetable that wasn’t covered in cheese or mayo!)
  • Spinach salad with chopped egg and a small drizzle of bacon dressing
  • Roast chicken breast
  • 1 slice some kind of beef
  • 2 tablespoons very cheesy, very creamy grits
  • 1/3 cup collard greens with mouth-puckering amounts of salt and bacon
  • Mixed berry cobbler, berry part only, tiny taste of chocolate cake served alongside

(I skipped the quail and the post-dinner s’mores fest at the fire pit outside the lodge. You may all applaud now.)
Um, I didn’t bother counting points for this one, since my day’s allotment had run out before I ever sat down. Too scared.


  • Fruit
  • Small serving potatoes Lyonnaise


(lunch, buffet)

  • 1 small piece fried chicken
  • 1 cup scallion and cheddar macaroni & cheese, so fabulous that I went back for seconds

(I skipped the waffles to go with the fried chicken, spinach-artichoke-crab dip, cobb salad, chicken salad sandwiches, and make-your-own wonton crisp nachos, so you might see my problem here. No plain vegetables available.)

Between lunch and dinner, I sought out Lynn, the lovely and extremely accommodating representative from the Greenbrier who was juggling our many issues. I requested, as politely as I could, that the chefs add some healthier options to our meals. Specifically, unadorned vegetables. She did not slap me, though she probably wanted to, and promised to do what she could for the next day—Tuesday’s dinner was a set menu that couldn’t be changed, a tribute to French-cooking legend Anne Willan. She predicted lots of cream. At least I knew what I was in for…

(dinner, four courses paired with wines)

  • 1 1/2 French bread rolls
  • 1/2 cup risotto Milanese with bone marrow and Parmesan shavings
  • 1/2 Cornish game hen with a drizzle of mustard sauce
  • Carrots, haricots verts, radicchio with prosciutto (I think that’s what it was)
  • 1/2 cup astonishingly delicious potato & turnip gratin
  • Macerated strawberries that were served beneath Coeur à la crème, which I avoided as much as possible

(I skipped the shrimp bisque and the crème part of the dessert.)


  • Fruit
  • 1 small biscuit, no sausage gravy
  • 1 small portion, cheddar hash browns


Finally, there were bananas on the breakfast buffet, so I stuck a couple in my bag. One made an ideal mid-morning snack.

(lunch, henceforth known as Hallelujah, vegetables!)

  • Caesar salad with a drizzle of dressing and a scattering of grated Parm, no croutons
  • 1 cup Vegetables Provençal, a tomato-based stew
  • 1 small piece citrus-brined chicken
  • 1/2 cup broccoli raab
  • 1/2 cup roasted fingerling potatoes


(dinner, served family-style in the Greenbrier’s new Italian spot, The Forum)

  • Grilled vegetables & 2 crostini
  • Small portion Caesar salad
  • 2 banana peppers stuffed with spicy, rich, gimme more sausage, possibly my favorite mouthfuls of the conference.
  • 1 cup pasta with “Sunday sauce,” which included chunks of beef, sausage, and lord knows what else—all simmered to the point of unrecognizability, which is the idea with Sunday sauce.

(I skipped the house-made salumi, the fried calamari, the shrimp alfredo, and the dessert: cannoli, tiramisu, and apricot tarts.)


  • Fruit, fruit, fruit
  • 1 cup oatmeal with dried cherries—at last, a healthy breakfast option!

(I skipped the sweet cheese-stuffed French toast, the poached eggs in cream sauce, and the carved-to-order bacon-wrapped sausage, which was the size of a small nuclear missile.)

(lunch, after the conference had wrapped, at Draper’s, the resort’s casual restaurant)

  • 1 bowl vegetable-and-pasta soup with grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup scallion and cheddar mac & cheese, which I’d assumed was the same miraculously delicious stuff we’d eaten earlier in the week but turned out not to be


Grand total for 4 days: 133 points, not including Monday night’s dinner, which I never bothered to calculate. Let’s be kind and assume that dinner was another 15 points: 148 points total. That’s THIRTY-SEVEN points a day, people. I’m supposed to eat 22. I’m so far into next week’s points that I’ll have to spend the next few days eating nothing but carrot sticks and air-popped popcorn to make up for it.

Wish me luck getting on that scale tomorrow. It’s gonna be ugly. Check out WTEB’s Facebook page for the final score.

And if you’re curious about the goings-on at the symposium itself, Kurt Friese, one of my fellow attendees, live-blogged it for the Huffington Post. There are also quite a few tweets (including my own) at the hashtag #gbrfood.