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Interview: Andrea Reusing Talks the Transformation of Local Food

Season of Plenty



This year, Farm to Fork gets the presidential treatment.

On Saturday, Sam Kass will team with Andrea Reusing for a five-course dinner at The Durham Hotel. Kass now works for Innit, a food tech start-up that helps home cooks work smarter, not harder; it's the culinary equivalent of using a GPS instead of reading a map. Previously, he was the White House senior policy adviser on nutrition, the executive director of the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign, the gardener, craft brewer, and personal chef for the Obamas. And now, for $195, he wants to cook you dinner.

Much like Kass, Reusing has made a name for herself by embracing and elevating local, seasonal ingredients and advocating for food policy change. When she opened Chapel Hill's Lantern in 2002, she set out to reimagine Asian flavors through a North Carolina lens, leading to a lofty James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Southeast nine years later. Reusing's most recent endeavor at The Durham Hotel reinforces her commitment to neighboring farmers and producers. To eat Reusing's food is to appreciate what our area offers. And when she's not in the kitchen, she serves on the boards of both the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and the Chefs Collaborative.

In anticipation of her collaboration with Kass, I spoke with Reusing about Farm to Fork, the local food scene, and spring cooking.

INDY: When you opened Lantern in 2002, sourcing from nearby farms was one of the restaurant's standout qualities. Since then, how have you seen the relationship between chefs and farmers in the area evolve?

ANDREA REUSING: The local food scene here is different than anywhere else in the country. That comes from a number of different factors, but one is the long history of farmer-controlled farmers markets, specifically the Carrboro market.

Andrea Reusing at The Durham Hotel - PHOTO BY LISSA GOTWALS
  • Photo by Lissa Gotwals
  • Andrea Reusing at The Durham Hotel

Another reason is the complex, deep web of nongovernmental organizations that are in North Carolina working on agriculture issues, whether it's Rural Advancement Foundation International in Pittsboro, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project in the west, and, of course, Center for Environmental Farming Systems. There's all of this groundwork that doesn't really exist anywhere else in the country that, in the early eighties, existed here. That's the basis of the food scene today. If anything has changed in the last fifteen years, there's just more of all the above.

When we started Lantern, I had the sense I knew most people who were growing food within twenty, thirty miles of me on a commercial level. I could not say that anymore. I meet new people several times a week who are getting into farming. That's, obviously, super exciting. It used to be that most of our seafood went up Interstate 95 to New York before it came back down here. We're getting a lot more east-west distribution channels from the coast.

When we opened Lantern, it was very hard to get local pork. I had to make an arrangement with a farmer, go pick up the pig myself in a borrowed pickup truck, bring it to Cliff's Meat Market, and he would help me break it down. But that's not the case anymore.

Which local farm-to-table collaborations on the menu at Lantern and The Durham excite you right now?

We use Chapel Hill Creamery's pork at Lantern. They raise about seventy-five pigs a year for us, and that's the main pork that we use. The pigs are fed a diet of some grain, but mostly whey that's a byproduct from their cheese-making process. At Lantern, we use a lot of their cheese but not a ton, because of the nature of the menu. They make paneer for us, and that's a project that we've been doing with them for a long time. At The Durham, we use a lot of their aged cheeses for different things.

Right now, we're doing a fennel gratin with fennel from Ten Mothers Farm, which is a super new farm. For that, we're using Hickory Grove cheese, which we've never used at Lantern because it just doesn't fit with the menu. We're also working on a project with Chapel Hill Creamery to use their older dairy animals in our beef program here at the hotel. They are just now, this week, taking a nine-year-old dairy cow to process for us to use at the hotel.

Do you have a favorite springtime ingredient?

I really love green garlic—the immature bulbs of garlic, before the skin gets papery. I love asparagus a lot, but I'm not an asparagus fetishist. I love this man who brings us asparagus, and I love seeing him every year. I almost love seeing him more than asparagus. Asparagus is so ubiquitous it's just not as interesting as other spring vegetables. A couple people are doing really great fava beans here right now, which is unusual. George [O'Neal] from Lil' Farm is doing them. I love this green rhubarb that Four Leaf Farm does—a little rosy at the bottom, but it's mostly green. We've been doing a lot of that—salted, raw, on top of pork. You don't often see rhurbarb in the South, so that's exciting.

What do you do with the green garlic?

Right now, we have it in a soup [at The Durham] that's rings of green garlic in a broth made with rinds from Calvander cheese from Chapel Hill Creamery. It's that principle of using Parmesan rinds in a stock. We make this bright green broth that's really flavorful. Then we're floating green garlic in it, along with green onion and peas and asparagus. It's also got nettles and ramps in it. We're squeezing out our last spring greens into that soup right now.

Can you tell us a bit about the menu that you and Chef Kass are creating for your Farm to Fork event?

It's going to highlight some of the influence that Center for Environmental Farming Systems has been able to have on North Carolina agriculture in the last fifteen years. We're going to be serving a lot of food that wouldn't be here if not for CEFS.

If you could cook one weeknight dinner for the Obamas, what would you make?

Whatever Michelle was harvesting from the garden.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Season of Plenty"

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