Many great Triangle restaurants celebrate the work of area farmers by prominently sourcing local ingredients on their menus. Piedmont in Durham might be the only one that has created a special menu to specifically spotlight the talents of young farmers—and to welcome them to the table to enjoy the fruit of their labors.
"We work with some really outstanding young farmers who are committed to organic, sustainable practices," says Chef Ben Adams, who took over the kitchen in May. "We serve heirloom tomatoes and micro mustard greens from Sweet Beet City Farm, which is literally three blocks from the restaurant. If I run out of basil or something, they get on a bicycle and run it over here. You can't beat that for freshness."
Sunday's Young Farmers Dinner is proving to be the most popular event in Piedmont's Summer Dining series. When the 6:30 p.m. seating sold out, the restaurant added a second seating at 8:30 p.m. The four-course vegetarian meal will feature produce grown by Kathleen Smith and Ben Berry of Root Down Farm in Cedar Grove, near Hillsborough; Emily Sloss and Emily McGinty of the Duke Campus Farm in Durham; and Laura Stephenson and Emily-Kate Hannapel of Sweet Beet.
General Manager Crawford Leavoy says that using the best locally grown produce has always been part of Piedmont's mission. Earlier this summer, Piedmont encouraged customers who ordered the tomato salad to choose from a basketful of ones grown in the Triangle.
As more young people choose farming over corporate life, opportunities to incorporate specialty crops have increased. Courses currently listed on the event menu—which are subject to change depending on availability—include a salad of late summer greens and vegetables with a barley malt crumble; Carolina succotash and smoked fairytale eggplant with buttered Anson Mills' Charleston Gold rice; and butternut squash ravioli with wild mushrooms and spiced pecan-mint gremolata in brown butter. Dessert promises poached figs with warm vanilla bean ricotta and heirloom melon sorbet with wildflower honey.
Piedmont has never presented any of these recipes in these forms, although the butternut squash ravioli likely will be added to the fall menu.
Leavoy is pleased that the farmers will be at the event, where they can chat with customers and hear praise for their hard work. "We want people to enjoy a great meal and a relaxing evening," he says, "but we also want to start a conversation about area farmers and how everyone can support them in their own way."
Hannapel feels giddy when she sees the Sweet Beet name featured on the menu. "We talk with Ben to provide things he can't source from other farms," says Hannapel, 25, who also provides produce to Saltbox Seafood Joint. She and partner Stephenson, who farmed in Guatemala, established their 1.3-acre parcel in January at the corner of Mangum and Broadway streets.
"We treated this as an experiment. Can we grow food in the city and get our neighbors to buy it?" says Hannapel, noting they're only growing on about a quarter-acre right now. "The location helps a lot. People in this area really want to support new farmers, new ideas and new products."
Adams hopes the event will create more opportunities for featured farmers to sell their goods to restaurants and home cooks. "We get gorgeous, delicious stuff from all of these farmers," he says. "They deserve more exposure. I feel like they are very modest and it's nice to be able to toot their horn for them."
"Durham's farming scene is like no other," says Leavoy. He is from New Orleans, "a city that is full of great restaurants, but it doesn't have the in-city farming the way we do here," he says. "These farmers all are within 30 minutes of our kitchen and are doing great things."
"I can hardly believe they're doing this for all of us, and that so many people want to come and be supportive," says Happanel. "We work really hard and don't get to eat out very much. We eat our vegetables all the time but it feels really special to be invited to take a night off and enjoy a great meal in a great restaurant."
This article appeared in print with the headline "This year's crop."