As far as a first 100 days goes, President Obama has nothing on Joshua Hollinger. Like the new president, Hollinger was hired in mid-November. And like Obama, he was brought in as a turnaround guy. Consider, as proof, his atypical all-black chef's duds.
And also as proof—this, one of his first executive orders: After arriving as the new executive chef at the Sanderling Resort in Duck, Hollinger went out and bought a few head of cattle. But don't expect to see wayward steers wandering over the dunes or lumbering into the pedicure room; they are marked for the dinner table.
Raised by seventh-generation farmers, the herd is reared on the farm's pastures in western North Carolina, grass-fed, with the farm's own hay, which is very important to Hollinger.
"It's pretty much a closed system of farming. They send the cattle to the slaughterhouse out there, and then we can go out and pick it up with Uli Bennewitz at the Weeping Radish [in nearby Jarvisburg]. He has a master butcher he's just brought over from Germany."
The rounds and chucks are perfect for the Weeping Radish's sausages. The remaining prime cuts will grace the white-linen tables of the Sanderling's fine-dining establishment, The Left Bank, and its family restaurant, The Lifesaving Station. Call it cow-sharing; funny as it sounds, it's an apt symbol of the more thoughtful planning going into food sourcing.
Big changes (and, possibly, big egos) are also coming to Duck this year.
Hollinger has hired 24 staff members locally and from New York and New England, who start April 1. On top of that, he's bringing in nine externs from New England Culinary Institute and the Culinary Institute of America, both of which Hollinger attended.
Later in the summer, he's hoping to lure guest chefs to town, via networking channels from his time at New York's Tribeca Grill and the Harbor View Hotel on Martha's Vineyard.
"The end goal is to make this resort a food destination," says Hollinger. "What I've always been known for is going into properties and kind of restructuring things a bit. ...Basically, if a chef quit or was asked to leave, they'd send me in," he says, grinning.
"I was lucky enough on Martha's Vineyard to be part of a $120 million revamp of a hotel that was 125 years old. We rebuilt the kitchen—$4 million kitchen—doing all local, sustainable stuff....
"Now that I'm living in North Carolina, I want everything to come from North Carolina. We want to start getting all of our fish right here in Wanchese, because what happens here is, we have a great fishery, but everything goes to Norfolk, Boston, D.C., and then it comes back down, so it's a ridiculous system. People haven't started using the buying power that they have, and that's what we want to do."
He admits he has a few things to learn, among them some arcane state laws.
"I have to take a five-hour class, I think in Charlotte, to learn how to can—which is weird because I've been doing it since I was that big," he says, pointing knee-high.
"My family owned a slaughterhouse in Pennsylvania, a 1,400-acre farm. It was always my dream as a kid to be that kind of gentleman farmer, have a restaurant. Then I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay crab-potting and fishing. Agriculture, aquaculture has always been a big part of it for me."
Hollinger is excited to see what his new home brings: "Bay scallops in particular are coming back really well. After you cross the Alligator River bridge, there's a big seafood market there, and I've talked to the owner. Come summer he'll be able to deliver up here. I'll probably have crawfish on the menu this summer. Blue crabs are interesting; we'll have she-crab soup and crab stock."
As for vegetables, he's learning the ropes.
"It's tough ... you only get deliveries twice a week here. If you miss something on your produce order, it's hard to be real spontaneous when you're still working from a produce order you got on Wednesday.
"Our local produce guy drives the four hours to the Raleigh Farmers' Market. Come spring, the Weeping Radish 25 minutes away has a 14-acre garden, and we'll get all our produce pretty much exclusively from them.
"This Taste of the Beach thing is a great springboard for the idea [of local sourcing]. A lot of people talk about sustainability, but it's very difficult to do, especially in a hotel setting, because cost is such a huge part of it. You see a lot of chefs and cooks ... either they give it up, or they use the terms but don't really follow through with it."
The Sanderling will launch its new menus April 1. Taking a budget-conscious approach in the current economic climate, Hollinger promises many small plates under $10, and for entrées, "We won't have anything above $25, and that will be the dry-aged filet."