Eating local can be a challenge. Places to buy local fare are few. Farmers markets happen once a week during the growing season, and the grocery stores, if they stock local produce at all, are extremely limited. But eating local is a challenge I'm always willing to tackle. For a recent supper club gathering, I thought it'd be interesting to do an all-local feast, modeled after Lowcountry Local First's all-you-should-eat breakfast, which is part of April's Eat Local Month festivities.
Our supper club, which has been convening for years, was totally up for it. The group includes a couple food writers, an amateur baker, and even a professional chef. If anybody can put together a great feast, we can. We get together off and on at different homes, letting the host pick a theme, invite new friends, and assign out dishes and responsibilities.
In order to put together our all-local edition, I planned to order everything from Kitchen Table Cuisine, Maria Baldwin's retail operation that sells local produce, proteins, and products and delivers them to your door. And I thought I'd get our ringer, Scott Stefanelli, a professional chef and instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston, to lead us through the preparation of the feast.
Kitchen Table Cuisine is an offshoot of Thornhill Farm in McClellanville, where Baldwin grows organic vegetables and supplies Husk and McCrady's with crates of fresh produce. The farm store stocks an abundance of local products. I stopped by once on a trip back from Pawley's Island and left with so many bags of groceries my husband was concerned for my sanity (and our wallet). But I couldn't help myself. She had a tantalizing collection of local eggs, frozen pasta from Rio Bertolini, fresh veggies from the farm, rich stocks from McCrady's, chicken from Keegan-Filion, and cheese and milk from Happy Cow Creamery. I think I even bought some locally made bird feeders as presents. It wasn't until later that I learned she had a retail website and would deliver all these delights to your home.
"We started Kitchen Table Cuisine in 2009," says Baldwin. "It was basically a way to extend the farm out into the community, to take away that distance and lack of accessibility that so many farms have to deal with." She also recently opened a second retail outlet and café in Wando, where they are also selling premade, farm-to-table meals.
At her stores, Baldwin stocks and sells everything from McCutchen Grass Fed Beef and Keegan-Filion's pork and chicken to Alchemy spices blended nearby in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Charleston Coffee Roasters coffee, which is roasted on Huger Street in downtown Charleston. "The other aspect of my passion from the beginning has been access to local foods," says Baldwin. "It's an obstacle to the local food movement."
In order to provide local beef and pork, which can be very difficult to find in small cuts, she'll buy a whole pig or a side of beef and have it butchered, processed, and packaged as chops and roasts for her customers. She does the same with Anson Mills' products, purchasing them in bulk and packaging and selling them in smaller quantities.
For our feast, I asked Stefanelli to take a look at Kitchen Table's offerings and create the menu. At Trident's Palmer Campus, he uses lots of local products in teaching the Capstone class, a final step for students serious about pursuing restaurant chefdom. "The class is designed to put all their knowledge into practical use," says Stefanelli. "They write recipes, cost recipes, fabricate meat, seafood, and poultry."
The students also run 181 Palmer, the restaurant that serves the best three-course lunch deal in town ($15). For Stefanelli, buying local products is a serious commitment. It takes a good six months to get a local purveyor into the state's system and another six months to finally be able to write a purchase order with their name on it. Currently, he works with Mark Marhefka's Abundant Seafood for fresh catch, Dirthugger and Limehouse Produce for vegetables, Anson Mills for rice and grains, and Keegan-Filion for chicken, eggs, and pork. This year, he added Craig Rogers' Border Springs Farm in Virginia to his list of purveyors. "I recently got two lambs from Craig Rogers to use for the [Charleston Wine + Food] festival dinner," he says. "I had a kid say, 'Hey chef, I want to come in and watch you cut,' and he came in. I said go ahead and step up. Here's your animal, and he had an opportunity to work on it by himself."
Those sorts of experiences are rare even in professional kitchens, where the executive chefs often keep that kind of work to themselves.
For Stefanelli, it's not about the farm-to-table movement so much as it's about connecting his students to the food. "The whole idea of the local foods movement is getting reconnected with food, which is so important for a cook," he says. "Too many cooks in a kitchen have no respect for what goes into picking nice greens out of the garden, making sure you're taking care of them and using them. And also there's the flavor ... when you have a good product you can approach it with more simplicity."
For our Dirt feast, as it began to be called, Stefanelli crafted a menu, using both locally grown and locally made ingredients: kale salad with Aunt Alice's buttermilk dressing, fresh radishes, and buttery croutons; coffee-rubbed pork roast; Sea Island Red Pea gravy and Carolina Gold Rice; roasted baby rainbow carrots and sweet potatoes; and chocolate pot de crème with fennel and sea salt shortbread cookie.
Once he gave me quantities, I paid a one-time registration fee of $15 with Kitchen Table Cuisine (ourlocalfoods.com), placed a big fat order, and asked for it to be delivered to their weekly Wednesday drop-site, the True Value on East Bay. For an extra $5.95, I could've had it dropped at my house or office, but I was interested in seeing how it would be packed and kept at the hardware store. Soon after placing our order, I got an e-mail confirmation. Then Monica Banks at Kitchen Table Cuisine sent me a personalized thank you note, welcoming my business and explaining how the delivery would work. On Wednesday, I stopped by the hardware store, and three coolers packed with great care were waiting for me.
That Saturday, Stefanelli showed up at my house in the early afternoon and started prepping. It was an all-day affair. Soon, our friend Ric Sommons arrived, donned an apron, and the two spent the rest of the day getting the feast ready. Around 7 p.m. we served our hungry crew of kids their own mini-Dirt feast, featuring some Keegan-Filion fried chicken legs and thighs and some macaroni and cheese made with Happy Cow Creamery's milk, cheddar, and asiago cheese while the adults nibbled on some appetizers brought by Jamee Haley of Lowcountry Local First. She kept to the theme, making a Geechie Boy Mill grit cake topped with Keegan-Filian pork sausage patties and a purée of Ambrose Farms spring onions and cilantro. Yum.
A short while later, the adults were treated to a massive feast made from all-local ingredients, proving that you can get amazing results at home if you use the right sources.
Coffee-Rubbed Keegan-Filion Pork Roast
2 lb. Keegan-Filion pork roast bone-in
½ c. finely ground Organic Sumatra Dark Roast from Charleston Coffee Roasters
¼ c. turbinado sugar
2 Tbs. kosher salt
1 Tbs. guajillo chili powder
2 tsp. paprika
1 Tbs. black pepper
Mix coffee and spices and rub pork roast thoroughly. Cover meat and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. Roast on a roasting rack in a pan at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, or until temperature registers 145 for medium rare. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving.
Roasted Baby Rainbow Carrots & Sweet Potatoes
8 bunches of fresh baby rainbow carrots
4-5 sweet potatoes
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbs. Alchemy Spice Neo Masala
¼ c. local honey
Snip off greens, wash carrots, and rub well with a kitchen towel. Leave skin on sweet potatoes and cut into slices (keep roughly same size as carrots). In a large bowl, toss carrots and sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and spice. Put on a roasting rack in oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, pull out and drizzle with honey and toss to coat. Roast for another 10 minutes or until tender and slightly caramelized.
Sea Island Red Peas and Carolina Gold Rice
14 oz. bag of Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice (make according to package instructions)
12 oz. bag of Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas
½ c. bacon, cubed and diced
1 onion, quartered
1 whole carrot, quartered
1 celery stalk
bouquet garni of bay leaf, thyme, parsley
1 qt. chicken or beef stock
salt and pepper
2-3 tsp. sorghum
Rinse peas and pick through for stones. Soak overnight in cold water. Render bacon. Add vegetables and sauté in bacon fat for two to three minutes for added flavor. Add peas and enough chicken or beef stock (or any high-quality meat stock) to cover peas. Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer uncovered. After about 20 minutes, season with salt, pepper, and sorghum. When peas are tender, after about 45 minutes to an hour, take a cup of beans and broth and purée them in a blender and return to the pot. Mix purée in to thicken the broth and adjust seasonings. Make Carolina Gold Rice according to Anson Mills' package instructions. Serve peas over rice.
Organic Kale Salad with Turnips and Radishes
1 bunch of kale
1 head red butterhead lettuce
1 bunch pea tendrils
1 bunch radish
Wash kale and remove stems. Wash lettuce and tear into bite-size pieces. Wash pea tendrils. Place greens in large salad bowl. Thinly slice radishes and turnips (use a mandolin if you have one). When time to serve, toss with Aunt Alice's Buttermilk Dressing. Recipe follows.
Aunt Alice's Buttermilk Dressing
(makes 1 quart)
1 small sweet onion (Vidalia or spring onion would work)
¼ c. sugar
¾ c. champagne or white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c. mayonnaise
2 Tbs. Happy Cow Creamery sour cream
2 c. Happy Cow Creamery Buttermilk
salt and pepper to taste
Whisk ingredients together and add salt and pepper at end. Adjust seasonings to your taste. Happy Cow Buttermilk is pretty sweet, so you may want to add a bit more vinegar at the end. The key to this dressing is having the right balance between salty, sweet, and sour.