Monday, March 16, 2015

Chef & the Farmer

Fans of the PBS documentary show "A Chef's Life" have been flocking to Kinston in recent months to visit Chef & the Farmer, a legit farm-to-table restaurant. A little background for you: Deep Run, NC-born Vivian Howard got her training from famed NYC chefs like Wylie Dufresne and Jean-Georges Vongericten, and then returned home to open "Chef & the Farmer" in 2006 with her husband, Ben Knight. PBS sought her out and premiered a 30-minute documentary show in 2013. Howard was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2014 (the Oscars of the food world), for Best Chef Southeast. Life seems pretty sweet in Kinston.
Friends & me with the Chef herself! (Vivian is in the middle, in the blue top).
My friends and I drove 80 miles east of Raleigh to redeem our dinner reservation that we had made over Christmas (you read me right.) After stopping at The Boiler Room (a partnership between Howard/Knight and the guys at Mother Earth Brewing), we walked around the corner and spotted it - Chef & the Farmer. I'm not exaggerating when I say we had the best seat in the house, peering right into the kitchen, so we could see everything being beautifully plated. We perused the drink list, consulted the awesome sommelier, Tyler, and placed our order 45 minutes after being seated. Their graciousness and patience with us was so wonderful. We didn't feel rushed. We felt right at home.

Boiled Peanut Risotto
+ Cornbread
The menu changes weekly (sometimes daily), depending on what's available and fresh. The Boiled Peanut Risotto intrigued me from the moment I read it. Crunchy Peanuts and smooth White Beans swim in a Briny, Gravy-like sauce for a nice texture balance, with a Bacon and Rutabega Relish. Cornbread rounds out the dish and helps wipe up the gravy (we're in the South, y'all). Rutabega and Red Pea Samosas are a fantastic rendition of the Indian pastry. After letting it cool for about 10 minutes, the turnover-like dish sung of classic Indian flavors like Garam Masala and Turmeric. The Cilantro Buttermilk was essential to cool your palate.

I can't take credit for the description of the Wood-Fired Pizza. My friend claimed it to be "better than an orgasm." Naturally, I reached across the table and grabbed a slice, nearly knocking over everything in my way. The slightly sweet, thinly-sliced Sweet Potato (which looked identical to Pepperoni!) and the Talleggio, Fontina and Parmesan Cheese is truly an outrageous combination.
Sweet Potato Pizza

Braised Beef Short Rib Heaven.
I couldn't have been more thrilled with what I decided on for my entree: the Braised Beef Short Rib. It blew my freaking mind. You don't need a fork to cut it; it just melts in your mouth. Calling it tender is an understatement. It burst with a vinegary, umami flavor that I could have died for. The Parmesan Spoonbread reminded me of a corn-less Corn Pudding, and Melted Leeks rounded out the dish. The Collard Chimichurri was more like a collard leaf garnish and was too bitter for me, but it was clearly there to break up the richness of the dish.

You can't come to a place like this and not get dessert. We were informed that the "dessert flight" basically means you get all 4 desserts for the price of 3, regularly-sized. SOLD. I dove into what I presumed would be my favorite: the Apple Crisp with Salted Caramel and Rosemary Ice Cream. The crust featured notes of Cornmeal, which I was all over. The Rosemary Ice Cream was a nice herbaceous palate cleanser, to break up the sweetness. I didn't expect the Key Lime Curd and Coconut Meringue to be my favorite, but one bite and I switched my vote. I have a new respect for what I usually find to be an overrated dessert. Tangy Key Lime Curd is topped with a fluffy Coconut Meringue and transports you to the beach. Peanuts are a nice crunch, and Graham Crackers work as a vessel for your mouth, though a spoon (or your hands) would work just fine.
          Apple Crisp with Salted Caramel & Rosemary Ice Cream

    Key Lime Curd with Coconut Meringue and Graham Crackers
If I had to pick a least favorite, the Honey and Pecan Baklava had all the potential in the world to be outstanding, but the flavor of Tangerine overpowered all notes of Honey and Nut, so you'd have to love that citrus flavor to be a fan of this dish. We had one more to dig into: the 10-Layer Chocolate Cake with Caramel and a Toffee Crunch. For a gal who doesn't love chocolate, this had me believing in chocolate again. The Toffee Crunch is like the saltine cracker candy that you make with homemade caramel and chocolate. It was sensational. I don't recall if I shared this with anyone at the table.

Honey & Pecan Baklava
10-Layer Chocolate Cake

After putting in a sly request with the sommelier, Vivian came over to our table to say hello. She is incredibly kind and beautiful, and was even sweet enough to pose for a photo, something we had seen her do over the course of the evening. She has an excellent thing going, and I'm thankful I got to experience this for a night.

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