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Monday, May 19, 2014

Chef Scott Crawford to leave Herons and open two Raleigh restaurants

Posted by on Mon, May 19, 2014 at 8:32 PM

Last fall, Chef Hugh Acheson, who is from Atlanta, was in the Triangle to help culinary historian Michael Twitty cook a fundraising meal at Historic Stagville. Acheson and his young daughter stayed overnight at The Umstead Hotel & Spa so they could visit and dine with his good friend, Herons Executive Chef Scott Crawford.

Acheson commented at Stagville that Crawford, whose elegantly creativity helped Herons earn a national reputation for exceptional fine dining, would be better known if he plied his craft at a space other than a hotel.
Herons Executive Chef Scott Crawford: “I’m really proud of the work I’ve done, but I have wanted to break away from hotel operations." - COURTESY SCOTT CRAWFORD
  • Courtesy Scott Crawford
  • Herons Executive Chef Scott Crawford: “I’m really proud of the work I’ve done, but I have wanted to break away from hotel operations."

“I’m really proud of the work I’ve done, but I have wanted to break away from hotel operations,” says Crawford, who earned three James Beard Foundation nominations for Best Chef Southeast during his five-year tenure at Herons. “Every chef wants to do their own thing and really have it be their vision from the ground up. Working in hotels has brought me to where I am, but I’m ready for something different.”

In partnership with John Holmes of Hobby Properties, Crawford has created the Nash Square Hospitality Group. Their first venture, Standard Foods, will open this fall at Person Street Plaza in the bustling North Person district, which straddles the Oakwood and Mordecai neighborhoods. It will be followed in 2015 by Nash Tavern, to be located on Nash Square near the warehouse district. It’s one of the few areas of downtown yet to be redeveloped.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time in downtown Raleigh in the last year and a half, trying to decide where I’d want to be,” says Crawford, who has been quietly negotiating with Holmes for about a year. “I love the park setting on Nash Square, and I love what’s happening at North Person. They are perfect for our vision.”

Standard Foods will occupy a restaurant and grocery space originally envisioned for the now-closed Market restaurant; its former site on Blount Street is now occupied by The Stanbury. A small grocery featuring house-made take-out foods and local produce will adjoin Crawford’s 80-seat eatery.

Crawford says he has not determined a price point for meals, but said it will be “fair” and accessible to more diners than an evening at the upscale Herons. He hopes to bring some of his staff with him to the new operation but declined to say who or how many.

Standard Foods derives its name from the movement back to wholesome, natural foods grown by small farms. “There has been a conversation for a long time about how this should be a standard and not a trend,” Crawford says. “What we’re going to do will hopefully be standard for the future.”

Nash Tavern is intended to become Crawford’s flagship restaurant and will contain a private event space. He suggests that other venues will follow, ideally as a family endeavor.

“My 6-year-old son, Jiles, says he wants to cook with me when he’s older,” says Crawford, who set aside chef tasks and interviews this afternoon to treat his son to a squirt gun that shoots water 25 feet. “We’ll see if he still wants to hang with dad when he has a car and more freedom. I hope so.”
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    New restaurants will be at Person Street Plaza and Nash Square

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Shake your tree: It's time to pick mulberries in the city

Posted by on Thu, May 15, 2014 at 10:07 AM

Urban hunter-gatherer alert: The boughs of the mulberry trees are heavy with fruit. And you don't even have to trespass to forage for the delicious berries.

While walking to work this morning, I spotted two trees, one accessible, one less so, that are—cliche alert—ripe for the picking. You could fill many baskets from the tree on Vickers Avenue between Cobb and Proctor streets. Technically, it is on the Camelot Academy property but the tree hangs over the sidewalk. There are other places as well, which I blogged about several years ago.

Bonus: A huge honeysuckle bush is adjacent to the tree. Harvest some honeysuckle and make some sorbet at home, based on this Crook's Corner recipe.

Farther north, you'll need either a ladder to reach the branches, or a long stick to shake them, but the tree on Duke Street between the Durham Freeway exit and Yancey Street is also laden with fruit. That tree appears to be in the public right-of-way, possible N.C. DOT property.

On the Greystone Inn property on Duke Street, the branches hang over the sidewalk. Other trees: the 1200 block of Carroll Street and Chapel Hill Street across from the bus station.

If you don't eat them, the birds will, so grab a sack and start picking.
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    If you don't eat them, the birds will, so grab a sack and start picking.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Good news for the goats and Prodigal Farm

Posted by on Wed, May 14, 2014 at 9:00 AM

A new crop of babies arrived this spring. - LISA SORG
  • Lisa Sorg
  • A new crop of babies arrived this spring.

Prodigal Farm 
in Rougemont is on its way to becoming one of the largest Animal Welfare Approved dairies in the country, thanks to a landowner who saw the INDY story about enterprise, published in March.

In addition, Prodigal is still seeking contributions through its Kickstarter campaign  which ends Sunday, May 18. That same day, Prodigal is inviting the public to see the farm, from 1–5 p.m.

Kat Spann, co-owner of Prodigal Farm, said in an email that the owner of 260 acres of farmland had bought the property to save it from development, and wants to convert the it from a conventional farming operation to a sustainable enterprise.

Prodigal is now renting the land in stages, and renovating the fields into pasture. There are two old farmhouses, one to become a milking parlor for cows—Spann plans to add them to the mix—and the other to be converted into a house for the farm manager.

Prodigal is renowned for its goat cheese, which it makes onsite. The cheeses are available at local farmers’ markets.

A goat relaxes at Prodigal Farm - LISA SORG
  • Lisa Sorg
  • A goat relaxes at Prodigal Farm

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    The public can visit the farm Sunday, May 18, from 1-5 p.m. Kickstarter campaign runs through the weekend.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Learn to cook Turkish dishes, contribute to potluck at the Divan Center

Posted by on Mon, May 12, 2014 at 2:37 PM

Turkish vegetables - JILL WARREN LUCAS
  • Jill Warren Lucas
  • Turkish vegetables

There are plenty of well-known places to take cooking classes in the Triangle. Some are in settings that resemble elite culinary schools or well-appointed sets for TV shows. They routinely attract top-tier chefs and cookbook writers, and charge $40 to well over $100 for registration.

Classes taught at the Divan Center in Cary are not so elegant, and they’re not taught by professional cooks. But at $20 a class, including a deliciously authentic meal and lively conversation, it’s a best-kept secret worth spoiling.

The Divan Center serves as a cultural hub for Turkish-Americans and others interested in Turkish life. It is located in a generic brick office building directly across from the grand entrance to SAS. First-timers surprised by the locked main entrance don’t linger long in the parking lot, however, as a welcoming wave directs them to a side door.

Stuffed Turkish vegetables - JILL WARREN LUCAS
  • Jill Warren Lucas
  • Stuffed Turkish vegetables

An enticing aroma wafts through the basic but immaculate kitchen, which features an enameled Turkish double tea kettle resting on the coils of an electric stove. The instructor and volunteers are a housewife, an engineer and an artist who take turns delivering lessons on how to prepare typical Turkish meals.

Half of the 10 participants in a recent class, none of them native Turks, have lived in or travelled to Turkey at least once. Some study the language and all dream of visiting. Until they can, however, they want to learn how to incorporate the Mediterranean country’s foodways into their Southern diet.

Elif Olsun, who confesses nerves at leading her first class, explains the three dishes she will demonstrate: Mercimek Corbasi (red lentil soup), Kuru Dolma (stuffed dried vegetables) and Sutlac (baked rice pudding). Ultimately, each is a success, leading to applause from students and promises to cook them at home.

Olsun involves class members in rinsing the lentils and chopping vegetables, which are simmered raw with the lentils and water. When all ingredients are soft, they are poured into a blender for a creamy finish. The soup is garnished with a swirl of browned butter cooked with paprika and cayenne. Olsun explains that Turkish home cooks are adept at coring small eggplant and stringing the empty pockets to dry in the sun. Here, it is simpler to purchase the dried vegetables in specialty shops, like Harmony Mediterranean Market, near Triangle Town Center in Cary, where several participants cluster after class. You can also order them online. (Most other ingredients can be found in traditional grocery stores.)

After the dried vegetables are rehydrated in hot water, they are lightly stuffed with a mixture of cooked rice, pine nuts, currants and savory spices. The filled shells are stood in a single layer in a casserole, then steamed with water and olive oil until tender.

Proving the importance of rice to the Turkish diet, Olsun shows how to finish the meal with a rich baked rice pudding. The pudding is thickened with a slurry of sweet rice flour (pirinҫ unu) and ladled into glazed clay ramekins that are tucked into a roasting pan filled with a shallow pool of water. When the creamy pudding is set, it is briefly placed under the broiler to slightly scorch and caramelize the surface.

The Divan Center, 1903 N. Harrison Ave., in Cary will celebrate a season of cooking classes with a public potluck Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.  For details, call 919-386-3464.

Mercimek Corbasi (red lentil soup)
Adapted from Elif Olsun, The Divan Center.
Serves 4
1 cup red lentils, washed and drained
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. red pepper-eggplant paste*
1 bay leaf, preferably Turkish
2 whole black peppercorns
3 cups water
½ stick salted butter
1 Tbsp. Spanish-style paprika
1-3 tsp. cayenne pepper, to taste
1 lemon, quartered

Place all ingredients except for butter, paprika and cayenne in a medium stock pot. Simmer on medium-low for about 30 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are very tender. Remove bay leaf.
Carefully transfer mixture to a blender (or use stick-style immersion blender) and mix thoroughly, adding a little water if too thick. Pour creamed soup into bowls.
Melt butter over medium-low heat in a small pan with paprika and cayenne. When butter is lightly browned and the mixture begins to bubble, drizzle equally over soup in bowls. Serve immediately with lemon (squeeze juice into soup) and fresh bread.

* Such as Marco Polo, available from specialty markets or online.
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    Cary's hub for Turkish culture will celebrate a season of cooking classes with a public potluck Sunday

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Vatinet welcomes ‘new baby’ in time for Mother’s Day

Posted by on Tue, May 6, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Sunday will be all about Mother’s Day, but you’ll have to excuse La Farm Bakery’s Lionel Vatinet for feeling like a proud papa over the arrival of his much-anticipated baby: a $115,000 Miwe bread baking oven from Germany.

The old oven was bought cheap, taken apart in a Colorado bakery and reassembled in Cary, where it has been used to produce extraordinary boules and baguettes for the past 14 years. But Vatinet, author of A Passion for Bread, felt the time was right to acquire what has been dubbed the Rolls Royce of commercial bread-baking ovens.

“We can afford it now and make a better life for the people who work for us and buy bread from us,” he says. “It was getting to the point that we were never entirely sure if the old oven would turn on or not.”

Vatinet says the new system offers the best technology—discrete settings improve outcomes and even shave minutes off the cooking times for various bread types, delivering a crisper crust and moister crumb. Additionally, there are six baking decks instead of four, allowing him to bake more loaves at a time.<

Increased capacity means that Vatinet can provide more bread to La Farm customers and those who buy his products at Triangle Whole Foods stores and farmers markets. Vatinet is seriously considering a second La Farm operation, but says he has no timetable or specific location in mind. 

To remove the old oven and install the new one, La Farm stopped baking most breads for about a week. Miniature white chocolate baguettes, one of Vatinet’s signature treats, are being offered to loyal regulars who were inconvenienced.

“Customers have been so kind,” Vatinet says. “They were patient, and now they will be very happy with the look and flavor of the bread.”

La Farm will introduce an expanded brunch menu celebrating the new oven and Mother’s Day. Also, several bread- and pizza-making classes are scheduled in upcoming weeks, both at the Cary bakery and at Vatinet’s home, where he uses an outdoor wood-fired oven. For details about spring and summer events, visit the La Farm website at

Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance writer from Raleigh who blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc

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    At La Farm, a passion for ovens

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