Teddy Klopf just wants to cook a French fry.
Sitting in an upstairs nook of his elegant new downtown Raleigh restaurant Provenance during a lull between lunch and dinner services, the thirty-two-year-old chef is visibly agitated by his lack of access to potatoes. A veteran of high-caliber kitchens stretching from New Mexico and New York City to McCrady's in Charleston, Klopf confesses he spent five years perfecting his recipe for the humble fry, which he'll only say involves immersion in beef fat. Still, just more than a month after the opening of Provenance, which sits on the ground floor of a twenty-three-story apartment building at the city center, Klopf cannot yet obtain potatoes grown in North Carolina, a central tenet of Provenance. Klopf serves a burger with brunch and makes a red pepper ketchup, but, for now, the fries will have to wait.
"There's plenty of growers in the state on the northeastern coast," he says, his mouth twisting into a slight grimace, "but then they just ship 'em out."
Klopf is working on it: last week, he met with Daniel Dayton, who runs the ten-acre Old Milburnie Farm on land that's been passed through his family for generations. Dayton's farm has become an experimental depot of sorts for area chefs, who ask him to try new greens or raise chickens on his pasture so they can know the source firsthand when they send them from the kitchen. Unless the rain suddenly becomes relentless, Klopf confirms, his potatoes should start to arrive from Dayton in less than six weeks.
"I'll be able to have potatoes on my menu that I can stand behind one hundred percent," says Klopf, now beaming beneath his camouflage baseball hat, "and be proud to serve."
This earnest ardor seems to be a systemic condition of the area's current food scene, where most every area kitchen or farmer, artisan or organizer, consumer or retailer shares a central question: How local can we make our food and still meet the necessary demands—of taste, of economy, of logistics? There's tacit agreement that the area's food ecosystem is far from perfect, with prices that can be prohibitive, institutions that can seem off-putting, and access that can feel limited. But those challenges are passable hurdles, not impenetrable walls.
During a weeknight mixer in the meeting room of Raleigh Brewing Company, Courtney Tellefsen tells me she dreams of starting a local counterpart to meal-delivery systems like Blue Apron. In a decade, Tellefsen has turned her company, The Produce Box, from a part-time garage project to an across-the-state empire that puts North Carolina products in nearly eleven thousand kitchens. When she says this, I don't doubt her for a second.
And during a Saturday afternoon stroll through east Raleigh, Matt Whitley, a cofounder of the local juice magnate Happy + Hale, stops me to talk about the work he's doing with community agriculture. He wants to source more ingredients, especially arugula, for his restaurants from little farms near his house. That can create jobs, he says, and help change not just the food system but people's lives.
It's part of a vision that is, these days, increasingly popular.