Last weekend, Poplar Ridge Farm in Waxhaw hosted a Farm-to-Table dinner featuring Chef Justin Sells of the new E2 restaurant downtown. One of the owners, Marianne Battistone, invited edible Charlotte to attend, in part to introduce our new publication to other guests.
Before the day of the event, Chef Sells walked the farm, selecting which produce he wanted to incorporate into his menu. Fresh, organic produce combined with creative culinary license can make any chef giddy. And the results clearly displayed his passion for food. The entire meal was memorable, including a house-made cashew butter served with Chapel Hill Creamery farm cheese and fresh peaches and a lemon tart with plump blackberries.
But one dish still stands out to me a week later: the North Carolina Red Grouper.
Rather than call upon one of the standard starches like potatoes, polenta, or risotto, Chef Sells relied upon a sweet corn puree for the base. This was topped with green and yellow beans, pea tendrils, and the grouper. Kale chips finished off the stack and added a crisp texture.
But the real magic was the carrot essence, a brilliant orange sauce that jumped off the white plate and grabbed your attention. To make it, Chef Sells explained that they cooked carrot juice down to a syrup then added white balsamic vinegar. If I had eaten this dish at home, I would have ditched my manners to make sure that none of that sauce was wasted.
If you've never been to a farm-to-table or farm-to-fork dinner event, now is a great time. Peak season means at least one is happening somewhere in or around Charlotte every weekend.
These events are a unique way for everyone to experience the local food scene. They pull the chefs out of their day-to-day, allowing them to experiment and to interact with their patrons. They give guests direct contact with the people raising their food. It is one thing (a good thing) to see the name of a local farm on a menu when ordering; it is another to talk with the farmer while eating what they've produced and/or taking in their farm operation (which in Poplar Ridge's case, is like being in a landscaping magazine). And they give the farmer a somewhat rare opportunity to see the look on people's face as they enjoy the fruits of their hard labor.
To see a list of upcoming farm-to-table events in the area, visit our Events page.