A lovely article in Bon Appetit about the food scene in Durham and Chapel Hill – here are a few short snippets:
Imagine a place where foodies not only have a favorite chef, but also a favorite farmer; a place where the distance between the organic farm and the award-winning restaurant is mere miles; a place where a sustainable future is foreseeable. It’s all a reality in Durham-Chapel Hill.
Durham and Chapel Hill–united by an eight-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 15-501–are best known for two things: tobacco and their utter hatred for one another’s college basketball teams, the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels. But to many they are considered one and the same. And after spending several days meeting farmers like Stuart and Alice, visiting restaurants and farmers’ markets, and eating up the wildly diverse culinary scene, I was beginning to think food–not hoops–was the area’s outstanding asset.
This partly explains why, while eating a pimiento cheese sandwich at Parker and Otis in Durham, I found myself daydreaming about ditching the big city. How could someone so infatuated with food and restaurants, with chefs and fancy cocktails and plates of oysters at 3:00 a.m., think that these two towns (with a combined population of less than 300,000) would stand up to my hometown, New York City? Had the fresh country air and wide open spaces distorted my thinking? The folks here, when it came to food, were onto something. And I wanted a piece of it.
There are more than 120 small farms within a 50-mile radius of Chapel Hill. You’ll find many of them represented at the area’s dozen or so farmers’ markets. The best is held just across the train tracks from Chapel Hill, in the artsy town of Carrboro. In its 30th year, the market is home to 70 farmers, many of them nationally known for their trendsetting organic practices.
In the end, no matter where I dined and shopped, or whom I talked with, it always came back to the land and the importance of local farmers. I asked Aaron Vandemark, chef-owner at the Italian-influenced Panciuto restaurant in Hillsborough–who estimates that 95 percent of his summer menus are sourced locally–why he supports Alice and Stuart White and other farmers. “I work with them and other farmers because I want to contribute to their success in some way. Because I need them [in order] to do what I do,” he said. “Because their eggplants taste of brown sugar, and their strawberries are little miracles, and they are good people doing important work.” Without them, Vandemark seemed to say, there would be no heirloom tomato salads, no fancy five-course prix fixe dinners, no food at all. The future of any local food movement rests with young farmers
After dinner I asked Dawson, who has farmed in the area for 36 years, what he thought about the state of food in America, and Durham and Chapel Hill’s place in it. “I see a real change in the way people are eating,” he said. “They care about where their food comes from, who is growing it, and how it is being grown. I think folks could learn a lot from the synergy between farmers, farmers’ markets, restaurants, and the community that we have in Durham and Chapel Hill. It’s a model for the rest of the country.”
I couldn’t agree more.