It’s a rainy Saturday morning outside Asheville City Market. Buses and cars splash water on the curb, but for one local chef, this dreary February day brings plenty of inspiration.
“Hey, my name is Graham House. I’m the chef at Sovereign Remedies in downtown Asheville. I’m coming to pick out some produce. We change the menu kind of often, so I’m just getting creative to change the menu for the weekend,” he says.
He walks past the musicians and customers in the hallway. There’s a buzz of energy in the air as people buy their food for the week. Some people stop to chat with friends and neighbors, but Graham is on a mission. He makes a beeline for the greens. Carrots are up next. A farmer has two big bags waiting for him.
Finally, a stop at Ten Mile Farm’s table. Turnips, radishes, cabbages, and winter greens are piled high, and the line is full of excited customers talking about what they’ll make this week. While most of these vegetables are destined for home kitchens, Graham picks out the best to bring back to the restaurant. “They’ve got really nice turnips right now and yams and their purple potatoes are really gorgeous,” he says.
Graham’s restaurant, Sovereign Remedies, is right around the corner on North Market Street. The crate he’s carrying overflows with winter produce. The food doesn’t travel far to get to this kitchen.
“So we’re just going to unload this and then we’ll write up the menu for tonight for dinner,” he says. “We usually prep it and break everything down, so the turnip tops will get turned into something. We’ll process the turnips, whether they’re going to be cooked in the oven or blanched or braised or whatever. These daikons are actually getting shaved and marinated in a fermented padron vinaigrette for a dish that’s going to go on tonight. We have some Carolina Gold rice right now from Anson Mills Farms that has a little shaved root veggie and seaweed on top, so that’s what this will go with, I think.”
He says sourcing ingredients from the farmers market forces him to think creatively about his menu, especially as the seasons change. A summer salad might have grilled summer squash, heirloom tomatoes, and fried okra. But in winter, a dish like roasted carrots with sunchoke chips and radicchio show off cool weather flavors.
“As we go through product, the menu is constantly evolving. So if something goes out of season, we just change it into something else,” he says.
He says he’s inspired by the produce, and also the farmers who grow it. A few years ago, it was harder to find local winter produce, but now that more chefs are adapting their menus with the seasons, it gives farmers incentive to grow all year.
“Farmers are usually my best friends. They’re the hardest working people out there, I think. They make my job so easy,” he says.
He’s built his reputation on crafting dishes that highlight the best ingredients in the region. He says it’s important that people have access to local food and support local farmers, especially when they eat out.
“The Asheville food scene, it’s always been about local. Not necessarily everyone is doing it here, but I think the locals really appreciate eating food that’s sourced from around here and we have such great agriculture in Western North Carolina, why not capitalize on that?”
Chefs are encouraged to contact ASAP to learn about opportunities for chefs at market. www.asapconnections.org
Re-run aired: February 18, 2019