I'll Bite

Culinary guild gets farmers, chefs back in school

One of the most popular sessions at the Piedmont Culinary Guild symposium: The class on butchering goat and rabbit meat.
One of the most popular sessions at the Piedmont Culinary Guild symposium: The class on butchering goat and rabbit meat. Kathleen Purvis

Several hundred people from as far as Raleigh crowded into Johnson & Wales University’s Charlotte campus Sunday for the Piedmont Culinary Guild’s first daylong education symposium, “Back to Basics.”

With a full roster of classes for chefs, farmers and local food producers, you could watch everything from whole-hog butchery to vegan plating and making desserts with fresh local cheeses.

Five bites we took away from the day’s event:

1. Creative use of resources. One of the morning’s most popular classes was a demonstration of cutting up fresh goat and rabbit, taught by chefs Clark Barlowe and Steven Goff. The goat meat got ground up and fried into patties for the goat-meat sliders served at lunch.

2. Unusual pickles. Lunch included a whole table with jars of a dozen kinds of pickles. The most surprising flavor: Pickled grapes.

3. Old is new again: In his keynote talk on old-variety Southern fruits and vegetables, Dr. David Shields of the University of South Carolina ran through the list of intriguing produce now on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, including chestnuts, mulberries, Bradford watermelons, Carolina African Runner peanuts, and the American ground nut. It produces a potato-like tuber and high-protein beans, but it’s now only grown commercially in Japan and South Korea.

4. Pricing is a dance. To turn a profit using higher-cost local produce, restaurants constantly weigh cost vs. intangibles like customer experience. In a class on figuring per-plate costs, chef Paul Verica of Heritage in Waxhaw described his composed-vegetable plate: When an order comes in, he stops everything to personally arrange five or six things made with local vegetables. He charges $20 and loses money on it. But he keeps it so people can experience it. “Restaurants don’t make money on food. That’s why we have bars.”

5. Local means creative. In a session on how farmers and chefs can work better together, Block & Grinder chef Ben Philpott compared using the produce from Kim Shaw’s Small City Farm to picking the menu for a wine dinner: He tastes the wine first and then picks the menu. “I can change the food, I can’t change the wine.” Same with farm harvests: He can’t change what’s growing, so he has to change his food to use it.

The one lesson he wants to spread: “You can use local products without being a farm-to-table restaurant.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis