It has been named one of “America’s Top 50 Restaurants” by Gourmet magazine, one of the “Best Farm to Table Restaurants in the State of North Carolina” by the American Farm to Table Restaurant Guide, one of “America’s 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences” by Food & Wine, and “Restaurant of the Year” in 2009 by the News & Observer.
But for Lantern’s James Beard Award–winning chef, visionary and cofounder, Andrea Reusing, her work is simply an extension of her continuing passion for the rich flavors found in local, sustainably produced ingredients.
“The utilization of local ingredients brings me more flavor, in a lot of ways, than anyone who’s using ingredients from all over the place,” Chef Reusing says. “It provides me as well with a natural restriction from which to draw ideas to assemble the menu. When you can pull any possible ingredient from any place in the world at any time, it’s almost too much freedom. I find sourcing locally really focuses the cooking, and it focuses decision making. And I love that challenge.”
The Local Establishment
In 2002, having earlier relocated from New York City, Reusing, along with her brother, Brendan, opened an Asian restaurant in the city of Chapel Hill, a historically progressive university town.
Although the focus wasn’t local when the restaurant first opened, that changed over time. In North Carolina, Reusing discovered a flourishing local food scene. “This is one of the older farmer-run farmers’ market areas in the country, so there was already a very thriving community of farms and restaurants when I arrived. I wasn’t cooking professionally in New York, but I shopped at different farmers’ markets there. The ingredients I found here were, in many ways, a lot better.”
It wasn’t long before she began broadening her local sourcing, and this finally became the method through which she obtained the majority of her ingredients. “We knew tons of farmers just from being in the community and going to farmers’ markets,” Reusing says. “There are about 300 small farms within 25 or 30 minutes of here. So there was no challenge in finding them; the challenge became organizing the menu so as to allow us to use as much of their meat and produce as possible.”
That organizing process resulted in a menu planned around local ingredients seasonally available. “For the most part, availability determines the menu,” Reusing says. “We have a couple things that are on the menu year-round, like a tea-and-spice smoked chicken. On that, we change the ingredients that are in the rice with it, as well as the vegetables that go along with it, throughout the course of the year. We start off in early spring with asparagus. Then we do sugar snap peas. Next we do some sort of early spring braising mix. Then we go into green beans, and then broad beans. It kind of follows the year that way.
“In the winter it’s usually just braising greens, which is a mix of mustard greens and kale; but we’re really lucky that we have the kind of climate here where people can grow a lot even in January and February.”
Reusing pays close attention to the ways that crops are grown and the methods by which animals are raised—and she has seen the results in the taste. “I’ve noticed that people who care about what they are growing have food that’s a lot more flavorful,” she says.
Cooking in the Moment
Reusing’s art has not been limited to creating and operating an award-winning restaurant. In 2011 she published a cookbook entitled Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. As the title implies, the book takes the reader/cook through a year of meals created around seasonally available ingredients—over 130 recipes in all—supported by text and photographs that help celebrate each season.
Her reasons for creating the book were quite specific. “I was constantly having conversations with people who told me that they wanted to be able to cook dinner after going to the farmers’ market,” Reusing relates. “They didn’t want to have to stop off at the grocery store, but they felt intimidated or they felt that it was too challenging to only go to the farmers’ market to make a meal or two. I realized the opposite was true of me—I ended up cooking that way most of the time, more out of laziness, really, and not following recipes. I was just trying to use up what I had in the CSA box, or what I had brought home from the restaurant, or what I had grabbed at the farmers’ market. So it actually started as me writing down very simple basic recipes for friends.”
Reusing never tires of time spent in the kitchen. “I love transforming ingredients into surprising things that people have never experienced before,” she concludes. “I love the camaraderie that comes from working in a kitchen in very close quarters. I love the long-term friendships that cooking has allowed me to establish with people over the years.”
About the author
Natural Vitality Living is brought to you by Natural Vitality, a purpose-driven human nutrition company. Natural Vitality Living offers fun tips, delicious recipes, inspiring profiles and features to empower readers to find balance in a stressful world. Visit naturalvitalityliving.com
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