By Wendy Brugh, owner of Dry Ridge Farm
When I think of Asheville, I think of community, of our beautiful natural environment and mountain heritage, and I think of food. Aren’t we lucky to have so much bangin’ food in our small city?
When I was asked to contribute my thoughts about how Farmer & Chef Asheville is different from other cookbooks, I was thrilled that I’d been given such an easy task! Farmer & Chef Asheville is a celebration of our community, our environment, and our food. I can think of a plethora of elements that make it different from any cookbook I’ve had or read in the past.
Here are a few of them:
1. It celebrates community. In the introduction, Mark Rosenstein (one of Asheville’s food pioneers), recently featured in Mountain Xpress), points out that food isn’t just about nourishment of our bodies – food nurtures our bodies, minds, and souls. He says that sitting down to a meal is “more than a ritual; it is a daily practice of celebration, sharing, and connecting to one another”. This cookbook captures the celebration surrounding food like no other cookbook I’ve come across.
2. It embodies collaboration. Debby Maugans and Christine Sykes Lowe sought out the huge range of experts in our food community, from those who grow the ingredients to those who dress up the ingredients and bring us around the table to share them. Dozens of chefs sharing their secret recipes? A pretty formidable feat if you ask me! It’s all in the spirit of collaboration — like your church or neighborhood cookbook — but with some not-so-subtle differences. Namely, it’s beautiful, professionally tested and compiled, and I’m pretty sure that Cream of Mushroom soup isn’t on any ingredient list.
3. Breakfast! Maybe I’m just unaware of cookbooks with breakfast sections, but I was struck that this one has 40 pages of breakfast recipes. If that doesn’t reflect Asheville’s food culture, I don’t know what does, because our city has more delicious breakfast and brunch offerings at restaurants and B&B’s than any place I’ve visited. And really, isn’t it the best meal of the day?
4. It’s realistic in its deliciousness. You can cook all of these recipes! I’ve come across more than the occasional cookbook that seems to aim to complicate simple meals and show off extensive training. This is NOT that cookbook! Yes, there are a few recipes that involve words like soufflé, braise, cure, and confit, but this cookbook breaks down those techniques in simple terms, like fold in egg whites, cook low and slow, cover in spices and age, or braise in fat. A cookbook that compiles a bunch of chefs’ recipes could easily become a place to show off, but this one does no such thing. It’s a compilation of chefs’ and farmers’ favorites that you can easily make at home.
5. Farmer contributions. This is the one that hits close to home for me. I was surprised when they asked for my recipes, and I felt honored. In the true sense, because I felt seen and appreciated in many ways. Our inclusion is important to me partly because it celebrates the continuation of our region’s agricultural heritage, but also for the following reasons:
a. There’s a recognition of the fact that ingredients are as important as the recipes they’re in. Can you think of another cookbook that focuses on that? I think most chefs (not just me, the farmer) will tell you that a recipe is only as good as its ingredients. A great chef may be able to doll up a factory-farmed chicken or pork chop to make it taste less like cardboard or make that perfectly round, red, flavorless tomato taste more like summer... but why would they do that here — when they’ve got a community of farmers producing the best ingredients available in any market?
b. It recognizes the work farmers put into producing those ingredients. All of the farmer contributors in this cookbook take pride in the way we raise our products. We’re meticulous about inputs, be it to our soil’s health or our animals’ nutrition and environment. Why is that? There’s an ethical element, yes, but we also seek to produce the highest quality ingredients possible. We farmers love working with chefs, because we know they have high standards of quality. And menu mentions aren’t just a way for chefs to point out that they buy local; they’re also a recognition that a particular farm’s pork or carrot or tomato has its distinct qualities and flavors.
c. Farmer & Chef Asheville goes the extra step of recognizing that we also might know a thing or two about cooking our own products! Farmers love food; it’s part of why we farm. The celebrations we go to now, within our farming community, are all about gathering around great food. And from a practical standpoint, farmers don’t do much grocery shopping; we eat what we grow and we trade for the rest, so we’d better know what we’re doing with our ingredients or we’d all starve. The chefs featured in Farmer & Chef Asheville use the ingredients grown by the farmer contributors because they produce the best dishes. They know this and Farmer & Chef Asheville is one of the first cookbooks I’ve seen that truly appreciates that fact. I love working with chefs because they make our products shine, and I think the reverse is true too: they use our ingredients because it helps show off their work at its best. Farmer & Chef Asheville recognizes why we each do what we do, and that’s rare. We’re grateful for that. I’m planning to stockpile this cookbook before the holidays, because everyone in my family is getting one. Yes, one reason is that I’m proud to have a couple of our recipes featured in such a gorgeous publication. But the main reason is because I’m proud to be a member of this community.
If you love food, if you love celebration and the community surrounding your food, and if you love Asheville, you will love this cookbook.