Appalachia pioneers the farm-to-table movement
by Candace Nelson
Appalachia is home to the original farm-to-table movement.
From foraging for wild chanterelles and plucking ripe blackberries from bushes, Appalachians have grown food for their dinner table for centuries.
For the last decade or so, the trend has been big city restaurants eschewing classical French techniques or rustic Italian recipes in favor of locally sourced products.
Farm-to-table dining has become popular, with ramps showing up on menus across the country every spring and the price per pound of morel mushrooms rivaling gas prices.
In Appalachia, this farm-to-table trend has been a lifestyle – a means of surviving and a way to make use of what is available.
Beyond nourishing communities, the fruits from the land help tell the story of the people, culture, and history of the region. Traditional Appalachian cooking and the heritage that comes with it carries on in home kitchens, as well as select commercial kitchens.
Some local restaurants embrace their roots and embrace the farm-to-table movement not as a trend but as an ethos. As a way of life.
These five restaurants embody what it means to explore ingredient-driven food and tell stories through meals:
Charleston, South Carolina
76 Queen St, Charleston, SC 29401
37 Rutledge St, Nashville, TN 37210
12 W Oglethorpe Ave, Savannah, GA 31401
With three locations scattered across the Southern United States, HUSK Restaurant doesn’t put anything on the plate that doesn’t come from the local region. Executive Chef and Owner Sean Brock, a James Beard award-winner, places his restaurants’ focus on heirloom products, seasonal flavors, and in-house pickling.
Brock is known for redefining what it means to cook in the South — many qualities which overlap with Appalachian cuisine: seed-saving, utilizing indigenous ingredients to the region, and prioritizing what is seasonally available.
According to its website, Husk restaurants have been “exploring the reality of Southern food,” and Brock noted he hopes the nuances of Appalachian cuisine are also more appreciated moving forward.
The Market Place
20 Wall Street
Asheville, NC 28801
Located in Asheville, North Carolina, The Market Place sources its food locally but draws inspiration for dishes from far beyond the state’s borders under Chef William Dissen’s direction.
“This mélange of local food prepared with otherworldly traditions of the table may have helped the Market Place garner national attention, but the keen reverence for the heritage and roots of Appalachia has always remained at the center of what we do,” according to the restaurant’s website.
That philosophy weaves throughout the menu items, like a trio of housemade pickles; biscuits and gravy made with two jalapeño biscuits, house sausage gravy, and two sunny side eggs; and a local beef burger with a housemade potato bun, tomato jam, and pickled red onion.
1010 Bridge Road
Charleston, WV 25314
The Mountain State’s capital city restaurant, 1010 Bridge, boasts an Appalachian menu with Lowcountry influence, all in an upscale environment with Chef Paul Smith at the culinary helm.
“With our strong ties to the area, we will be utilizing local farmers and businesses whenever possible … and as many other local farmers as we can,” according to the restaurant’s website.
The basis of 1010 Bridge’s cuisine includes menu items like grass-fed beef carpaccio with local mushrooms, truffle shallot vinaigrette, micro salad, and local horseradish finishing salt; heritage pork osso bucco with parsnip purée and marinated green apple; and bloody butcher corn and scallion griddle cakes with honey butter.
Hickory, The Inn at Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards
21500 Nicewonder Dr.
Bristol, VA 24202
Chef Travis Milton transforms Appalachian heritage, culture, and traditions into delicious dishes using locally sourced produce at a Virginia winery.
“Hickory is showcasing the finest in Appalachian cuisine, in the most elegant of atmospheres … [and creating] the freshest and most unique flavors you have ever experienced,” according to the restaurant’s website.
The essence of the menu includes cornbread and sorghum butter for the table; chow-chow pancake with soup bean mayo; and slow-roasted pork gnocchi with sauerkraut purêe, roasted apple jus, and rye crumble.
Appalachian foodways are diverse and complex and often misunderstood. With more restaurants reinterpreting the bounty of Appalachia and rediscovering practices like foraging, canning, and pickling, the local food traditions live on.
Farm-to-table methods for many restaurants have been a foundation for Appalachian food all along. Local influences are present throughout all mountain dishes – and it’s about time the rest of the country catches .up.