photographs by Jim McGuire
It was a hot July morning in Raleigh when strategist Nation Hahn, nonprofit executive Alexis Trost, and restaurant owners Van Nolintha, Angela Salamanca, and Matt Kelly packed their cars for a weekend adventure. The friends, united by a love of food and community, were headed to the mountains of Ashe County to cook, eat, and raise money for a cause close to their hearts: the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation.
As the group made their way to the blueberry farm where they’d spend three days, they talked about the people they’d meet there: their mutual friend Eliza Olander, who’d put the wheels in motion when she and her friend Jackie Locklear became high bidders for a foodie mountain weekend to support the foundation at a Triangle Wine Experience auction; the revered Crook’s Corner chef Bill Smith; the two Raleighites who own the farm, Johnny Burleson and Walter Clark; and 10 other friends. “Jamie believed in the power of good food and strong cocktails to bring people together to party with a purpose,” says Hahn, whose late wife Jamie inspired the creation of a foundation that nurtures leaders to work on issues like poverty, hunger, and public education.
The farm that would host them was well-suited to a weekend of purposeful partying. Its 1880 farmhouse has been painstakingly refurbished by Burleson and Clark, who bought the place in 2003 after a memorable day picking berries there a few years earlier. “We felt an instant connection” on that fateful afternoon, Clark says. The two learned the farm was an Ashe County landmark, a spot where folks had come to pick apples and blueberries for generations. “We were stewards,” Clark says, “of a very special place.”
In its current, beautifully restored state, it is still that. Old Orchard Creek Farm, as they call it, continues as a working blueberry farm and “a place where visitors find solace,” Clark says. And so it made sense to them to donate the haven to the foundation for the weekend. “What better way to celebrate and support the foundation than with a weekend of fine food and drink prepared by some of North Carolina’s best chefs from local products, including lots of blueberries?”
Ashe County Weekend
The group arrived and unpacked as chef Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte chopped tomatoes and chorizo.
7 p.m.: Clark pulled out the tapas: clams, oysters, heirloom fried rabbit, and more for people to munch on as Matt Kelly of Mateo Bar de Tapas in Durham made paella over an open fire. Wine from Eliza Olander’s collection rounded out the meal.
The group was slow to wake up on Saturday, but accelerated their pace when they smelled the pork belly soup being made in the farmhouse kitchen by Van Nolintha of Bida Manda.
12:00 p.m.: Soup was served in the blueberry shed.
Afternoon: The group whiled away a lazy afternoon around the farm.
5:30 p.m.: Sonny Wong, bartender at Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill, mixed cocktails with bourbon and blueberries in a historic millhouse on the property.
8 p.m.: Chefs Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill and Angela Salamanca of Centro in Raleigh made dinner. It began with a stack of Smith’s classic tomato sandwiches. They followed with seafood gazpacho, tamales, and, finally, roasted pork shoulder. For dessert, the duo made bread pudding with bread from the local farmers’ market and blueberries and apples picked from the farm.
Brunch: Salamanaca and Nolintha made brunch with the leftovers. Pork went into breakfast casserole; scrambled eggs were put together with peppers and arugula; and freshly picked berries made for flavorful french toast.
Seasonal cocktail from bartender Sarah Vickery of Chapel Hill’s Lantern Restaurant
Walk Right In
10-15 blueberries, muddled
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce lemon juice
2 ounces bourbon
Combine all ingredients and stir. Serve over rocks.
Small plates from chef Clark Barlowe of Charlotte’s Heirloom restaurant
Chilled Clams Casino
1 link fresh chorizo, diced
2 shallots, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
1 cup Champagne vinegar
1 cup blended oil (a combination typically of olive, canola, and other cooking oils)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Sautée chorizo slowly over medium heat until fat is rendered. Soak minced shallots and chopped thyme in Champagne vinegar for 20 minutes. Add Dijon mustard to vinegar mixture and slowly drizzle in blended oil, stirring as you go to emulsify. Add chopped chorizo and its rendered fat to the vinaigrette.
Shuck the clams, top with chorizo vinaigrette, and enjoy.
Heirloom Fried Rabbit
(Note: Must prepare 24 hours in advance)
5 rabbit legs
1 quart buttermilk
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 quarts all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Texas Pete hot sauce
Salt and pepper
Marinate rabbit legs in buttermilk with the garlic, ½ tablespoon of the chili powder, and thyme for 24 hours.
Dredge rabbit in flour that has been seasoned with thyme, remaining ½ tablespoon chili powder, salt, and pepper. Fry rabbit until golden brown and remove from oil.
Toss rabbit with Texas Pete and enjoy!
Soup from chef Van Nolintha of Bida Manda in Raleigh
Pork Belly Soup
1 cup shallot, finely chopped
1 cup garlic, finely chopped
1 pound ground pork
1 1/2 gallons pork stock or water
10 lime leaves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
Salt to taste
1 to 2 cans coconut milk
1 cup peanuts, crushed
1 small can red curry paste
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 limes, in sections
3 cups purple cabbage, julienned
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
2 bags rice noodles
Make soup broth:
In a big pot over medium heat, combine oil, red curry paste, shallot, and garlic. Stir a few minutes, until shallot and garlic turn golden at the edges. Add ground pork and stir until pork is fully cooked. Add pork stock, sugar, salt, coconut milk, and lime leaves, and cook until boiled. When the broth is fully boiled, whisk in eggs slowly. Add peanuts.
Taste the soup: add more sugar, salt, or coconut milk if needed.
Soak rice noodles in cold water bath for 2 hours, or in warm water bath for 45 minutes (noodles tend to break easily when soaked in warm water).
Assemble the bowl:
Boil a big pot of hot water. Cook pre-soaked noodles in boiled water for 4 minutes, only enough for one soup bowl at a time.
Drain noodles and place in a large serving bowl. Add broth, cabbage, cilantro, mint, and green onion.
Serve with chopsticks and lime sections.
Bill Smith’s Tomato Sandwiches
Makes 10 sandwiches
1 loaf of your favorite white sandwich bread (see text)
2 or 3 large ripe, red summer tomatoes
Mayonnaise (see text)
This recipe is not as simple as it seems at first glance. All sorts of things come into play. I am always in favor of newness and innovation, but there are times when well enough should be left alone. This may be one such case. First of all, it’s really better to buy cheap, house-brand, grocery store, sliced white bread. Resist the temptation to upgrade to the artisanal. Then there is the mayonnaise. People fight over mayonnaise brands here, just as they do over barbecue or basketball. Both the users of Hellmann’s and the users of Duke’s regard the other with disbelief. Neither can contain their derision of the users of Miracle Whip. Use what your grandmother used.
You should be able to get at least four fairly thick slices from each tomato. Commercial sliced white bread generally has 20 slices per loaf. Spread mayonnaise thickly on two slices of bread. Place a slice of tomato on one of the slices of prepared bread. Sprinkle with salt. Top with the other slice of bread. Slice the sandwich in two, diagonally. Repeat until you have used up all of the bread.
These sandwiches are better if they sit awhile before serving. Many people claim that they are best if eaten while you are leaning over the sink, because if they have been made right, they are very messy.
Bill Smith, the Crook’s Corner chef famous for bringing Southern cooking to a national audience with his cuisine and his writing, is the author of several acclaimed cookbooks, including Seasoned in the South. He has twice been a finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast, and has helped earn a James Beard America’s Classics award for Crook’s.