Chefs in the North Carolina Triangle tend the garden at Fearrington House Restaurant, harvesting locally grown, seasonal, organic vegetables, herbs, and microherbs.

The Fearrington House Restaurant, Pittsboro, NC
240 Market St.; fearrington.comWhat to Order: Chicken Fried Pork Cheeks with Sour Cherries & Cucumber.
| Credit: Photo: Joshua Carpenter

I'm a sucker for seasonal, local produce. Feed me a tender asparagus stalk in spring, and the corners of my mouth crinkle in a toothy grin. Tell me it's from a farm 10 miles up the road, and the farmer delivered it that morning, and that grin becomes a downright swoon. To say I like to know where my food comes from is an understatement. So in the Triangle area (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), where oh-so-many restaurants rely on local growers, I practically become catatonic with glee.

From Farm to Table
Chefs such as Andrea Reusing at Lantern, a pan-Asian spot in Chapel Hill, believe it's all about the relationship between people and those who grow their food. She's the head of the Slow Food Triangle chapter (one of the first in the United States) and a regular at the Carrboro Farmers' Market in her red Mercedes, powered by oil from Lantern's kitchen. For foodies, ordering from her menu is like cherry-picking labels at a high-fashion sample sale: Millarckee Farm pea greens (20 miles away). Fickle Creek Farm eggs (15 miles away). In short, Lantern means more than merely food with pedigree; Andrea serves up the freshest local food with pride of place.

Down the road, at Fearrington House Restaurant, the chefs care for a small chef's garden and four greenhouses of microherbs. Pesticides stay far from this menu, thanks to the organic practice of removing insects by hand.

Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough takes it one step further. This family-owned, biodynamic farm is practically a self-contained experiment in the nitrogen cycle. The pigs root around the garden, tilling the land. Chickens peck the ground, ridding the earth of insects, while adding lots of nitrogen-rich fertilizer for the vegetables with their waste. "We're lazy farmers--we let our animals do as much work as we can," Jamie DeMent, one of the owners, says wryly. Jamie runs the 105-acre farm with partner Richard Holcomb. But they don't only act as restaurant suppliers, they've gotten in the game themselves. Richard partners in Zely & Ritz, a tapas-style restaurant with a Middle Eastern flair in Raleigh. This year, Jamie cuts the ribbon on her own vision--Eno Restaurant & Market, named after the nearby Eno River, in Durham. Here, the menu relies on Coon Rock's seasonal harvest, with a heavy focus on establishing a connection between farmer and diner. Jamie says she wants to see the faces of people when they eat the very food she planted several months before.