Falling in Love with the North Carolina Food Culture

Southern lovin’ meets locavore passion.

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This past weekend was such a great break for me. I went on an extended weekend trip with my family to just outside Asheville, North Carolina and completely fell back in love with a place I had rarely visited.

I have a somewhat illogical place in my heart for the culinary styles of the Carolinas, especially as someone who is rarely in the area. Chefs such as Sean Brock (of Charleston, SC’s Husk) and Vivian Howard (of Kinston, NC’s Chef and the Farmer) seem to perfectly embody the southern, yet locally refined style of the area. And I freaking love it. Btw: both of these chefs have been featured on PBS TV Shows Mind of a Chef, and A Chef’s Life.

While chefs such as these bring light to the movement, almost all restaurants in the western north carolina area (at least in my experience) try their best to do their state and customers proud in offering local, delicious ingredients that fit along with what the restaurant needs.

Exhibit A: Rocky’s Hot Chicken.

My brother and I found this restaurant as a result of browsing UrbanSpoon and Yelp. I was the only one that had ever heard of hot chicken, because the BBQ restaurant I used to work at had Hot Chicken that was so hot, I don’t think a single customer enjoyed it. I’m fairly positive I actually lost tips through this menu item- it was soon taken off. However, Nashville is notorious for Hot Chicken (despite what my Nashville-raised boyfriend will claim) and I figured Western North Carolina was close enough to Nashville that we should at least try! Plus, fried chicken is probably my favorite thing in life- yes I am a dietitian- everything in moderation people! If you deprive yourself of fried chicken, you’re just not doing life right.

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This was on display at Rocky’s Hot Chicken- A fried chicken place with authentic southern food that ALSO made a huge point to support not only their local farmers, but other local businesses as well. Stickers line the inside with various North Carolina organizations and especially local Asheville companies and ventures. I knew I was in the right place.

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Many restaurants followed this trend as well, blending southern tradition with modern local fare. In addition to the restaurants, there were SO many farmers markets to visit. Before visiting the largest farmers market I have ever been to (pictured below), I’d seen many small “markets” between hillsides and on the side of highways after entering a new town. All stuffed with local fruits vegetables and trinkets.

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DSCN1513Farmer’s markets and outwardly local restaurants may have wow-ed me, but other less obvious events occurred that made me realize the impact this movement has on the Western North Carolina culture even beyond what the typical consumer sees to the naked eye.

On a hike up Bearwallow Mountain, my brother, my dog, and I hiked up a windy two miles before reaching the summit. I had expected a picturesque lookout or maybe a clearing in the trees, but I did NOT expect to find an entire pasture of cattle.

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No rancher in sight, no other human life forms around, just us and the cows. My dog is an Australian Shepherd and has the innate desire to herd. I truly don’t think he will ever forgive my brother and I for keeping him on his leash in order to avoid being trampled by a bull despite his heroic attempt to herd the cows into a coherent formation.

Aside from being a wonderful treat at the top of the mountain, this experience really drew home how the relationship with agriculture shapes how and what we eat. The last night of my trip, my mom and I picked out some veggies at the farmers market and decided to make dinner with the two types of squash we scooped as well as a wine-cider drink with the beautiful apples we bought- and tasted first! I had never had a “Pink Lady” apple before, it was my favorite! We made a Mexican stuffed spaghetti squash and bacon-wrapped butternut squash- Amazing! (The fire alarm went off once, but everything was fine)

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I hope to return to Western North Carolina very soon to truly dive into the experience and to fall more in love with the food culture.

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