For Best Chefs America
(photos by Johnny Autry)
It's no longer a novelty for chefs to use localism as a niche. People now expect that local food will be served in every high-profile, high-end establishment that advertises quality. Sourcing local requires networking. It takes flexibility. Yet the difference in taste is tangible. When a chef buys the freshest food available — grown as closely to them as possible — all they have to do is enhance its natural flavors once it arrives in the kitchen.
Justin Burdett is yet another Best Chef who fills his restaurant, Local Provisions, with as much homegrown produce as he can find. His plates are packed with in-your-face flavors, like sweet and spicy fermented hot sauces and salty hand-whipped butter blended with shiso.
His Modern Southern cuisine is on the less-filling side. It's simple and it's interesting. It emphasizes vegetables, heavily. As what's local continues to dominate the conversation of culinary culture, Burdett hones his edge by focusing on what's seasonal.
local sweet onion
A variety of Togarashi, Padron, and Woodstock peppers are on the menu tonight. The slightly sweet and slightly bitter green peppers come from Evan Chender, a nearby farmer who calls himself the Culinary Gardener. Burdett fries them until the thin skin becomes blistered. He seasons them with salt and lime.
The menu at Local Provisions is divided into tastes, small and large plates, and preserved items. About 90 percent of the food featured is local. For products like citrus and seafood, which can’t be found in the Appalachian mountains, Burdett sources from sustainable producers in the Southeast.
He likes to work with lesser-known ingredients. Educating his staff, so they can educate guests on the textures and flavors of each dish, creates repeat customers.
“We’re fortunate that our guests tend to be open to trying new things,” Burdett says. “The majority of the time they love it.”
chicken fried steak
Preserved items are ordered a la carte. If you combine a few, they arrive much like a charcuterie board. Options on this night include grilled guinea hen pate and Sweetgrass cheese (akin to a triple créme brie).
Burdett has worked under other Modern Southern chefs like Hugh Acheson and Steven Satterfield. Satterfield’s recent cookbook Root to Leaf is all about optimum ways to utilize every part of a vegetable. Burdett incorporates this philosophy into his cooking as well.
Many of his dishes use every part of a product. For example, if he gets a crate of carrots, he'll put them in a salad and use the stems for vinaigrette. He orders as much food as he can from his purveyors with every shipment. Whatever items he doesn’t sell out of, he cans for future use. The shelves at Local Provisions are stacked with vegetables fermenting in Ball jars.
The build-out of Local Provisions is industrial chic. Burdett says he chose the space because of its smaller size and great location. Many customers find the restaurant walking around Asheville’s downtown district, so having visible signage is important.
“We wanted the design to be timeless with a clean, approachable feel,” Burdett says.
The chef tweaks his menu almost daily to accommodate new available ingredients. That said, one of his most popular plates - fried oysters over soft scrambled eggs - can always be found on the brunch menu, or sometimes for dinner.
A crowd-pleasing salad is the BLT frisee that comes with crumbled hard boiled egg, slow cooked tomato, bread crumbs, and a bacon vinaigrette. For a large plate, try the apple brandy NY strip steak (an elevated meat and potatoes) that tops a charred eggplant purée, greens, and goat cheese butter.
Asheville is becoming well-known for its microbreweries. Local beers from breweries like Wicked Weed, Urban Orchard, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium are showcased at Local Provisions, alongside a full wine menu.
The dessert menu is small and also seasonal. On the day we dined, cinnamon donuts arrived on a plate with roasted apple, apple butter, and caramel. A salted caramel and chocolate pudding was topped with cream and almond crumble. A pumpkin panna cotta was made with marigold.
"I wanted to cook food the way I like to eat," Burdett says about his decision to open his own spot.
Off-the-cuff. Plant-powered. Purposeful.