Friends Drift Inn Farm – Real Life and Chefs
He’s been on Iron Chef and Martha Stewart. He was named “Best Chef in the Southeast” by the James Beard Foundation.We travelled 8 hours for the opportunity to meet with Husk Restaurant Executive Chef Sean Brock, a fellow hillbilly who shares our passions of heirloom gardening and cooking with fresh local ingredients.
It’s All About the Sharing
Chef Sean Brock Husk Restaurant
Chef Sean Brock; there’s a special energy about him.It’s contagious…just like his laughter. When he says,
“I believe I was born to preach the gospel of Cornbread, Grits and Whiskey” one cannot help but to become a disciple.
He speaks in a soft easy rhythm. Describing his Grandma’s garden, it’s as if he has grabbed your hand and taken you to a magical place in Appalachia, where muscadine grapes drape across the swing, greasy back beans grow in the garden, and where folks live a simpler life valuing food and family.
Brock shares “I am so proud of where I come from it hurts. I am proud to be a hillbilly. I use that word as much as possible. It’s the coolest thing. I have a shirt that says ‘Hillbilly.’ It’s my culture; it’s where I am from. It’s a beautiful way to live life.”
“I was lucky enough to grow up in Wise County Virginia, half way between Pound and Wise. My family lived off the four-lane, up Robinson Hollow on Brock Hill. The coolest thing about it is we didn’t have a grocery, we didn’t have a restaurant. We grew and cooked our own food. I did not know how lucky I was. “
Sean Brock’s training as a chef might as well have been the instruction of evangelizing. His passion for food, his commitment to resurrecting long forgotten vegetable varieties, his spiritual connection to the hills of Appalachia resonate with every word, every work chef Sean Brock undertakes.
“It’s so important to get back the garden. We have to get back to the way food used to be beautiful and pure. I’ve been a professional chef seventeen years, I grew out Choppee okra. I picked it and I didn’t even know what it was supposed to look like. Today’s hybrid okra has lost it’s character, it’s taste, it’s texture even it’s appearance. We have genetically enhanced food so much we don’t even recognize food in it’s purest state. We have really screwed up the food system.”
“To take heirloom beans that my Grandma loved and continue to grow them and to tell her story is a huge opportunity. I want people to have the food that I had growing up. I have mason jars in the cabinet at home filled with produce Grandma grew, picked, canned and preserved. Her writing is on the lids. She’s gone now, but she still nourishes me. It’s a beautiful thing. That is a gift I want to share.”
Brock is fanatical about ingredients. He grows out heirloom seeds to establish enough seed stock so that he can share with local growers. At Husk Restaurant the menu changes daily reflecting what is in season, what the farmer has at this very moment.
If he sees tomatoes that are beautiful, he buys them. hat doesn’t appear on the menu, gets put up in mason jars for later use. Growers for Husk are all regional and southern. Folks like Thackeray Farms and Border Springs Farms are on Brock’s speed dial.
The Chef – The Wonderment
“Look at something like a perfect country ham, you hold it your hand and you take a slice of it, and you put it into your mouth, and you take a drink bourbon…nothing better in the entire world. Think about it…it’s just corn. We age it in a whiskey barrel. It’s just pork. But it’s amazing! “
When Sean Brock holds an heirloom tomato in his hand, it’s as if he’s a little boy just presented with a miraculous gift. One can almost hear his mind whirling underneath his Southern Foodways Alliance cap.
Where did this tomato come from….what’s it’s history, what’s it’s story? How will it taste? What can I do with this jewel, to showcase the flavor, the freshness, the sense of history.
There’s a faraway wistful stillness that comes over the chef when he speaks of food. It’s sensual. It’s mesmerizing. He calls that “The Power of Food.”
There is something very profound about Husk’s executive chef. Sean Brock is a hillbilly. He is a preacher. He is a farmer. He is a chef. He is generous to a fault. His final words to me, “It’s all about the sharing.”
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