Written by Jessica Farthing
Chef Brandon Carter, executive chef and partner of FARM Hospitality Group, looks forward to the bounty of spring and summer. The restaurants that make up his portfolio, Bluffton’s FARM, Common Thread, Strangebird and the Wildflower Café, are known for menus that use fresh, local ingredients to create vegetable-forward, innovative dishes.
“When we started FARM, I wanted it to be fluid. We wanted to realize our full potential and take advantage of what ingredients might pop up,” he said.
For Chef Carter, FARM was a concept started after his work as executive chef at Palmetto Bluff. He partnered with Ryan Williamson, who was farming on a couple of acres.
“I was buying all this produce from him, and when we started FARM, it was important to both of us that the ingredients were seasonal and local,” Carter said. “Out of the gate, we were out at the farmers markets making friends. That’s how we started the process of sourcing our food.”
Those relationships with farmers and fishermen allowed the restaurants to offer the best of Lowcountry ingredients. Still, some of their producers can throw in a surprise.
“They’ll bring us new varieties of tomatoes or cauliflower here and there,” he said. “With the demand from local chefs, the farmers get more comfortable taking chances.”
Chef Carter gives attention to the many micro seasons that run in our area.
“There might be two different things we’d like to do with asparagus and so we run one for a little bit and then move to the next. Ingredients might not look good one week; it could be that there was a bunch of rain that changed things. In terms of the menu, we’re pretty agile,” he said.
Farm to table allows the diner an opportunity to get a sense of what the local area is growing.
With a focus on fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins, all the staff looks forward to the warmer weather for more variety. According to Carter, fresh produce isn’t just related to the summer. The growing season starts in early spring, and sometimes even winter. Any season has its important ingredients. Fall and winter are the greens and beans. What gives Chef Carter the sign that summer is approaching is simple. It’s the strawberries.
“Strawberries are the signal that things are about to get really exciting,” he said.
From there, he looks for peas, cauliflower, carrots and then spring vegetables. Later in the summer brings corn and the chef’s favorite, tomatoes. A typical dish found on the menu is corn grits.
Using a box grater, they grate fresh, sweet corn, adding a little parmesan and some creamy butter to let the simplicity shine through. They add crispy potatoes to top the dish, which becomes simple, but improved through the texture.
“We’re really big on texture. Things that are crunchy. For instance, those corn grits are still really simple. Adding the potatoes isn’t masking anything, but it elevates it through the texture,” Carter said.