Ten years ago, when Blake Faries was working as an assistant chef, his boss did something Faries had never seen: He sought out local sources for the produce, meat, seafood and other ingredients the restaurant would serve. “Working with local farmers was still a relatively new concept at the time,” he says. “But after seeing the results and the quality of the food, I realized how much sense it made.”
Today, as head chef of Saluda’s Restaurant in Columbia, Faries has taken that experience and built on it, not just sourcing as much as he can from area farmers and growers, but utilizing their expertise as well.
Along the way, he’s gotten to know them. “These guys know their food, and they’ve worked hard to produce it,” he says. The feeling is mutual. Chris Rawl, president of Rawl Farms, a Lexington-based produce grower, is regularly impressed by what happens to the vegetables he delivers to restaurant kitchens. “It’s amazing what they can do with squash or an ear of corn,” he says.
The South Carolina Farm Bureau’s annual Palmetto Palate competition, which takes place on Thursday tests that creativity. In the days leading up to the event, producers submit a list of what they’ll have available. Using those ingredients, the chefs formulate menus. Attendees, who get to eat the creations, are the lucky recipients.
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Last year, Faries’ menu of Le Gare Farms pulled pork, Rawls collards, Geechee Boy Grits and a sprinkling of cracklings took the blue ribbon. Tickets for the event, which will be held at 701 Whaley Street, are $50 per person. For more information, including a full list of participating restaurants, visit scfb.org
Katie McElveen, Special to The State