Raleigh, N.C. — Cheetie Kumar is truly going the distance this year to demonstrate her commitment to Farm to Fork's decade-long mission of promoting the relationships between sustainable farmers, chefs and culinary artisans.
The chef at Garland restaurant will cook for the June 2 Sustainable Supper at Raleigh's Market Hall, fly south to participate in the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, then zip back in time to greet patrons on June 4 at the 10th anniversary Farm to Fork Picnic at Fearrington Village.
"I'm glad to do it," says Kumar, who was named a semifinalist for 2017 Best Chef Southeast honors by the James Beard Foundation. "I believe in cooking seasonally, and it's important to recognize the hard work of local farmers who make that possible."
"The recipes at Garland rely on a lot of different components, and it takes a lot of sources to make that happen," she adds. "To me, it doesn't make sense to cook any other way, especially with so much abundance here."
Kumar routinely works with more than a dozen Triangle farmers to supply fresh fruit and vegetables as well as proteins for the eclectic Indian and Pan-Asian menu at Garland. The list continually grows as she connects with farmers who grow specialty crops that inspire her creativity.
She also appreciates the fact that proceeds from the fundraiser benefit the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), which develops and promotes just and equitable food and farming systems that conserve natural resources, strengthen communities, improve health outcomes, and provide economic opportunities in North Carolina and beyond, and the PLANT Farm Enterprise Incubator at the W.C. Breeze Family Farm in Hurdle Mills, which incubates new farmers and offers training on small scale sustainable farming techniques.
"It helps farmers understand how chefs work and the challenges they have, as far as sourcing and storage and the cycles of service," Kumar says. "And it helps us as chefs to know more about the challenges farmers face and not be so rigid. Sometimes there's a frost in March, like this year, and things you thought were on the horizon took another month. We can be more supportive of each other's issues when we understand them better."
Kumar helped to represent local talent and ingredients during a late April promotional trip to New York City sponsored by visitRaleigh. She planned to finalize her Farm to Fork menu when she returned. For the picnic, she will be paired with Raleigh's Sweet Peas Urban Gardens, which focuses on microgreens, and Granite Springs Farm of Pittsboro, which grows vegetables without synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.
"For the picnic, I'm pretty sure we're going to do a cold braised beet dish with chaat elements to it - something crunchy, some chutney, a lot of herbs and yogurt," she says. "As for the Friday dinner, it all depends on the farmer. I'll wait awhile to see what's best at the time and make something that will show it off."
WRAL is a sponsor of the 10th anniversary Farm to Fork Picnic Weekend, which will be held June 2-4 in Raleigh and Fearrington Village. Order tickets at www.farmtoforknc.com.