We asked some of our favorite local chefs to share their favorite meals of all time. We expected to hear about some of the finest establishments in the country (perhaps the world), but what we discovered is that great chefs aren’t so different from the rest of us, and great food is really about memorable experiences with the people we love. This is what a few of them said…
Josh Munchel – Counting House (Durham)
My wife, who was then my fiancée, and I were traveling to Seattle. Her sister wanted to give us an engagement dinner while in town, and she made reservations for the four of us at Canlis, without knowing it had been on my list. We had a wonderful 12-course meal overlooking Lake Union, but what made it so special was spending that time with my future sister-in-law and her husband. The food was amazing and the wine pairings were great. One course that sticks out in my mind was the Dorade served with graham cracker fig and eggplant, paired with a Rose you can only get at Canlis or the Queen Anne Farmers Market. After the savory courses, we were given a tour and enjoyed some time in the cellar, while we sampled Aberg Uigeadail - still one of the best scotches I have had the pleasure to drink. A fantastic memory to reflect on, as my wife and I celebrate our first anniversary this week!
Kevin Callaghan – Acme Restaurant (Carrboro)
For me, it’s a group of meals… The meals I remember in my bones are Sunday suppers at my grandparent’s home in rural South Carolina. My grandmother would put a pot roast in the oven before church, and bake a couple of pies – at least one lemon meringue, because that was my grandfather’s favorite. The table was always about the vegetables that came out of their garden - corn on the cob, squash casserole, sliced cucumbers in vinegar, pole beans, sliced fresh tomatoes, cantaloupe slices with salt, fried okra, field peas and my grandmother’s chow chow. Another significant piece of those experiences, for me, was that my father was in a wheelchair all my life, but at that dinner table, we were all the same – it was a joy that we, as a family, could share. My grandfather would say a prayer and we would eat, and laugh, and eat a little more. It was always wonderful.
Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan - ONE Restaurant (Chapel Hill)
Years ago, we were walking home one evening after a series of unexpected events and realized that our options for dinner were dwindling. We happened to stumble by a restaurant called SFOGLIA. We had heard about it and had intentions of trying it sometime, but it was not in the original plans that evening. As expected, the restaurant was full, but before we could turn to leave, the hostess offered an alternative - dining in the hallway?
We had zero expectations, but the food that followed left us with what was, collectively, the best meal ever. Our first course was a salad of bitter greens, fennel tops, blood orange and balsamic. Our second course was meatballs - pork and veal served in a tomato brodo. They were flawless. The third course - another perfect dish – was brick chicken, farro, lemon and parsley. And dessert was a pine nut sable with Meyer lemon chutney and avocado sorbet. I remember every bite and moment of this meal like it was yesterday. It was perfect. To this day, hand’s down, the best meal of our lives!
Amy Tornquist – Watt’s Grocery (Durham)
I have eaten in some of the very best restaurants in the world, but the best meals I have had have been those where great company and great food intersect. I really have two favorites… The first is when my kids had lobster for the first time. It was in our own home – super fun, incredibly messy and delightful. The second was a meal of foie gras and prime rib on Christmas Eve with good friends and family, classic food, and excellent wine!
Cheetie Kumar – Garland (Raleigh)
I have so many food memories, and I would say more dishes that are etched in my mind permanently, rather than meals, per se. However, there are a couple of experiences that top the list. One at Ippudo in NYC, and another at A Fuego Negro in San Sebastian, Spain. Both places have beautiful interiors and prepare food with the right balance of artful play and traditional depth of flavors. The meals were long and unhurried, and time seemed suspended. I would say both were "transformative” and meaningful experiences to me. Two of the best meals I’ve ever had…