Recently I spent much of the day with Scott Crawford. Crawford used to be executive chef at the Umstead Hotel & Spa and their five star restaurant Herons, a place Newsweek called one of the "101 best places to eat in the world."
Crawford has a bit of free time because he's left the world of high-pressure fine dining to try something new. He is staking his future on a new restaurant, Standard Foods, and its proximity to an urban farm.
We spent the day visiting visiting the construction of the new Raleigh location, meeting the people who run the nearby farm, and cooking in his home kitchen. Watch:
"Oh yeah, it's very risky," Crawford says of his latest endeavor. "Going out on your own is scary. I'll tell you I am scared. Still am, probably always will be."
It's easy to see why opening a restaurant next to an urban farm would capture a chef's heart. Open the door to the hydroponic greenhouse and the smell of basil is intoxicating. The farm was built on what was once an abandoned city block in Raleigh, at the corner of Franklin Street and Blount.
Crawford will have access to fresh greens year-round. Outside, the vegetables are harvested when they're ready and not before. It will be steps from the vine to the cutting board.
Standard Foods will be both a restaurant and a small grocery store.
"The cool concept in the design is transparency," says Crawford. You'll be able to see the farm, you'll be able to see the kitchen, you'll be able to see the butcher area, the grocery store from the restaurant and vice versa."
While the place is being built, Crawford is taking time to really get to know his neighbors at the farm.
"Raleigh City Farm is a high-production, high-profile, community-supported farm in the heart of Raleigh," farm CEO Christopher Rumbley says. "We are growing a lot of produce, and we are growing new farm entrepreneurs."
Rumble notes that the farm sells to 28 area chefs. They are also becoming a middle-man of sorts, facilitating the sale of produce from regional farms to area kitchens.
Scott Crawford says that the relationships he's building now with Rumbley and the other farmers will be the key to his success.
"Everything starts with that," he notes. "I recommend to home cooks to go to the farmer's market and make the relationship with your farmers, they love it!"
Falling In Love With Food
Scott Crawford was making his way through college as a waiter when he was first asked to help out in a professional kitchen.
"I had finished my shift as a server and they said, 'Can you stay and prep?' They gave me a cutting board and a knife and some lemons, and I was particular about how I cut the lemons," Crawford remembers.
He says that the guys in the kitchen were watching in disbelief because his cuts were so close to perfect.
"Needless to say, they offered me a job. They told me the next day why I should be cooking, and not serving."
Crawford remembers that it wasn't an easy change to make because, early on, many kitchen workers don't make much money. Not to mention, he says, you often get treated poorly.
"But I saw some honor in that. I was honored to be asked by these chefs to join their team. I did and the rest is history."
Most people thought I was crazy.
"They thought I wouldn't make a living at it. Except my grandmother. My grandmother was very supportive, and to this day, whatever is written about me, I send it to her. Everything. She probably has a box full of things! She believed that whatever it was that made me passionate about cooking that I should pursue that."
In fact, in a way, in his new venture Scott Crawford is trying to recreate what he first tasted out of his grandparent's garden, the vibrant flavors of the food that was grown there.
Here's the recipe for Scott Crawford's Hot & Sour Eggplant. It takes about 20 minutes to make.