Every second, our connections to history dissipate. A family recipe is eaten for the last time, unknowingly. Land-rich, but cash poor, farmers sell their land to development. A forgotten plant might simply die out in a field next to the highway. History is kept alive by those that simply document. Farm almanacs, family cookbooks, and forgotten fields offer insights into a culinary past. Without research, proselytization, and, ultimately, consumption; yesterday might fade away. Sean Brock, chef of McCrady’s and Husk, is on a mission of reclaiming and re-imagining the Carolina Rice Kitchen. He mines the past with an archeologists’s zeal but cooks through a lens of today – an enchanting modern cuisine with Jeffersonian agrarian roots.
Archive for us – east
Unique ingredients are the initial allure of elements. But there is more. Chef Scott Anderson can craft tasting menus that introduce the new, present the familiar as novelty, or concoct different flavor from the known. He weaves a few popular narratives – farm and forage, cure and ferment, whole animal and plant – into his own brand of “interpretive American cuisine.” But, perhaps more apt, as DocSconz wrote, it is better described as an “interpreter of the moment“, albeit one that rode those waves before they broke.1 Exploration is at the heart of elements and drives it to be one of America’s better restaurants.
poached egg, salsify, beet puree, carrots
A motley crew rambled into town, nearly driving by the restaurant in search of a bucolic pasture, despite big bold letters reading Town House on the back of a wall – “that’s not it – it’s in a field.” Collectively, to a person, we were already looking past Main Street USA for green rolling hills in the mountain mist ahead – “keep going!” It was thought to be a place where the Shieldses (John & Karen) could just step outside and pluck wild herbs for the next course. The mythology of its remoteness had clearly fogged our senses1 until The Ulterior Epicure, on a rare pause from the gas2, pulled in for a closer look. Spotting liquid nitrogen tanks, he asked “Who else in Chilhowie would use those?”
Elements is very much a restaurant in the Michel Bras vein, arguably more exciting than anything in New York City (well, I do love that Keste pizza.) While it may not have all of the three-star refined touches of Jean Georges or Per Se, it does have an identity and focus that neither of those restaurants, or others, can lay claim to. There are rough edges here and there that serve more as character than flaws. If the restaurant continues to develop under Chef Scott Anderson, and this report one year later suggests it has, it will grow into a solid two-star quality restaurant shortly.
series of amuse – local zucchini soup, french breakfast radish, yellow squash crostini
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The South flies under the haute culinary radar but the rewards are proving to be worth the adventure. Restaurants like McCrady’s and Radius 10 (Nashville) are quietly developing a modern regional identity – borrowing from Alinea and WD-50′s it-could-be-anywhere cuisine – but retaining a southern flare and finish. And what better place than in the south where the hospitality runs circles around even the most expensive European restaurants?
To get it out of the way, McCrady’s blew my socks off. My expectations were high – Opinionated About raved about the restaurant last October, various online fora reports were exceedingly positive, and I knew Chef Brock moved in circles whose food I respected. In terms of “wanting to return”, it ranks very highest on my US list. Yes, it was that good 1.