The Asheville, North Carolina chef says he serves a health-minded and “informed audience.”
“We’re part of a luxury equestrian lifestyle. People who care about what they put in their bodies come to our restaurant.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean they want to eat alfalfa at every meal. That’s for the horses. Besides, Chef Carl says he likes to keep his diners guessing.
The Chef’s Garden’s array of summer squash varieties lets him do just that.
“Give me a niche to offer things they don’t expect, or have never heard of,” he says. “Like a patty pan. They get to experience the familiar, but then they’ll ask, ‘What was that?’ People scratch their heads trying to figure it out.”
Chef Carl’s “informed audience” is partly due to his efforts to answer those questions. “I tell people that small vegetable has all of the nutrition and flavor it’s ever going to have, all in that little package,” he says. “I always advocate for education. I want light bulbs to go off. My biggest campaign is ‘pay for it now or pay for it later.’”
Beyond nutrition, Chef Carl says the variety of summer squash adds another element of surprise to a dish. Some are little hand grenades, others bowling pins. There are space ships and baseball bats, solids and stripes, in yellows and greens, like a lineup of jockeys in a sea of colorful silks.
“We set that plate down and they see sizes and shapes and colors.”
Mixing up different preparations of a single fresh vegetable is another one of Chef Carl’s tactics for keeping his vegetables interesting in both flavor and texture, as well as appearance. He notes a trifecta of summer squash that he serves grilled, sautéed and tempura fried all together as a single dish.
“I like multiple methods on the plate,” he says. “It was a huge hit.”
Squash blossoms are another one of his favorites when they are in season. “I jump right on it,” he says, mentioning a lobster-stuffed squash blossom that was another hit. “It sold out.”
Of course, according to the seasons, there is plenty more than squash in Chef Carl’s fresh vegetable repertoire. The chef says seasonality is elemental to how he designs his menus.
“It’s always changing. It’s not always the same vegetables. People need to understand, there’s a reason that they’re in season,” he says, adding that chefs who keep a seasonal vegetable on the menu year-round are “cheating.”
“l am taking the appreciation all the way back to where it started,” he says. “The baby squash is fresh, like in my Grandma’s garden. I knew from a very young age that food was hard work. You guys definitely have it figured out.”
Even though he says “The Chef’s Garden has been a huge part of my culinary background,” Chef Carl admits that opening his box of Chef’s Garden vegetables never gets old. “It’s the same feeling of opening a toy box,” he says, adding that the different “toys” in all their shapes and sizes and colors surprise and delight him as much as they do his customers.
“Nobody’s is as beautiful.”