Before I even got to the dinner, a quick peak at the online menu had my taste buds in a tizzy: “Beet – Ash – Stem – Vinegar; Goat Lady Dairy chevre” read the first offering under vegetables. This was going to be a good night.
And an educational one. Before dining at One, a restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina recently taken over by the talent of chef duo Daniel Ryan and Kim Floresca (their resume reads like a Michelin list of must-eats), I had never heard of lees. Lees are what’s left after you make wine or beer or something fermented — in effect, dead yeast, and apparently this is one of the chefs’ favorite ingredients to work with.
The first course of my tasting dinner featured fluke cured in rice lees, blackened eggplant, cucumber and celery. Like the cutting edge chefs they are, these ingredients were reinvented, the eggplant a thick black goo, the celery in the form of a few dainty leaves. Like a wannabe ceviche, the fluke remained raw but still imbued with acidity, and like everything else I ate was remarkably well balanced.
But like any solidly trained chef, they knew when to leave well enough alone, as was the case with the veal sweetbreads (fried and so, so tender) with sassafras and 12-hour pickled peppadews, perhaps the best peppers I’ve ever tasted. Mind you, I don’t like peppers, and I went home wishing I had a patch of them growing in my backyard.
The duo is known for letting the natural flavors of ingredients shine whenever possible, and with their take on rutabaga, an otherwise lovely but usually meh root vegetable (in my opinion), their ability to balance ingenuity with reserve was showcased. The large orange orb was baked in it’s own loaf of rye bread, but then simply cut into wedges on the plate. They made it dance with ham-fattened butter next to it and shavings of chicken leg bonito, a few dollops of the rye perfect for making the most interesting crostini.
They served beef with a marrow-chrysanthemum crust. I mean, seriously!
Dessert was equally enchanting. A blown-sugar red apple demonstrated their sense of whimsy, while the passion fruit curd had a texture that was cloying in all the right places. The final bite of the night, a cookies and cream truffle, haunted me for days.
That they share not just their jobs, but their life, was evident in the experience. Knowing this personal tidbit made it hard to not try to peek at them as they worked – easy to do since ONE features a large open kitchen. If food is love, and their love is food, and they love one another, well then no wonder it was all so delicious.