Chow chow gives the Japanese cabbage pancake okonomiyaki a Southern twist
When Travis Milton was putting together the initial menus for Hickory, his restaurant inside Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards resort in Bristol, Virginia, the longtime advocate for Appalachian cuisine was looking for ways to rework chow chow, the staple regional condiment made of cabbage, green tomatoes, peppers, and other end-of-summer vegetables.
He and his sous chefs got to brainstorming, but the dish ideas weren’t working, so they broke for lunch. One of the sous chefs made himself a version of okonomiyaki, a Japanese cabbage pancake. “It just kind of hit us all at once,” Milton recalls, “Chow chow as a pancake.”
That’s how menu planning goes at Hickory, Milton says, as the team aims to present Appalachian ingredients and flavors in new and unique ways. “You look at the parallels—not just in cuisine but literal parallels of the earth and how the 36th parallel runs through so many other countries that have similar weather, seasonality, and growing conditions. And then you look at what those cultures are doing with preservation,” he says. That might inspire replacing the ham hock in shuck beans with homemade miso or whipping soup beans into a mayonnaise. “It gives us a lot of freedom to play but still kind of stay true to the region,” he says.
The chow chow Japanese cabbage pancake, Milton adds, “has a special place in our hearts here because it was everyone, throwing our pow – ers together, into almost a Voltron-like thing. We love collaborating, and it takes us to some crazy places where we never would have ended up otherwise.”