The Trip to Bountiful: Little D’s chef Faith Hall digs into bushels of summer’s local produce
Faith Hall was contemplating the fresh corn in the restaurant walk-in.
“I had a corn-on-the-cob dish on the menu, and it wasn’t doing well,” says Hall, chef de cuisine of Little D’s restaurant in North Asheville.
“Finger foods in a restaurant like ours probably aren’t the best way. Chef Owen (McGlynn, executive chef and owner of Little D’s and Asheville Proper) and I were thinking summer succotash.”
After the check-in with his boss, Hall took out his notebook, wrote down all the produce he had on hand — a long list through a Western North Carolina summer — and ended up not with succotash but a composition using corn and yellow squash.
“It was an interesting process,” he says. “I decided to make a corn ricotta gnocchi. I cooked the corn down, added it to ricotta, rolled it out and thought if I roll it thinner, I could make it into a spiral.”
He deep-fried the gnocchi spiral — which he renamed a dumpling — then laid it atop a pool of romesco. Beside that, he stood a half yellow squash, stuffed it with eggplant and zucchini, and topped it with a tangle of greens. All of it was sprinkled with herb-feta garnish, and voila! Summer made another happy landing on the Little D’s menu.
The parade of locally grown produce that begins in spring and goes through early fall is nearly overwhelming. “I touch base constantly with our growers and purveyors to see what they have and what’s coming,” says Hall. “At this time of the year, there’s so much day to day it’s a matter of keeping up with it.”
Most often, the fresh seasonal produce shows up in the shareables section of Little D’s menu, which always features one set salad and one special. In early July, the new salad was kale, peaches, pickled onion, goat cheese, and an aleppo pepper-oregano vinaigrette.
The recent arrival of peaches replaced the blueberries previously on the kale salad; they moved to the duck breast entrée via a blueberry gastrique along with local watercress and pickled blackberries.
Specials also get a lion’s share of the seasonals. Hall builds a starter with that favorite summer vegetable/fruit, the tomato, inspired by a childhood memory with his father. “We ate a lot of tomatoes and cottage cheese with black pepper,” he remembers. “I wanted to reinvent that in a way that didn’t use store-bought cottage cheese.”
Instead, the chef makes a cheese similar in consistency, which he strews across a plate of sliced red and yellow heirlooms. He then adds concassé cherry tomatoes, an herb salad — parsley, mint, oregano, and basil — sprinkled with toasted pine nuts and finished with olive oil and a swirl of burnt honey. “The basil, pine nuts and olive oil are the elements of a deconstructed pesto that really complement the tomato,” he says.
Little D’s line cook 19-year-old Kayla Starzy created a vegetarian special (which can be modified on request to be vegan) with charred eggplant, turmeric rice with a summer vegetable sauté with a jalapeño glaze that adds hot and sweet to both the palette and palate.
Though Hall uses summer fruits on the savory side, pastry chef Hilary Lamont snags plenty for her desserts, including rotating flavors of crème brûlée and ice cream.
Hall says his favorite summer vegetable is probably corn. “It’s so versatile, it can be sweet or savory or both,” he says. “I grew up with just corn on the cob or frozen corn. When I got my first Asheville job at Corner Kitchen and had their corn pudding, it was a revelation to me.”
He promises that summer succotash will find its way onto the Little D’s menu, with his cheffy spin. “I like to do a smoked tomato butter with the corn and nice sauté of peas. Fava beans are great to have in a succotash, and we’ll make some smoky field peas with Benton’s country ham. I’m looking forward to working with the kitchen on it and giving the cooks room to create.”
For more about Little D’s, visit eatatlittleds.com.
Written by Kay West
Images courtesy of Faith Hall and Carrie Turner