April 2016

Two Chefs, One Concept

Author: Becca Edwards | Photographer: Photography by Michael Hrizuk

Chefs Clayton Rollison and Brandon Carter would describe FARM’s takeover of Lucky Rooster one-night event as, “two chefs, one concept—seasonal, sensible food.”

And yet, as I watched them prep for the evening—Indie rock music sharing the air with the rooty aroma of fresh de-veined collards and men with tattoos peeling potatoes like casino croupiers dealing cards—and listened to both Rollison and Carter talk about their food mission, one more word came to mind. Sensual. I don’t mean sensual in the provocative way. I mean food is sexy. You know, when cooking goes beyond just sustenance and stimulates more than your belly, engaging your senses and even shifting your culinary perspective.

I was affirmed of my opinion as Carter began to describe what I and other people could expect from his sample menu. “Our food conversation starts with vegetables and seasonality. Veggie forward not only means a healthier lifestyle, but speaks about food of place; and vegetables have always been a mainstay on the Southern table,” he said. “But don’t confuse us with a health restaurant. We use butter and in a generous amount. It’s all about balance. For every heavy, you find its counterpoint so that you feel nourished and sustained, but you can go dancing afterwards and not feel like taking a nap. We intend to pack a punch of big flavor, and our food is sexy and attractive aesthetically. Plus, our food is meant to be enjoyed and shared as a multi-course dinner.”

Carter’s new restaurant FARM—which will be located at 1301 May River Road in Calhoun Street Promenade in Old Town Bluffton—is slated to open its doors in April, and Rollison not only graciously handed over his restaurant to Carter for the evening of February 25, but also helped him prepare the dishes so that people could get a sneak peak into what FARM hopes to be: “Bluffton’s most engaging and satisfying dining experience.” Having known Rollison since childhood and having followed his food career, I knew he viewed his culinary role in the area as more collaborative than competitive, but I still felt compelled to ask why he hosted what Carter called his “coming out party.”

“We have to work collaboratively,” Rollison said. “Working together means we keep pushing the boundaries. Not only do the chefs then get better, but the staff gets better, the restaurants get better and the patrons get a better experience.”

“If you build it they will come,” added Carter, who then joined in with Rollison talking about how important it is to support local farmers and, because of supply and demand, how this needs to be something everyone joins in to accomplish. “For that farmer who works an hour and a half away, it gets expensive slinging produce all the way here, and it’s not worth the trip if only a handful of restaurants are buying from them. We want to make it worth it,” Rollison explained.

“Yeah, and as for restaurants competing, there are seven days in the week. No one is going to eat in just one restaurant every night, and we don’t want them to. We want people enjoying delicious, seasonal, sustainable food to be a contagious thing,” Carter said.

Like drafting in cycling, both chefs discussed how working together allows them to propel their food visions forward. “It’s hard to lead the charge by yourself,” Carter joked, as Rollison smiled and nodded in agreement. “Several restaurants have raised the bar. The SERG group showed us that you can be in business yearlong and do well. When I first opened Lucky Rooster, people told me that Hilton Head didn’t want sweet breads, and octopus wasn’t cost effective; but I worked hard to dispel those rumors and push the culinary boundaries here,” Rollison said. “Now FARM is taking the next step in pushing boundaries with their structured guidelines.” Having a brief chef-bromance moment (before making fun of each other, of course), Carter added, “Clayton [Rollison] has taken it to this point to make a lot of things happen for other chefs. We are excited about the opportunity to pick up the ball and push forward. If you relax, then you’re not working.”

Rollison and Carter are referring to FARM’s fairly intense commitment to locally sourced ingredients. Carter and his business partner Ryan Williamson, who owns five to six acres of farmland in Palmetto Bluff, will try to grow much of what they serve. “We can’t supply everything, but we will use as much as we can and then source as responsibly as possible, if not locally, then regionally with both eyes wide open so we feel good about everything,” Carter said. FARM will also change its menu frequently in order to respond to their supply. In a business where customers like consistency and their go-to meal, this is—well—somewhat ballsy.

“I understand why someone would go to a restaurant because they like a certain dish, but we are living a world where we can get inspired by a vegetable and make a delicious new dish every time. We want people to come to FARM because they consistently get good food, not consistently the same dish per se. We want to earn their trust that way,” Carter said.

When I returned to FARM’s takeover of the Lucky Rooster that night, everything Carter said about his food came alive on the plate. We started the evening with a signature cocktail. I decided to try something completely new and had the Lamb’s Blood with VEEV acai vodka, St. George raspberry liquor, fresh lemon, mint and Prosecco. My husband went the tried-and-true route and sipped on a dark and stormy. We then ordered the preserved shiitake mushrooms (with sunchoke, rosemary and mustard greens), the red Russian kale (with soffrito, whipped ricotta and buttered grits), ceviche of snowy grouper (with a quail egg, leche de tigre, red onion, pickled carrot, cilantro and fried maize) and the lamb shoulder presse with charred sweet potatoes and wildflower honey to start. The ceviche rocked my taste buds like they have never been rocked before, and I was tempted to double down; but then, at the last minute, I opted for the Sea Island red pea panisse with romesco—which, mind you, momentarily transported us via what looked and tasted like mini pillows of pea yumminess to food nirvana. We ended our meal with the pecan pie with sorghum and vanilla bean ice cream and full but not bursting-at-the-seams bellies. Displaying total food submission and crossing our fork and knife on the edge of our plates along with a sign of satisfaction, I asked my husband Lee how he would describe our meal. He looked at me for a minute and then said, “It’s indescribable, because it’s like nothing I’ve ever had before. It incorporated so many flavors and textures. It was”—“Sensual?” I interrupted. “Yeah, I’d say so,” he agreed. 

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