With their own homegrown vegetables and homemade cheeses, two Atlanta chef-farmers create a fabulous vegetarian meal
Across the country,chefs are forging ever closer links with farmers--calling growers to check on crops and sometimes even investing money in farms. Some chefs, like Clifford Harrison and Anne Quatrano of Atlanta's Bacchanalia, are going one step further: they're becoming farmers themselves. With only part-time help from a Bacchanalia sous-chef, Harrison grows asparagus, potatoes, baby greens, strawberries and herbs, providing about a third of the restaurant's produce. Quatrano, meanwhile, uses milk from the couple's four Jersey cows to make butter, cream and fresh cheeses. The two chefs are also planting apple and peach trees and blueberry bushes, preparing to make honey and planning to buy goats to expand their cheese repertoire.
Quatrano and Harrison spent plenty of time in big cities before deciding to balance urban life with country life. The couple met at San Francisco's California Culinary Academy in 1985 and cooked in New York City for several years before heading south to Cartersville, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. Quatrano's family owned 60 acres of farmland there that had been ruined by pesticides. Harrison, who had always fantasized about being a farmer, plunged right into the work of restoring the soil. He and Quatrano also decided on an old antiques store in Atlanta as a restaurant site. They opened Bacchanalia in January 1993 with a prix-fixe menu--a concept that the city was slow to accept. Harrison remembers counting the cars at the steak house across the street while waiting for customers who never came. He and Quatrano finally got their break when a local chef ate at Bacchanalia and alerted the Atlanta food critics.
At Bacchanalia, the pair--two of F&W's Best New Chefs of 1995--serve New American dishes with southern accents like succulent crab fritters with avocado and butter-poached lobster in a tarragon-infused broth. "We call our food seasonal," says Harrison. "We're both very California in our philosophy," adds Quatrano, a theme that will be reflected in their new Atlanta restaurant, Floataway Cafe, scheduled to open this month. Harrison plans to set up a stand next door to sell the farm's fruits and vegetables and (once he receives FDA approval) its dairy products.
The vegetarian brunch on these pages, prepared at the chefs' farmhouse, makes the most of their marvelous produce and cheeses. For the first course, creamy mozzarella covers tender grilled asparagus, then spring garlic punches up a light spinach frittata served with just-picked mesclun. Dessert choices include vanilla ice milk with espresso syrup and strawberry biscuits with housemade crème fraîche.
Although Harrison still pitches in to cook, farming is clearly closer to his heart: "I don't want to clean stoves at 2 a.m., but I don't mind milking the cows then." Quatrano, inspired by Harrison's enthusiasm, has a radical vision of what life could be like when the farm reaches its full potential: "I'll just make cheese. Cliff will milk cows and farm. And it will be all we need."