Our area is increasingly featuring a new facet of local food, whether it’s a tasting and tour or new eatery, or collaboration among restaurateurs and wine makers at a food festival. The area’s talented chefs work behind the scenes to bring their passion and personality to the plate. The Natural Chef Café at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) Pittsboro Campus is fostering the skills of students learning every culinary aspect of the farm to fork experience.
Chef Gregg Hamm leads the comprehensive program, which includes courses such as Farm to Table, Culinary Technology, Gluten Free Baking, and Sustainable Baking. Chef Hamm’s interest in food began early and as a student, support from two teachers helped to put him on the path to a culinary career. Support from his family and one of his teachers continued, leading to a Top 10 finalist spot in a Johnson and Wales recipe contest and a scholarship from the acclaimed culinary institute. Today, Chef Hamm manages Café 121, his restaurant in Sanford (Lee County) and offers classes and catering in addition to his duties at the Natural Chef culinary program.
The menus celebrate a range of cuisines and many dishes and desserts stretch beyond even the most sophisticated foodie’s palate: arepas with brined cheese and pickled farm peppers, Moroccan lentil soup; lengua veracruz—beef tongue with tomato, onions, pimiento olives over rice (made with local beef from Cohen Farm), alfajores-cookies with dolce de leche, and an endless stream of other dishes. The Café offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, take-out, and on occasion, special meals including a recent Thanksgiving lunch.
Gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian dishes are featured throughout the menus the Café offers with ingredients from local farms, including Cohen Farms, Lilly Den, Bennett Farming, CCCC’s Organic Agriculture Farm, and other regional vendors and farmers when possible. Watching the students in the kitchen or setting the silverware and centerpieces on the tables and even while being served for a meal at the Café, it’s evident that the passion, drive, and inquisitiveness exists. They are learning more than just how to cook. It’s about sustainability, a vocabulary that will enhance their skills and allow them opportunities to lead and create innovative cuisines whether it’s for their own eateries or catering businesses or in culinary education. Visit soon for tasty local food, just around the bend.