The Chef and the Farmer
The reason my husband surprised me with a trip to North Carolina was to have my birthday dinner at The Chef and the Farmer. We’re both big fans of the Chef Vivian Howard and her PBS docu-series A Chef’s Life, so my husband arranged for us to drive an hour and a half into rural North Carolina for a wine tasting and dinner at her restaurant.
The problem was we didn’t have reservations and we had heard the wait could be several hours. Our strategy was to get there early for the wine tasting and then wait in line to try to be the first in at the bar.
The wine tasting had about 20 people of all ages at a large family-style table in a side room of the restaurant. As the group broke out into several pockets of conversation we told the people sitting next to us that we came from Louisiana for my 30th birthday but we didn’t have a reservation. When our new friends heard this they invited us to join their family in the private dining room.
The Hamilton family was celebrating three generations who had birthdays that month, but a couple of the family members were unable to attend so they had two extra seats at their table. Wanting to get a table but not wanting to impose, we finally accepted the invitation after many assurances that we would not be an imposition. When the restaurant turned everyone out to set up for dinner, we left with plans to return in an hour for dinner.
New York Encounter
During the hour wait until the restaurant reopened for dinner, we waited outside and took pictures in front of the sign when a friendly fellow diner offered to take our picture together. We struck up a conversation and learned that he, John, and his partner, Dan, were also fans of the PBS TV show and had traveled from New York to eat at The Chef and the Farmer.
We began swapping stories with our new Northern friends. Us: that we were Midwesterners who had recently relocated to the deep South – and Them: John was born and raised in south Alabama, Dan went to college at Duke and they had met in New York where they had lived most of their adult lives. We bonded over the uniqueness of the South, its people and culture, as well as the many joys of traveling.
We met the Hamilton family at the appointed hour in the private dining room in which we had just had the wine tasting. What followed was four hours of convivial conversation; plates and plates of shared appetizers, entrees and desserts; and lively descriptions of the differences between eastern and western North Carolina.
We talked about Kansas, Louisiana, family, children, careers, church, military service, marketing, Downton Abbey, healthcare and on and on. You name it and we talked about on it. It felt like we were long lost family that had years of catching up to do. We were so interested in them and their lives, and they were so interested in us; everyone shared about themselves and their lives and cared about us and our lives. I can honestly say that I’ve never had an experience like that dinner with the Hamilton family, but I will always treasure it. And, someday when we go back to North Carolina, I will look up my NC family and schedule another dinner.
The specialness of this evening in North Carolina sticks out in my mind not because of the rural location or the delicious food, but because of the amazing people we met. As “outsiders” the Hamilton family gave us our first taste of genuine Southern hospitality. After knowing us for just a few hours, they invited us into their family. And John (from New York) emailed me the week after we got home and gave me the idea for this very blog. After knowing me for just a few days, he believed that I could do something big and meaningful.
My 30th birthday, that tiny rural town, that famous restaurant and the state of North Carolina will always be close to my heart because of the people we met and the Southern hospitality they gave to us.
Joie de vivre!