Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai
In Greek mythology, the goddess Aphrodite emerged from an oyster, giving this bivalve a reputation that was tough to beat.
On Easter morning, I sat at Chef Brandon Carter’s kitchen table at his home in Bluffton. He was mixing Bloody Marys. His daughter Bailey was at the stove, finishing the French toast. His parents chatted in the living room, while his son Declan, and wife Jessica, provided a running comedy show of commentary. Their dog Teufel lay asleep and snoring, on my feet. There too, I met Carter’s new restaurant partner, Ryan Williamson. We soon realized that Williamson’s wife Joanne and I CrossFit together every morning. And a little story of community began to take shape.
FARM was an idea born while walking the rows of Lowcountry Farms. There, farmer Williamson and Carter would traipse through the mud, pulling vegetables from the ground, tasting, plotting the next planting, and planning menus. Soon the two began talking about their own restaurant and supplying that restaurant with the produce from Williamson’s farm. A difficult path perhaps, but, they tell me, “Easy rarely makes something better or special.” With a concept rooted in place and community, it was exciting to imagine how the people and personalities—and the stories of where they’ve been and where they are going—could differentiate FARM.
Left: A coastal tradition that originates with Native Americans, there is something that is so special about roasting oysters over an open fire. The key to perfectly roasting an oyster is to pull them off right when they start to steam inside. Too little time and you’re still raw; too much and you lose all your juice.
Right: 1.Carter’s original interest in cooking was the result of some misinformation that suggested that chefs were like rock stars and it would be a good way to pick up girls. It didn’t take very long to be snapped back to reality. And while he has been caught (on film) belting out some Bon Jovi, Carter soon realized a true love for the ingredients and processes associated with cooking. Carter’s cooking is influenced by a collage of formative experiences. His mom always rushed home to make sure there was a hot meal on the table for Carter and his sister. And it was his father who always made sure they stopped at a roadside stand for boiled peanuts during their drives. When Carter’s mom re-married, the family would to travel to Italy every summer to visit his step-siblings, and that is where Carter decided he wanted to be a chef.
2.Sommelier Thaddeus Miller picked the Francois Montand Brut Blanc de Blanc NV, Jura, France as the perfect pairing for a May River oyster. Francois Montand grew up on his family estate in Champagne. During WWII, he moved to “The Free Zone” in heavily Nazi occupied France. He began making brilliantly vivacious Champagne style sparkling wines. As the Blanc de Blancs name implies, this wine is made from only white grapes: Chardonnay, the noble grape of Champagne and two of the most widely planted and versatile grapes in the world, Ugni Blanc and Colombard.
3.Talk about farm to table. Oysters arrive by boat, fresh from the May River, direct to the dock, courtesy of Bluffton-based May River Oyster Company. Carter, Williamson, and Heaton all subscribe to the idea that FARM shall be rooted in place, and their partners shall too.
The duo’s goal, in concert with Josh Heaton, who will handle front of house operations, is to make FARM the connector between the dining experience and the farmers’ market culture. Menu creation begins with the farm, farmers, and artisans who cultivate and craft the ingredients that eventually make their way onto FARM’s menus. “Our scratch kitchen concept requires that we avoid any processed or pre-packaged food. We start only with fresh ingredients, sourced locally and regionally, and our customers reap the rewards,” Carter said. At FARM, Southern culture and conversations will always be at the core.
The partners engaged architect Michael Vaccaro to design the space, that sits nestled next to Corner Perk and The Roost in Old Town Bluffton’s Promenade. Vaccaro has designed the majority of the new buildings in the Promenade and masterfully pays homage to Bluffton’s Lowcountry architecture, while focusing on simple spaces that make gathering natural. David Abney with D.H. Abney Construction is building the restaurant; interior design, material salvaging and interior finishes will be handled by Tom Banaugh of TimberStone Company, who specializes in reclaimed building materials and restoration.
1.At Chris and Emily Burden’s home, on the banks of the May River, tables sit below a festoon of string lighting. Laugher filters into the air as oysters sizzle on a make-shift pit.
2.FARM partners Josh Heaton, Ryan Williamson, and Chef Brandon Carter are joined by sommelier Thaddeus Miller (second from right).
3.May River oysters can certainly stand alone, but it you have a hankering for showing off in the kitchen, Carter suggests Pico de Gallo, Green Mustard Condiment or Chili Ginger Mignonette. Recipes follow on the next page.
The 45-seat brick and mortar space is slated to open in March 2016, but FARM has actually been making its presence known in the Lowcountry since this past summer. Their Burn Box Social concept features Saturday pop-up BBQ lunches at breweries from Beaufort to Savannah. They’ve catered wedding suppers for 200 and, participated in foodie events from Virginia to Georgia and everywhere in between.
As opening day looms, Carter pours over menu ideas. He said, “The menu will change as needed—might be twice a week, or more, just depends. But, I’ve been compiling a growing list of ideas: May River flounder roasted on the bone, with Henry Moore corn, green tomato, jalapeño, coriander, radish, cabbage; Poached asparagus, farm egg, garlic breadcrumbs, lemon thyme, black pepper; Burrata with Georgia Olive Oil, mashed fava beans; Tupelo Honey Lacquered Duck, Charred Spring Vidalia Onions; and there will “for sure be a taco on this menu.” (To know Carter is to know the many nights he frequents the nomad taco truck in Bluffton.)
FARM will feature 12 items (give or take) on the menu at a time. “Small plates and portion sizes so you can enjoy more than one thing and also share and have a more communal experience. Every time I go into a restaurant, I want to try three of four things. This concept will let people do that,” Carter said.
The collaborative spirit behind FARM ensures that they will be good neighbors, forge relationships with for-profit and non-profit partners, support local events, and grow together to affect change—impacting the diner, other chefs, and food and beverage professionals to adapt practices that are collaborative, and driven by local resources and a true sense of place.
To toast their impending success and celebrate May River oyster season just right, they invited their friends and FARM partners to get a taste of what’s to come.
Pico de Gallo
(“This is probably the best thing I’ve ever had on an oyster,” Carter said.)
2 large ripe tomatoes Cut in half and grated on large hole box grater down to the skin
1 small red onion Small diced
1 bunch cliantro Cleaned, picked and chopped
1 jalapeño Chopped with seeds
3 limes, juiced
1/4 cup Georgia Olive Oil (available through Silo)
Bulls Bay Sea Salt to taste (available through Silo)
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and adjust seasoning with salt. The Pico is best if it’s made day of.
Chili Ginger Mignonette
1/4 cup Thai chilis Thin sliced (you can use Serrano chilies in a pinch)
1 Tbs. scallionsChopped
1 inch fresh ginger Peeled and minced
1 shallot Minced
1 stalk lemongrass Tough exterior discarded, tender center minced
3 limes Juiced
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 Tbs. cane sugar
2 tsp. Bulls Bay Sea Salt
1 bunch basil Picked and rough chopped with a sharp knife
Combine all ingredients with exception of the basil. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hrs. Add basil just before you’re ready to serve so it stays nice and vibrant.
Green Mustard Condiment
2 lbs. mustard greens
Cleaned, blanched and shocked
6 garlic cloves
1 Vidalia onion
1/4 cup Georgia Olive Oil
2 lemons Jucied and zest
1 Tbs. hot Spanish paprika
1 tsp. chili flakes
Bulls Bay Sea Salt to taste
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees f. In an oven-safe dish, combine the garlic, onion and olive oil. Toss so the oil coats the aromatics. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove dish from the oven, remove the foil and allow the mixture to cool for a bit and then add to the blender with the remaining ingredients. Purée on high speed until nice and smooth; you may need to add a little water to get the mixture going. Adjust seasoning with salt and serve.