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Farm to Fork: home-grown gourmet

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Crossroads Institute hosts the first of a series of culinary events planned in the region, which use locally grown ingredients to create unique dishes.

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By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff

The Blue Ridge Farm Experience hosted its first Farm 2 Fork event on March 9 at Crossroads Institute in Galax, and guests were treated to a full culinary experience presented by chef Matthew Morris of Woodlawn.
The night’s menu included a salad made from tossed field greens, caramelized apples, candied pecans, marinated feta cheese and lemon thyme vinaigrette; a main course of braised beef short ribs with rosemary demi glace, stewed winter root vegetables and sliced baked sweet potato au gratin with chipotle peppers; and a spiced apple cake for dessert, served with cinnamon ice cream.
This event was the first of many culinary events planned by the organization, according to Carroll County’s tourism relations manager Amanda Bourne. “Right now we are trying to give this project a breath of life and a heartbeat, and then we will go from there,” she told the audience at the beginning of the event.
At this time, several local venues have expressed interest in participating in future Farm 2 Fork events, including Bogeys Restaurant, Olde Mill, Primland Resort and Chateau Morrisette winery. She noted that they also were speaking with several local wineries interested in participating.
Chateau Morrisette is already scheduled for an event on May 9, Bourne confirmed.
The meal at Crossroads was created from products from the Southwest Virginia Farmers’ Market in Carroll County and Grayson Natural Foods in Independence.
To create a full culinary experience, participating chefs are asked to share their techniques with the audience by preparing their meal in front of them.
At the head of the dining area, Morris had his own station, equipped with an oven, plug-in skillets, a mixer and a full kitchen in the next room.
“We’re going to start this a little out of order,” Morris began, grabbing the ingredients he needed for the dessert. He started making good use of a sharp knife by chopping fresh apples with the flourish of a true professional.
When he finished, he combined the ingredients for the batter in an electric mixer.
“Go ahead and add your eggs, just be sure not to catch your finger in the mixer,” he joked, earning a laugh from the audience as he cracked the eggs with one hand only inches from the spinning paddle.
He folded in the slices, spread the mixture in the pan, and tilted it just enough for the hungry audience to see the unfinished treat they would devour at the end of their meal.
“This is a very simple cake to make when you’re in the weeds and need a fast dessert,” he said.
He popped the cake into the oven and started on the salad, and in minutes, the smell of baking apples made stomachs growl throughout the room.
Morris went on to prepare the salad, which was immediately served so that guests could nibble while they watched the rest of the presentation.
Since the main course takes anywhere from three to four hours to prepare, Morris and his wife and son took the liberty of preparing the main course in the kitchen ahead of time.
As he prepared the short ribs, he commented on the quality of the meat and other local produce. By using a colorful mixture of fresh products, he was able to create a meal that encompassed a variety of flavors.
Morris, originally from New Jersey, now resides in Woodlawn and works as the director of dining services at Carroll County Public Schools. He has more than 20 years of culinary experience under his belt.
After receiving a bachelor of arts degree from Hartwick College, he also earned an associate degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
He has apprenticed with celebrity chef Bobby Flay at the Mesa Grill  in New York City and worked as an entremeiter with renowned chef Edward Stone at the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville, N.J.
He was an exclusive caterer for the United States Equestrian Center, the Forbes family, Johnson and Johnson and former New Jersey Governor Christy Todd Whitman. He later worked in the food service sector as the executive chef for Merck Pharmaceuticals and for Chartwells as the executive chef for the South Brunswick Schools in New Jersey.
As Morris prepared the food, he talked about when he opened a restaurant soon after his son was born. He noted that his move to Woodlawn enabled him to spend more time with his family. “I also get to participate in events like these, which is a lot of fun for me. I don’t get to do this kind of thing very often,” he said.

The price for attending a culinary event is $50. The Carroll County Office of Tourism and Blue Ridge Plateau Regional Visitor Center is located at 235 Farmers Market Drive in Hillsville, off Interstate 77’s Exit 14. For information, call 1-888-785-2781, (276) 730-3100, or visit www.visittheblueridge.com. For information about their Farm 2 Fork events, visit www.blueridgefarmexperience.com.