Iven when Teddy Klopf sits down, he rarely sits still.
When he’s silent, his fingers bounce from the surface of a table in Provenance, the downtown Raleigh restaurant he opened earlier this year. And when he speaks, his hands become semaphores, helping to highlight words and emphasize the importance of ideas. He seems to vibrate, like the surface of a pot of water just about to boil.
Such energy and enthusiasm are evident in the food at Provenance, a place driven as much by the local-sourcing, no-waste precepts of Klopf the Philosopher as the unexpected choices and exquisite plating of Klopf the Chef. No decision seems arbitrary, no choice made simply because it seemed easiest.
After a recent lunch service, I sat down with Klopf for a long conversation about issues of food sourcing, accessibility, and agriculture. To read more about Klopf, pick up the new EATS, our annual food magazine.
INDY: What sparked your interest in intensive local sourcing?
TEDDY KLOPF: It’s all about deliciousness. Sourcing is incredibly important, but it all started from the perspective of trying to make food taste good. When something is just clipped, say the herbs from our garden, and you eat it within hours, it’s infinitely better than something that was picked days ago and shipped across the country. Then it became an ethical pursuit and an intellectual pursuit. It’s better not just as far as deliciousness is concerned; it’s better for the community, for the environment, for us as people. A beet grown in soil that’s rich in nutrients is infinitely more nutritious than a beet that’s grown in soil that has been treated to accept Roundup. That is quite literally poison. We’re starting to see what a hyper-modified diet is doing to the human animal.
Food accessibility is important for you, but few would say Provenance is cheap. Does that disconnect bother you?
Food is expensive. Real food is even more expensive, but that’s part of the problem. We’re asking the wrong question. The question should be: “Why is McDonald’s so inexpensive?” We’re paying for it elsewherethrough subsidies, through taxes, with health problems, with health insurance. Rates of childhood obesity, rates of allergies, rates of birth defects: all of these things are increasing. I suspect a lot of it is because of cheap food. We’re going to look back at the turn-of-this-century agribusiness like we look at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century industry, when black clouds of coal smoke were turning skylines black. We’re doing it to our bodies.
You’ve previously said restaurants shouldn’t talk about serving local food, because it needs to be the norm. Is that impossible?
I recognize that will never happen. People love things that they can’t get locally. How great would that be for a community? It would be a really wonderful thing for the community, for sustainability, if we did try to limit ourselves. Food would be a lot better. Those carrots coming from Peru, all this way, they’re not very good. They’re starchy, and their colors are pretty.
How does your proximity to farms impact the way you cook?
I spent a lot of my career where onions were just something that arrived at the back door. Then we apply the best technique possible to these onions. There were incredible, incredible things going on, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t really learn how to cook until I learned how to farm. When I was actually on the farm, in touch with the cyclical nature of life, and my sweat was going into the soil, and I got to pull that radish out of the ground, I started to understand. When you taste that radish, you’re like, “This is what a radish tastes like.”
This article appeared in print with the headline “A Chef’s Philosophy”