Behind the Line with Chad McIntyre

Published Fri, Oct 12, 2012 01:01 PM
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Chad McIntyre from Market Restaurant. Photo by Beth Mandel

Self-dubbed the mad scientist of farm-to-fork forager Market Restaurant in downtown Raleigh’s historic Mordecai district, chef/owner Chad McIntyre’s “fresh – local – organic” dish spot is a definite local foodie fave.

While farm-fresh fare has undeniably turned trendy and filled a nourish-the-body niche in the market for loca-lovers to sink their teeth into, Market’s top toque master plan is by no means a bandwagon brand. “We take it to a different level,” says McIntyre. “We go as far as raising bees at the restaurant…” a good glimpse into what all the buzz is about.

The first North Carolina resto to harvest its own hives (a family tradition he hopes to pass to his own daughters), the provisions pioneer isn’t short on food revolution. Beyond the homegrown honey and the obvious focus on locally grown in-season ingredients (sourced even as close-by as downtown’s Raleigh City Farm), his penchant for pickling and preservation adds a dimension to Market’s eats not shared by just any farm-to-fork concept. Looks like beyond all those fresh eats, he stores his M.O. in the Mason jar, so to speak.

A family man with a love of community gardening (shocker), his jones for the jars comes from his grandmother. And now, his “strong canning habit” — visible from the “I eat local because I can” wordplay on the brown or green Mason-jar laden tees to the canning classes he teaches onsite — most obviously reveals itself in seasonally fresh fare that defies mother nature. “We’re able to create summer-fresh ingredients year-round without sacrificing the quality,” McIntyre tells us. Pickled okra in the dead of winter? Oh “can” he? You bet. (That’s what’s in that famed Market Bloody Mary mix year-round, y’all.) Suck it down. It’s delish.

Behind the line for about 16 years now, the high hat — who’s putting North Carolina on the plate (and on your palate) — actually hails from South Louisiana, and cut his teeth under top chefs along the Gulf Coast, combining the techniques they taught him into his own signature style, a style that’s now launched him to the head of the Carolina cooking class. But despite being selected (and showing his stuff) as one of the area’s top chefs (he was one of Got to Be NC’s Fire in the Triangle competition dining series chefs), being all the rage on the area food stage hasn’t gone to his head. He’s just not about the glory. He’s about the guts — mostly filling yours with even better eats tomorrow than he did yesterday. And we know he “can.”

Q&A

What's it like manning the kitchen of one of Raleigh's hottest (and freshest) restos?

You make me blush. It has definitely been one of the most challenging and rewarding adventures that I have taken on. I look at it like Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility. I could never do it by myself. I am lucky to have a strong team, most of whom have been with me since the beginning (i.e. my Sous Chef Scott Jankovictz).

You recently had the honor to compete in Got to Be NC's wildly popular Fire in the Triangle dining competition series (congrats on that by the way). Beforehand, you said you wanted to be able to open Pandora’s box of culinary creativity with your team. Box open?

We most certainly have. That particular competition was an eye-opener into my culinary-tricks bag. Most of the dishes we tried that night, we had never put together. However hit or miss our dishes were, that event was, by far, one of the highlights of my culinary career to date.

Market is known for their super, sustainable farm-to-fork fresh fare. As you've noted in previous interviews, this has become quite the niche concept — but you take it to a different level. What distinguishes your approach?

One thing that guests immediately pick up on is that we are able to bridge a connection between every step that an ingredient has taken to get to the plate. Most people would not think that a dish as simple as a hamburger actually takes upwards of two years to make it to the plate. This disconnect in the food cycle has been washed out of society over the past few generations. If you are going to take food into your body, you damn well better know what kind of positive or negative energy it carries. Just being a consumer and not a researcher isn't good for either side of the cast-iron pan.

You source items specifically for Market from as close as downtown Raleigh farmers (Raleigh City Farm). That makes keeping it local quite literal. How does that impact your prowess as a chef and the quality of the fare at Market?

Well, freshness is not a problem when it's coming from a couple hundred yards down the street. It's nice to see RCF has grown as fast as it is. This is especially great since, in the next few months, we will be moving next to the farm and expanding to open a grocery store. I have a vision of the new location as a cross between Blue Hill, The French Laundry, Eataly and Growing Power, Inc. (but smaller, and more Raleigh-esque).

Moving and adding a grocery, huh? It's definitely a concept novel to Raleigh. Give us the skinny:

Yes. We’ll be moving to E. Franklin Street (between Person and Blount) in the Person Street Plaza, into a 5500 square-foot spot, and our deck will overlook the farm right next door. We don’t have an exact date yet, but we’re still looking at the end part of 1Q 2013 (March or April-ish). The restaurant and grocery will share a space — we’ll tear down some of the wall in between. We’re hoping for no stopgap between the two locations, but if one is necessary, we’ll be able to occupy the original property with our catering/food truck and be present there without down time.

You’re admittedly a canning nut. Tell us. What is it about canning?

It stems from my grandmother. For as long as I can remember she has always canned every season. I love seeing the shelves lined with the little time capsules of figs, strawberries and jellies. Her ‘finishing move’ is her canned pears. If you want a taste of heaven, this is better. I look at canning as not just a way to preserve ingredients for later in the season, but as another canvas to be an artist with. Why do tomatoes when you can do spiced tomato and veal Bolognese?

Good question. Here’s another. Buzz has it that you raise your own bees at the restaurant. That's quite the sting operation, no?

We do. For almost three years now we’ve had bees on the roof of the restaurant. It started with two hives on the roof and has doubled and relocated to a better viewing site. My wife's family back home in Louisiana has raised bees for several generations. I wanted to help carry on this tradition with my two daughters. It is also beneficial to help the number of healthy bee colonies grow. Bees are responsible for two-thirds of the food production on the planet.

That kind of gives your wife ‘the bee’s knees’ edge. Prior to married life, how did your upbringing (and training) on the Gulf Coast affect who you are as a chef today (and the Market menu)?

I think that it plays a huge part in not only the dishes, but the utilization of ingredients. People have a huge misconception of the cuisine from South Louisiana. It is more about flavor and telling a story than spice and slapping you in the mouth. Not that we don't have spicy foods back home. But I like to bring out the small, unheard notes in a dish. It's like a little backup singer in a large band that has a solo. Some chefs are all base and no high hat.

You credit your upbringing to top chefs along the Gulf Coast, specifically chefs John Jacob, Bruce McAdoo and Yvette Bonanno, whose techniques you blended and adapted to develop your own signature style. How do you define that signature style?

It is hard to say. I really hate the word fusion. When I cook, the dish might say Morocco or Eastern European or West Texas. It really depends on what mood I'm in at that time. The one common thread that runs through all my dishes is that the simplicity of the dish makes it more complex.

If you could sup anywhere on the Triangle's streets (minus Market), where would you eat?

Talk about putting me on the spot. There are a lot of really great places to tuck in at. One of our (my wife and girls) favorite places is Seaboard Grill in Logan's Nursery. [Owner] Rick [Perales] has been there for 20 years and is one of the most genuinely nice people I know. His chicken salad is awesome, and I love the pickled carrots. Another favorite stop is the taco truck on Hodge Road between Atlantic and Capital. They do this taco de lengua that is epic.

If you were limited to one ingredient, what would it be and why?

I think I would actually pick vinegar. It is extremely under-appreciated in the kitchen. Most people think only of dressings, but we utilize it in things like desserts. It adds that high hat to otherwise over-fatty and rich dishes. You have an average of 10,000 taste buds, why not use all of them?

If you're not cooking, what are you most likely doing?

Driving my lovely wife crazy. I have a habit of coming up with crazy ideas and running with them. I think she has found ways to deal with this and keep me focused. Outside of the move planned for the first part of the year, I'm currently growing two other businesses. One is a project that is engineering and building solar powered and custom draft systems. The other is the expansion of our handcrafted sodas for distribution with in the state.

So, where do you see yourself in five years?

Right here in Raleigh. I really want to be more influential in the food programs provided to the public schools. Pizza is not a vegetable. Also, I see myself helping train and furthering the skilled trades for the restaurant industry.

Any advice for upcoming chefs?

First and foremost, this is a way of life, not a career. If you make the commitment to be called a chef, you damn well better be prepared to put in the sweat equity to learn your skill. I know people with 25 years in the industry and they have never taken the approach more than ‘this is a job.’ And I know newbies that are some of the most talented chefs in the scene today. The difference between the two is drive and passion. It's not a glamorous job. It doesn't always pay well. People can generally beat the love of cooking out of you. And everyone is a critic! But if you can stay focused and push through the bull, while not losing site of why you are taking this path in life, it will be the most rewarding thing you can do. You can change the world one plate at a time.

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