BUILDING a community is tough work, and it starts with dedicated people who are incredibly inspired. It is through those eyes, minds, and hands, that we begin to form the glue that holds everything and everyone together.
Culture is a huge component of any community, and as time continues to pass, its culture beings to develop a flavor profile. One of the reasons I love writing about food so much is because I believe food and its traditions are a major way we are able to see the culture of a community.
Savannah and the surrounding areas are not flooded with authentic food. But the authentic food sources we do have are dripping with tradition, history, and culture. Those are the places that give you a peek into where we come from, and where we are headed next.
I was fortunate enough to find a pearl of a restaurant, like none I have ever seen in the area.
The Farmer and The Larder is in downtown Brunswick, about an hour away from Savannah, and is most definitely a place worthy of a trip. I was blessed with an opportunity to sit and have a conversation with the owners and operators of this place, Matthew Raiford and Jovan Sage.
This beautiful couple met in Italy a few years ago, both coming from different backgrounds, but food remained the common thread between the two. Jovan spent a lot of time curating her community organizing skills in Brooklyn by way of Kansas City, and advocated for food and farms through Soul Food USA; which is what she was doing when she met Matthew.
Matthew was born in Brunswick, and grew up on his family farm, Gilliard Farms, as a kid. This farm has been in the family since the 1800s, is completely organic, and is same farm this couple lives on today.
Being the youngest boy in the family by many years he, by default, ended up spending a lot of time in the kitchen. It was in these moments when his curiosity in food began.
Growing up on a farm meant a lot of work, and also a different understanding on how agriculture could have an effect on a community of people. Matthew spent a lot time gaining a worldly perspective, living everywhere from D.C to Germany, and received his culinary degree from C.I.A in New York.
After gaining perspective and hearing the uncertainty of the future for his family land, he decided to move back home and open up this one of a kind restaurant with his partner.
The Farmer and the Larder is not your average Southern restaurant, which is exactly how they designed it.
“We are built on what we call E.A.T., which stands for Educational Adventures in Taste,” Jovan says. “For us, it is all about taking people out of their comfort zones.”
And they accomplish that goal with style and flare. The atmosphere is very inviting and comforting, while their menu will push your tastebuds to places they are not used to, but they will most definitely thank you for taking them.
Javon further explains, “We create menus that are accessible for many, but also challenging for others, and in the process we are challenging the way most people are looking at Southern food.”
And their sense of community extends way beyond their menu design, but also reaches into how they interact with their patrons. Consistently having tastings and special events provide a more intimate space for their customers to get to know them, and feel more at home with their favorite restaurant in town.
“We are constantly looking for new ways to provide opportunity for people to continue to create community.”
And when we speak on community, let’s peel back a few layers and look at things from a different lens.
Living in the South does not provide any easy roads to success, especially if you are African American. Even if you graduate from the top culinary school in the country, because of prejudice and generational racism, people will still question your knowledge and status.
Because of the color of your skin, living in the South, people will assume you are just the back of the house, instead of the owner of the establishment. Matthew and Jovan are no exception to this unfortunate reality.
However, instead of putting up walls and being rightfully angry, they used these moments as an opportunity to find inspiration to actually make a change. And they did.
Jovan and Matthew have developed what they call a “community table,” and it has become a cornerstone of their restaurant.
“If you are a single top, or a deuce and we do not have a table available, we will ask you to sit at our community table” Matthew explains.
“Then you have a decision to make, either you can step outside of your comfort zone, and enjoy a mouthwatering meal at the same table as some people you may not know, or you can figure out another plan for your evening,” and miss out on such a humbling experience.
Matthew elaborates, “When you do sit at our community table, towards the end of your evening, you are making friends with people who you probably would have never met, and having conversations with people you may not have ever talked to.”
And their food is just the catalyst for such conversation. They opened up with a charcuterie board adorned with house made pickles, crustinis, and bacon jam. A panzanella salad tossed and topped with homemade croutons.
I then promptly unfastened my belt so I could continue. For my main, I chose the fresh market fish of the day, which was under a bed of fresh vegetables and risotto.
Melissa chose the “double oink,” which is a bone in pork chop, wrapped in bacon, served under a bed of sauteed vegetables with their homemade jelly.
I noticed Javon running one of their burger plates, which was served with no bun in a cast iron topped with a duck egg; needless to say, I’ll be coming back.
After unbuttoning my pants, at this point I could see the finish line, which was in the form of a sea salt pot de creme. This food was incredible, and simultaneously my mind and heart felt completely satisfied.
This is way food was intended, this is the way to build a solid community of people around the culture of a city. This is the way to inspire people coming together and step outside of their comfort zone, and into a zone of growth.
Restaurants like this one, always leave me hopeful for what the future holds. Matthew and Jovan are a beacon of light for the future, and he explains to me:
“It is and always has been important for us to create opportunities for folks to come together and reach across the table.”
That feeling is quite evident when you spend an evening in this space. My soul is warm after this one. Let’s keep stirring that pot, people.