West Virginia Chef Stays True to Her Roots

Chef Anne Hart has cooked her way around the country, but she returned to her home state of West Virginia in 2002, where she opened Provence Market Café in Bridgeport. Roots are important to Hart. She is a supporter of Collaborative of the 21st Century Appalachia, a nonprofit that encourages culinary tourism to the region spearheads many farm-to-table initiatives featuring local produce. She also features local ingredients on her seasonal menu, melding them with French-inspired flavors. Hart has just returned from the Farm to Table International Symposium, in New Orleans, where she was a guest panelist. We dragged her out of the kitchen to grill her about her devotion to Appalachia ingredients and recipes, and how to interest the new generation and culinary tourists alike in the area’s food traditions. Although you were born in West Virginia, your culinary career took you around the country. What brought you back to your home state? I actually came home just to take a break from years of working long hours and to catch up with my family. The plan was to stay in West Virginia for a couple of months and then throw a dart at the map to see where I was going next. It didn’t quite work out that way…. What are your main food initiatives with the Collaborative? My initial connection with the Collaborative was to help bring the chefs to the farmers as sourcing local ingredients wasn’t particularly easy. Networking with the chefs around the state really got this off the ground. I’m also involved with the Cast-Iron Cook-Off, a culinary gathering that showcases regional New Appalachian Cuisine, giving healthy tweaks to traditional recipes. How are you encouraging culinary tourism, and why do you think this is important to the state? West Virginia is unique in that we are the only Appalachian state entirely in Appalachia. We celebrate our heritage from our early immigrants, the Scotch Irish, the Dutch, the Germans, and the English, and what each has brought to the table — literally. They were traditionally “mountain-locked” and had to use year-round what could be grown in our short growing season. Canning, preserving, and utilizing “nose to tail” was a way of life. My restaurant serves South of France-inspired cuisine, yet I try to add a nod to my heritage and the foods of Appalachia. I might serve a Ramp Bisque, Fried Green Tomatoes with a Mediterranean Salsa, a Morel and Truffle Pasta, Molasses-Lacquered Pork Belly, Lamb Ribs, or Scotch Egg Benedict. I use local ingredients indigenous to West Virginia when available: tomatoes, corn, squash, swiss chard, etc. I feel it’s important that by creating a menu that supports and honors our roots, it keeps our traditions alive. How do you connect West Virginia’s culinary culinary traditions with healthy, delicious eating today? In a sense, West Virginia’s culinary tradition has always been healthy, as only real foods were eaten, albeit not necessarily low-fat. Processing and the change of workplace without the change of diet contributed to the…

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