Farm-to-Table Fare

Chefs' faves from local culinary college



If you're seeking healthy dishes that don't sacrifice flavor, look no further. Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) in Pittsboro is home to a culinary institute that trains natural chefs. Its associate degree and continuing education programs focus on locally farmed and sourced ingredients, including those from the school's own organic garden.


Expert chefs teach courses on nutrition, farm-to-table cooking, therapeutic cuisine and other topics at the juncture of food and wellness. These chef/instructors have agreed to share their tips and recipes as well as culinary stories, which often started in the kitchens of their childhoods.



Chef Kelly Burton
Culinary passion runs in chef/instructor Kelly Burton's family. She credits her mother with being a great cook, and both of her sisters are chefs. One, Jennifer James, has been nominated six times for the James Beard award, which honors excellence in cuisine.


Burton received an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Illinois and pursued a graduate degree at Kendall College in Chicago.


Subsequently, she worked under Peggy Ryan while Ryan was Chicago's chef of the year. That apprenticeship gave her the opportunity to learn from Julia Child, Paul Bocuse and other role models. While living in Vietnam, she took hands-on lessons on the country's cuisine and further expanded her culinary education in Morocco, Thailand, Laos and Sri Lanka.


"I eventually had an opportunity to open several restaurants with my sister Jennifer, and after many years of hard work, I chose CCCC because I loved the sustainability part," Burton says.


To this world traveler, cooking is a soulful journey that should be researched and respected. Her advice to those who want to start preparing healthier dishes is to determine their goals and then decide what they want to cook and eat.


Burton shared two recipes that embody her philosophy.


Roasted Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 3/4 pound), peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces (Tip: Steam or boil the potatoes for 10 minutes and allow to cool for easier peeling and dicing.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 cup quinoa, any color, rinsed
1-3/4 cups vegetable broth or stock
(Tip: Make your own by simmering carrots, celery, onion and thyme in a pot for a couple hours or in a crockpot the night before.)
2 cups stemmed and finely chopped curly kale
1/2 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup julienned red onion or finely minced shallots
1 tablespoon 5-spice powder (taste and add more if desired)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup.


(Even if you used the steaming tip in the ingredients list, still follow these instructions.) To prepare the sweet potatoes, toss them with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and arrange in a single layer on prepared baking sheet.


Bake for 10 minutes, then stir/turn over and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer, until tender and slightly brown. Set the pan aside to cool.


Combine the rinsed quinoa and broth in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, about 20 minutes. It will expand and be aerated but not be tough to the bite. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and set aside to cool.


2 ounces fresh basil leaves
1 ounce fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon local honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

Blend all in a blender until thoroughly mixed.


Mix all ingredients together and toss gently (avoid mashing the potatoes). Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.


Yields 4 servings



Mini Kohlrabi Korean Short Rib Tacos
3 pounds beef short ribs
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger root, minced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons gochujang (a savory, spicy, fermented Korean condiment),
plus more for serving
3 tablespoons honey
2 kohlrabis with at least a 3-inch diameter
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons pickled red onion
Black sesame seeds, for garnish

Drop together the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, gochujang and honey. Pour over the ribs. Cover and braise in 325-degree oven until the meat is falling off the bone (2-3 hours) and has caramelized around the edges.


Transfer the meat to a bowl and shred with a fork, discarding the fat. Skim the fat from the remaining sauce, and add up to 1/2 cup of sauce to the meat and gently toss.


Using a mandolin, very thinly slice the kohlrabi into rounds to use as your taco shells.


Place 5-6 kohlrabi "taco shells" on each plate, filling it with braised beef and sprinkling cilantro, pickled red onion, sesame seeds and a drizzle of gochujang.


Yields 4 servings


Chef Erin Ducker
In New Orleans, notes native Erin Ducker, "we quite literally live to eat. While eating breakfast, we're talking about lunch and thinking about dinner."


Ducker received a bachelor's degree in art and lived in Italy and Germany. While working as an office manager, she says, "I would go home after a full day and bake enough bread to feed the entire neighborhood."


Going back to school in culinary arts "was the best decision I ever made," she says. "Every day, I get to go to a job I absolutely love."


Ducker believes in whole, simple ingredients – nothing artificial or hydrogenated, real butter and everything in moderation.


Over the past three years, she has maintained a 40-pound weight loss. "I don't deprive myself of things. I just make sure what I eat is real, honest food."


"When you have a burger made from local, grass-fed beef for the first time or eggs that were laid that morning, the flavor blows you away. I eat what's in season and buy as much as I can from the local farmers."


Ducker shared the recipe for her son's favorite chocolate chip muffins (on the condition that we don't tell him they're healthy) as well as a breakfast staple that's packed with nutrients and fiber.

Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 large egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup apple sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mashed bananas (about 3)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Drop together eggs, brown sugar, apple sauce, vanilla and mashed banana. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients.


Mix the wet with dry ingredients only until combined. (If you overmix, the muffins will be tough.) Fold in chocolate chips.


Fill muffin cups about 2/3 of the way up and top with additional chocolate chips if you'd like. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.


Yields 8-9 muffins


On-the-Go Oats

1/4 cup quick-cooking organic steel cut oats
1 tablespoon organic ground flax seed
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried fruit (apples, cranberries, blueberries or raisins)
1 tablespoon toasted nuts (sliced almonds, chopped hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans)
Dash of cinnamon


In 8-ounce jar, stir together steel cut oats, flax seed, brown sugar and cinnamon. Layer fruit and nuts on top. (The jar can stay sealed in your cupboard for six months to a year.)


When you're ready to prepare, remove the lid, fill the jar with water or milk to the first ring on the jar. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir, microwave for another 30 seconds. Place the lid back on and let sit for 2 minutes.


Yields1 serving




Chef Robin Hamilton
The kitchen has always been a focus for Robin Hamilton's family. She remembers baking Christmas cookies with her grandmother and playing sous chef for her father while he prepared gorgonzola and spinach pasta, still one of her favorites.


Hamilton, who holds a master's degree in holistic health education specializing in nutrition, moved here from California in 2011 to attend the natural chef program at CCCC. She cooked in the kitchens of a local restaurant, a summer camp and a bed and breakfast. Since 2012, she has been an instructor at the college.


Teaching at the college as well as becoming a mom, Hamilton says, has relaxed her attitude toward what she puts on the plate.


"I no longer believe that butter is bad or that kale is a superfood, but I believe we need to understand and respect all foods and appreciate there is a time and place for them," says the chef.


"I relish the challenge of reinventing leftovers, substituting ingredients and swapping out different components with what I have available, which is usually a healthier version of the original," says Hamilton.


Here are recipes that display her passion.


Moroccan-inspired Three Potato Salad

2 pounds white potato with skin on, cut into chunks
2 pounds sweet potato, peeled and chunked
1 pound red/new potato, halved
2 red onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 inches ginger, minced
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
Zest and juice of 1 ruby red grapefruit
Extra virgin olive oil (start with 1/2 cup and add as you go to keep everything moist & coated)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/4 cup vinegar
Paprika, cayenne, cumin, turmeric, coriander to taste
1 to 1-1/2 cups green olives, halved
1 to 1-1/2 cups raisins
1 to 1-1/2 cups mixed nuts, chopped, toasted (Tip: To toast nuts, place in a dry skillet and toss in the hot pan.)
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

Boil potatoes in salted water until fork tender. Strain and let cool.


In the meantime, caramelize or sweat the onions with salt, pepper, garlic and ginger. (Place in a small pan and cover with a lid, allowing the natural juices to render and brown the onions – about 30 minutes.)


Once potatoes have cooled, add extra virgin olive oil, maple, citrus zest, juices, vinegar and spices. Mix gently and let marinate 20 minutes Fold in olives, raisins, nuts and caramelized onions. Adjust seasoning and add more extra virgin olive oil, as needed.


Top with fresh herbs and enjoy at a picnic or family gathering!


Yields 12 servings


Beachy Lentil Hummus

1 cup French lentils
2 cups liquid, broth or stock
1/2" strip kombu (a sea vegetable)
5 garlic cloves, sliced
1-2 teaspoons turmeric
2-3 tablespoons tahini
1/4-1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon miso (Japanese seasoning paste)
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and/or flaxseed oil
Lots of pepper
Dash of salt


Cook lentils, broth and kombu for 20-25 minutes or until softened. (May need to add more liquid as they cook; if there is leftover liquid, save and repurpose later!)


In a food processor, add all other ingredients, including the cooked lentils. You may want to alter consistency and taste by adjusting the amount of spices, oil and vinegar.


Can eat hot, room temperature or cold. Great with veggies, chips, as a sandwich or pizza spread, on top of a salad, with a spoon...Enjoy!


Yields 4 servings as a side dish or 10 as a spread




Chef Regina Minter
Regina Minter began her culinary education when she was a kid helping her grandmother prepare holiday meals. As a high school sophomore, she signed up for her first culinary arts class. It was taught by Gregory Hamm, who's now the executive director of CCCC's Culinary Institute.


Minter holds a bachelor's degree in Food Service Management from Johnson & Wales University, whose notable alumni include Emeril Lagasse and Tyler Florence.


A true Southern gal at heart, Minter loves the region's fare, but is also conscious of beneficial nutrients. The result: "Soulful cooking with a focus on healthy living."


Minter's advice for someone who wants to start prepping healthier chow? Begin with the things you enjoy eating. Substitute ingredients a little at a time until you find the best way to create a dish that's delicious and good for you, too.


Minter provided us with mouthwatering recipes that you won't believe are healthy alternatives!



Homemade Spaghetti

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 carrot, shredded
1 onion, diced
1 zucchini, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1-1/2 quarts vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
3 fresh sprigs thyme
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
4 leaves basil
3 stems fresh parsley
1 pound ground turkey
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium to large spaghetti squash

In a saucepot, heat oil. Add tomatoes, carrots, onions and celery. Cook for 5-10 minutes on medium, allowing vegetables to caramelize. Add zucchini and cook until tender.


Add tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Add stock, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, basil and parsley. Bring to boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes.


While sauce is simmering, brown ground turkey in 1 tablespoon of oil, then set aside.


Prepare spaghetti squash by cutting it open length-wise. Remove seeds and brush inside with 1 tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the squash in a baking dish or cookie pan with the inside facing down and bake for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees or until tender.


Once squash is done, remove the inside by scraping using a spoon. Make sure to use a heat-resistant glove, as it will be hot. Add meat to sauce and serve.


This dish is an excellent alternative for gluten-free and low-carb lifestyles.


Yields 4 servings



Salisbury Steak With Mashed Cauliflower

1 pound lean ground chuck
1/2 onion, diced
1 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (Tip: Use gluten-free bread to keep this dish gluten-free.)
1/4 cup oil
2-1/2 cups beef stock
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 head cauliflower, stem removed, broken into pieces
1 cup cream
Salt and pepper to taste


In a bowl, mix together ground chuck, onion, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, eggs and breadcrumbs. Combine well and portion into 4-ounce balls.


Heat oil in pan on medium high, add meatballs and slightly press down top. Cook 4 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside on paper towels to absorb excess oil.


To make the gravy: Bring 2-1/4 cups of cold stock to a boil in a saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup of cold stock and cornstarch. Pour cornstarch/stock mixture into the boiling stock. Allow to simmer, stirring, about 5 minutes until it thickens.


Add steaks to gravy and simmer on low for 10-15 minutes. In a large pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil with 2 teaspoons of salt. Add cauliflower and cook until tender, about 8-10 minutes.


Remove from pot and drain. Mash and put into a clean towel or several layers of paper towels to remove excess water by squeezing. Place into pot and add cream, salt and pepper. Serve the mashed cauliflower alongside the Salisbury steaks and gravy.


This dish can be another great gluten-free and low-carb option.


Yields 4 servings