I like duck, and if it’s on a restaurant menu I’ll often lean that way. I’m rarely disappointed (fact is, I’m easy to please). But it wasn’t until I had the duck at True that I realized how refined and far from the garden the duck in those other restaurants has become.
As I ate it seemed that here was duck that someone from the household had shot that morning (in the spirit of Catching Fire making a zillion bucks over the weekend, I’ll say it was the 14 year old eldest daughter of the house, up just before dawn, crunching lightly across the frost). Roasted and sliced over a bed of braised collards with a handful of baby heirloom carrots that her little brother pulled from the garden just before cooking. A dollop of mashed butternut squash and a spoonful of cherry compote that had been put up the previous fall. In the quiet of the softly appointed dining room it was easy to believe we were in that farmhouse at the big family table, rather than a chic restaurant in Montgomery.
When some of my favorite restaurant meals are impressing me with the way the flavors are balanced, I find myself thinking in awe, “How did they do that? How did they know to mix those ingredients in exactly those proportions?” I didn’t feel that way at True. It seemed obvious. Now my fantasy farm fades and I imagine Chef Wesley in the kitchen, the vegetables in front of him (that were, indeed, pulled from a garden that morning), and the duck laid out (which was, in fact, killed that morning not far from Montgomery), cooking and arranging almost without thinking about it. Just paying attention to the food and what it was and where it came from.
If there is a New Southern Cooking in Alabama, following the path that Frank Stitt started on 30 years ago, a way of thinking about food that marries the most iconic ingredients of the rural south with a global sensibility and technique, then this is one of its finest exemplars.