Amy Tornquist embodies the past, present and future of Durham’s thriving food scene. She was born at Watts Hospital, grew up in Trinity Park and went to Duke School. (In fact, her family has been in our state for something like 300 years.)
After honing her skills under the tutelage of the legendary Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner and a three-year stint in Paris, Amy opened Sage & Swift Catering in Durham in 1993, before the national media had even noticed our food scene, let alone crowned it as one of the best in the South.
Fourteen years later, she opened Watts Grocery. Named for a little store she frequented as a child, it fulfilled her dream of owning a warm, homey restaurant serving up “a great meal that speaks to our region and roots.” It’s gotten nothing but praise since, and her latest venture, Hummingbird Bakery, is on the same trajectory.
The world now lauds Durham food in part because of pioneers like Amy, who works with her husband, Jeremy Kerman. And the great news is she’s not going anywhere. A frequent conversation topic among her customers is, “What would you do if $5 million fell in your lap?” “Lots of people say they’d move to New York or D.C.,” she says. “I’m like, ‘I’d fix up my house.’ I can’t imagine living someplace else.”
Editor’s Note: Amy Tornquist is hosting a Roots of North Carolina Dinner on April 26 at Watts Grocery. It’s part of the Taste event series. Amy will create a menu based upon the dishes that have been created and perfected in North Carolina over the past two centuries. (Hint: Amy’s famous caramel cake will be included!) Marcie Cohen Ferris, author of The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region, will give a narrative of the history of North Carolina cuisine. Each course will be paired with a wine from Piedmont Wine Imports. Tickets are $85 and are available at Taste 2015’s website. A portion of proceeds will go to the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern N.C.