Plum Southern Kitchen & Bar Executive Chef Trenton Shank draws on family cooking traditions to reinvent classic dishes
By Amber Watson | Photo by John Michael Simpson
It’s the time of year to warm our bellies and souls as we gather around hearty meals with family and friends – a tradition that sits at the core of Plum Southern Kitchen & Bar, located in an old brick building downtown. Plum was created and inspired by family cooking traditions and the idea of creating memories and feel-good moments over food. Owner Lisa Callaghan’s grandmother and mom, who were both great cooks, are the inspiration behind the restaurant. Restaurant ownership also runs in the family: Lisa’s brother, Kevin Callaghan, has owned the acclaimed Carrboro restaurant Acme Food & Beverage Co. since 1998.
Making use of fresh, local ingredients is nothing new to Lisa, who grew up enjoying meals with vegetables (beans, tomatoes, pickles) from her grandmother’s garden. That produce was later turned into jellies, jams, chutneys and chow-chow. She also recalls slow-roasted pork shoulder for Sunday dinner.
One dish that captures the season and the feeling of comfort is Plum’s beef – locally raised in Bahama – and mushroom stroganoff, with noodles and mushroom cream sauce made in-house ($26). It can also be ordered vegetarian (they bulk up on the mushrooms, adding in larger oyster and beech mushrooms, and keep the cream completely vegetarian using mushroom stock instead of beef).
“This is a dish I grew up eating my entire life, and it’s one of my favorites,” says Trenton Shank, Plum’s executive chef. “I love taking comfort food that many people can connect with and understand and refining it in a way that represents the soul of the dish. My favorite beef stroganoff is still the one my grandmother made, but I want to honor and pay homage to where the inspirations come from without competing and making it the exact same way.”
Plum’s modern take on stroganoff starts with local beef shanks that get a hard sear in a cast-iron pan, the same way Trenton’s grandma began her recipe. It’s braised low and slow until fork tender, complete with lots of fresh aromatics such as thyme, rosemary, and a blend of different mushrooms and a little kombu.
Sticking to the tradition of egg noodles, the Plum kitchen makes its own in-house – milk and eggs get worked into the dough, giving the noodles rich body and flavor. Trenton then sautés a medley of mushrooms and adds the braised beef along with a little of the braising liquid before mounting the mushroom cream sauce into the mushrooms and meat. Adding the noodles and a dollop of Daisy sour cream is the last step. Each element is thoughtful and gratifying, including the garnish on top: pickled mustard seeds, pickled shallots and a seasonal gremolata filled with sage, carrot and rosemary. Dig in!