Eight Local Chefs Share Their Favorite Meals to Make at Home

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meals to make at home
Chef Zweli Williams’ favorite dish to make at home is a papaya and roasted corn and bean salad, which is also served at her restaurant, Zweli’s Kitchen.

We have a sense of what our local chefs are up to in the kitchens of our Durham restaurants, but what about when he or she is off the clock? I asked a handful of chefs to share beloved meals to make at home, the one ingredient they just can’t live without and what they like to grow or find fresh. 

Thomas Card, executive chef, Counting House at 21c Museum Hotel

One of my favorite meals to make is what my mother called “goulash,” and others refer to as “American Chop Suey.” It’s penne pasta with red sauce, ground beef and a lot of cheese. I prefer mozzarella and Parmesan but have used pecorino and provolone as well. When I make this at home for the family, everyone gets a big bowl with some garlic bread, and we devour it until we can’t eat anymore.

Along that same line, I always keep a wide variety of cheeses in our fridge as well as a variety of cured meats and salami for a midday snack or an easy, go-to breakfast.

I like to help my mother with growing varieties of different foods in her garden – one of my favorites is sugar snap peas. I enjoy eating them raw, right off of the vine, because they’re so sweet and crunchy.

Toriano Fredericks, co-owner/chef, Boricua Soul

My favorite meal to cook is a handmade burger in the cast-iron skillet. We cook some bacon in the skillet first, and then cook the burger in the same hot skillet. Sometimes just seasoned with salt and pepper, or sometimes mixing a Lipton onion soup packet into the ground beef before cooking. Devin, our son, is a burger fanatic, so this always makes him happy.

meals to make at home

One ingredient I definitely can’t live without is garlic.

When we first bought our home, we planted a small rosemary bush near the front door. I go out there all the time and snag some because it has so many uses: steaks, soups, meatloaf, etc.

Jimmy Kim, proprietor/chef, Cucciolo Osteria 

My favorite meal to make at home is fried rice. It’s the easiest and most convenient way to get rid of leftovers, and it is something I’ve made almost my entire life. … When I was about 8 years old, my brother and I used to make it every Sunday morning with rice, butter, kimchi and Tabasco, and eat it watching cartoons. These days, it is usually our lunch when we have leftover steaks from the night before: Just chop them up, add veggies, soy sauce, butter, and voila! The key is for the soy sauce to first touch the sizzling pan (rather than pouring it on the rice/ingredients) – it gives a deeper flavor.

One ingredient that is always in my fridge is onion. You can put onion in anything! And my favorite fresh ingredient to use is kale – I just love kale.

Matt Kelly, chef/owner, Saint James Seafood

My favorite meal to make is raclette, which is similar to the social aspect of eating fondue. It’s boiled potatoes and melted cheese. I first made it at Vin Rouge 18 years ago. It is great made with Chapel Hill Creamery’s Calvander cheese and served with cornichons and Dijon mustard. I make raclette in the fireplace at home all winter.

I always have butter in my fridge, usually salted because it lasts longer. You’ll always find two brands: Kerrygold Irish butter and Maple View Farm butter. 

In the spring, farmers market asparagus is what we wait for – it’s the marker of that season’s arrival. As chefs, we get a lot of produce delivered to the restaurants, but when we go to the market, we get new inspiration all the time.

Mike Lee, chef/owner, M Restaurants

I love cooking steaks and smoking meats at home – it has been a serious hobby of mine for a long time. Whenever I have guests or groups of my staff come over, I usually make assorted grilled meats, such as smoked prime rib, Korean barbecue, etc. and finish with either my kimchi stew or Korean miso soup (with miso that my mother ferments).

One of my must-have ingredients isonion or green onion – such humble and simple ingredients, but they make so many dishes taste better. I love sautéed onions in butter on a skillet, seasoned with just salt and pepper and a dash of white wine vinegar – it’s my favorite side dish next to a thick rib-eye!

My family loves planting vegetables and fruits in our backyard. You can’t beat homegrown products, and it teaches our kids how important farming is and also the difference in flavor compared to store-bought products. Some of our favorites to grow and eat are Korean chili peppers, Korean cucumbers, buttery lettuces, persimmon trees, and we’re experimenting with specific strawberries from Korea and melons from Japan. Whatever we can’t grow or don’t have, our first stop is the local farmers markets or direct from the farms with connections to our restaurants. At M Tempura, for example, we are getting almost 99% of our vegetables that we fry and use from various local farms that our manager, Justin Nye, works at during days off.

Sam Papanikas, executive chef/managing partner, Bleu Olive

My favorite meal to cook at home is on Easter Sunday when we roast a whole lamb on a spit! The family gets together outside of the stresses at work to enjoy our blessings. We also make a traditional Greek soup called magiritsa, which we make from the offals of the lamb. 

The one ingredient I can’t do without is Dijon mustard. I put it in everything, from fish and meat condiments to marinades!

Marla Thurman, chef de cuisine, Pizzeria Toro

My favorite meal to make at home is cast-iron seared steak; I love rib-eye with simple seasoning. Go generous on the salt and cracked black pepper and a good olive oil. Plus a salad – whatever greens I can get local and fresh with a little fresh herbs (basil or chives) and good olive oil, salt, cracked pepper and red wine vinegar. I try to keep basil growing, and my yard is full of wild chives. At the market every week, I love to get fresh turmeric and ginger, which is so good for teas.

A couple ingredients I always have in my fridge are kimchi and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Zweli Williams, co-owner/chef, Zweli’s Kitchen

I love making soups for the fall and winter, layering broths to create the most in-depth, yet light, flavors. In spring and summer, it’s definitely fresh salads. It’s always amazing how simple, raw fruits, veggies, nuts and grains can come together to create beautiful and refreshing salads. My favorite is the fresh ripe papaya and roasted corn and bean salad we also serve in the restaurant during this season.

meals to make at home

A must in my pantry is always garlic. I honestly can’t cook a meal without the smell and flavor of some fresh garlic.

I love planting fresh herbs in the spring. This spring, I’m planting piri-piri chili peppers to be used in the restaurant. I also love going to the farmers market on Saturday mornings to snag a variety of fresh ingredients for seasonal specials.  

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Amber Watson

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