Plates Kitchen focuses on local produce, old- school recipes

By on August 8, 2019

In recognition of National Farmers Market Week Aug. 4-10, we are highlighting a local chef who makes the State Farmers Market in Raleigh a regular stop for his restaurant shopping list.

For Jake Wood, executive chef at Plates Kitchen, cooking with locally-sourced ingredients isn’t just about making the freshest food possible – it’s also about being part of North Carolina’s food culture that has cultivated his own culinary roots.

Wood took over executive chef duties at Plates at 301 Glenwood Ave. Suite 100 in January after working at 18 Seaboard in Raleigh. He described Plates as a “neighborhood kitchen,” designed to cater to a wide variety of tastes.

“This is an attempt at creating a staple here in the community that people are comfortable coming to for any occasion,” he said. “It’s just an all-inclusive community kitchen where we source locally.”

That local sourcing is at the heart of what Wood does, and shapes the Plates menu from day to day. Wood gets many of his ingredients at the N.C. State Farmer’s Market, where he has developed relationships with the farmers that he routinely buys his produce from.

Walking past the stalls at the market, Wood and Ed Forbis, Plates sous chef, know exactly where they want to go. They are clearly regulars for their favored farmers, drawing smiles and greetings as they pick up peppers, corn and several types of fruit. Those relationships have been built
through time and consistency, Wood said.

“We support our local farmers, our local businesses, our local fishermen,” he said. “So obviously going to the farmer’s market like we do, having the relationships that we do with some of these local folks, it just ties right in to what we do and what we believe in.”

Plates’ menu reflects its local origins, which means it changes as ingredients come in and out of season – a point of pride for Wood.

“If it is not growing here or coming out of the water here or in the fields here, it’s not going to be on our regular menu,” he said. “We do special wine dinners, game dinners and other special events which call for us to go outside of that, which is completely fine, but our motto is to source locally and our menu reflects that.”

As one could probably guess after seeing one of Woods’ trips to the market, the Plates menu is heavy on fresh produce. It is also, as Woods puts it, “old-school.”

The main dining room at Plates Kitchen in Raleigh.

“A lot of these flavors and dishes are what I’ve learned and what I grew up seeing. It’s not in a classroom or under a French-trained chef, it’s what I grew up seeing and the flavors that I grew up eating, and I have taken that and found my own way to put that on a plate.”

Wood got much of his early culinary education from his grandparents. While neither were chefs, he said, they lived off the land and taught Wood to respect the work done to provide people with the food they eat.

Finding ways to modernize the home-cooked dishes he ate as a child has been the central challenge for Wood as a professional at Plates.

“Especially with where we’re at with the food scene here in Raleigh, it’s a great time to be a part of it,” Wood said. “There’s a lot of talented people, there’s a lot of great restaurants, there’s a lot of great product coming from our state, so it helps us stay ahead of the trends and stick true to what we’re doing here.”

Buying locally sourced ingredients has a long list of economic and social benefits, Wood said, but it also simply makes for better food.

“I think it has to do with, for instance, me being familiar with the taste of a tomato that is from here and grown in this soil. I think that our tomatoes have a certain acidity, whereas if you’re getting packet tomatoes, they’re very bland and just don’t have a great flavor,” he said. “I think that buying locally you get the flavors that have been cultivated over generations, that have been passed down through families that have made it their life’s work to make sure this corn is as flavorful as it can be.”

Fresh tomatoes at the N.C. State Farmer’s Market

Wood encouraged fellow chefs to get as much of their produce locally as possible. Consumers are more and more aware of where their food comes from, he said, and it is important for restaurants to make sure they are supporting local producers as much as they can.

That is especially true, he said, if large produce companies do not make working with small farmers a priority.

“It’s very very important for folks to focus on what’s being done locally and support that, because I promise you those bigger companies who are trying to sell you a cheaper box of tomatoes are doing nothing to try to buy from these growers,” he said. “That makes it even more of a point for me to go and buy from them.”

Wood encouraged fellow chefs to get as much of their produce locally as possible. Consumers are more and more aware of where their food comes from, he said, and it is important for restaurants to make sure they are supporting local producers as much as they can.

That is especially true, he said, if large produce companies do not make working with small farmers a priority.

“It’s very very important for folks to focus on what’s being done locally and support that, because I promise you those bigger companies who are trying to sell you a cheaper box of tomatoes are doing nothing to try to buy from these growers,” he said. “That makes it even more of a point for me to go and buy from them.”

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