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3 questions with chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food and Drink

Chef keeps his friends close and his farmers closer in new Waxhaw eatery

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Chef Paul Verica stands several inches taller than me, with a broad grin and shaggy brown hair that nips the back of his neck. He leans over and points out several items on my plate. "Those are Sammy's carrots and Kim's peppers and that pesto is made from her arugula, she gave me a ton of that."

It's refreshing to hear a chef so intimately acquainted with his farmers that he calls them by first name. Verica's hyperlocal menu reads like a roll call of his farmer friends, and each week he scribbles out new offerings based on the seasonal bounty of his local producers. Heritage Food and Drink (201 W. South Main St., 704-843-5236 www.heritagefoodanddrink.com) opened in the charming town of Waxhaw this past November, with a farm-driven concept that is worth making the trek. Verica hails from the Charlotte country club at Longview, where he spent the last eight years building a loyal following of diners enamored with his locally inspired, creative cuisine. Here's Chef Paul on why he chose Waxhaw, his philosophy in the kitchen and more.

Creative Loafing: What sparked your desire to open a restaurant?

It's been my lifelong dream, it really has. I've tried to spend the majority of my career going between front of the house and back of the house. For the last 10 years, I've always held that dual role because this was always the end game. I wanted to make sure I was well-balanced. But I love cooking. One of my biggest reasons for doing this was that I missed cooking every day. I had become such an administrator. Here, I do 90 percent of the cooking.

Why Waxhaw?

A lot of reasons. I felt like there was a need for something a little more upscale. I also love the town, I love the small feel of it. One of the biggest reasons was the rent. Many of my chef friends were like, "You're going where?!" but, you know what, I'm going to spend a third of what they're spending on rent. Also, Sammy [owner/farmer of New Town Farms] is right down the road and he's one of our biggest suppliers.

What is your over-arching philosophy in the kitchen?

Our tagline is "Looking back to go forward." Technically, I'm old school in a lot of ways, but I've got two circulators running 12 hours a day and I would be lost without my cryo-vac machine. But the biggest thing, or rather my philosophical approach, is that most times, the chef wants to tell the farmer what to do, and in reality, I think it should be the other way around. That's the biggest thing. I talk to my suppliers during the week and what they have is what drives the menu. It's about that relationship.

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