A morning at Mandolin Farm with Chef Sean Fowler

Chef Sean Fowler | Photo by RALtoday

Chef Sean Fowler takes local to the next level at Mandolin, his eatery located on the corner of Fairview and Oberlin roads. He sources as much produce as he can from his backyard — seriously, his actual backyard.

Just 20 minutes away from his restaurant is Mandolin Farm, a quarter-of-an-acre of planted produce, greenhouses, 28 chickens, and two four-year-old goats (Cocoa + Lovey).

A look around the farm is basically a sneak-peek of what’s on Mandolin’s new, seasonal menu. So naturally, we had to check it out. 

Family roots 🌱

Growing up, Chef Sean always had a garden at his house. “I would help my dad plant things like eggplant and tomatoes — and I did not love it at the time,” Sean said. “But I did realize how much better those tomato sandwiches were than the ones I made with tomatoes from the grocery store. There’s something different about food that you grow yourself.” 

Inspired by his childhood and other restaurants with gardens, Sean decided to grow some of his own produce for Mandolin, which opened in 2011. He started a farm on the North Raleigh property he grew up on in 2013 to grow his own local, fresh + quality produce. 

He creates his dishes based on whatever produce is flourishing at the time, like the new spring pea agnolotti + pickled ginger caesar. Both are primarily constructed with farm-fresh ingredients at their center.

Spring onions for the vinaigrette

What’s in season 🍅

When we opened the farm’s gate, we were greeted by rows of leafy greens, root vegetables, pea plants, budding blackberry bushes + enough rosemary to last a year (at least, that’s what it looked like to us). 

As summer approaches, squash, peppers + lots of tomatoes and herbs will take over, Sean said. Restaurant goers can expect summer tomato dinners in Mandolin’s near future. Plus, almost all of the lettuce, herbs and eggs in his dishes will come from the farm. 

Whatever he can’t grow himself (like meats and cheeses) is sourced from local farmers, often from the NC Farmers Market

What we made 🔪

Sean grabbed buckets and filled them with the ingredients we’d need to make roasted root veggies tossed in a charred onion vinaigretteHe pulled turnips, spring onions + zig-zagging carrots straight from the ground. “Ugly vegetables are all the rage,” he said, laughing. He also clipped fragrant mint, purple chive blossoms, and pea flowers for the garnish. 

Before we knew it, we were in Mandolin’s kitchen + Sean was sautéing veggies, blending together ingredients for the vinaigrette, and plating a delicious, truly farm-to-table meal

Sean’s roasted root vegetables dish

The recipe

Want to try cooking the dish Sean prepared for us? Here’s how to make roasted root vegetables with charred spring onion vinaigrette, mint, and Marcona almonds. 

Ingredients:
For the roasted vegetables
6 baby carrots, cut into half-inch sections
5 baby Hakurei turnips, about the size of golf balls, cut into one-sixths
1 tablespoon olive oil
A pinch of salt and pepper
One-fourth cup freshly chopped mint
One-fourth cup chopped Marcona almonds (feel free to substitute with regular almonds or pistachios)

For the vinaigrette
3 spring onion bulbs (just the whites)
6 ounces blended oil (olive oil/canola blend)
2 ounces white balsamic vinegar
1 ounce honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
Vinaigrette 

  1. Sear the onions in a pan until they are dark brown or charred. Rough chop them once they have cooled.
  2. Add the onions, oil, vinegar, and honey to a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste.

Roasted Vegetables

  1. Preheat the oven to 430⁰F.
  2. Toss the vegetables in the olive oil + season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the veggies on a sheet pan and roast in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown, flipping them once during cooking.
  4. Toss the roasted vegetables in enough vinaigrette to thoroughly coat them.
  5. Serve with almonds and mint to garnish.