Chef Garret Fleming, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, joins Motto in Durham by way of Washington, D.C. The new chef de cuisine started this month.
Fleming graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he studied philosophy and French. He pursued his love of all things Gallic by moving to France after college and studying at C.L.A. in Besancon, France. He graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, before returning to Charleston to work in illustrious kitchens including The Peninsula Grill and Mercato. He’s also worked at Stella’s in coastal Maine and helmed Washington D.C.’s The Lincoln and The Pig.
Fleming’s years of extensive travel influence him in the kitchen. “I like to study the cuisines forged around the historical meeting of cultures—peaceful or otherwise,” he says. “Through this context, I have been introduced to Southeast Asian cuisine – from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, in particular—which continues to inspire my evolving cuisine.”
He is taking Motto’s menu to the far reaches of the Roman Empire, incorporating French, Mediterranean, Baltic and North African cuisines. “As the Roman Empire conquered new regions, they took the best of what they found in those new cultures and adapted them for their own use,” Fleming said. “As they discovered new spices, for instance, they added them to their cuisine.”
The chef has something of an obsession with an antiquated condiment known as “garum,” a fermented fish sauce which traces its origins to the Romans, who perfected the fish sauce after acquiring the ingredients from the Greeks. Fleming has incorporated garum into a number of his signature dishes at Motto, including the crispy fried brussels sprouts which boasts a garum-honey glaze, venison filet with garum vinaigrette and the whole fried fish which is flavored with a garum and ginger caramel.
Fleming’s enthusiasm for food is evident in every recipe and component of his scratch kitchen. Kevin Jennings, co-owner of Urban Food Group, is excited about the new direction Fleming is taking the restaurant: “Garret is so passionate and so educated about a broad range of cuisines. We’ve given him creative license in the kitchen and have been delighted with what he’s come up with.”
Other guest favorites to emerge include khachapuri, a Georgian pastry filled with Muenster and Havarti cheeses accompanied by rabbit sausage, pickled beets, and topped with a truffled egg yolk. The lamb “gyro” platter is a pleasing portion of slow-roasted lamb shank served with m’smen, a Moroccan flatbread, tzatziki and harissa, roast eggplant confit, fermented beets and fried potatoes. And an assortment of classic, handmade pastas has proved popular.
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