"We buried some duck in kasu for about a week and then brought it to New York for you," Andrea Reusing says.
She gently shakes the lovely snow-white sake lees off a cured magret and explains that the Japanese traditionally use kasu to make pickles. Swapping duck for vegetables imbues the flesh with a twang of nutty umami. Today she pairs the bird with pickled apples from Upstate New York, honey and caramelized Hayman sweet potatoes, a hard-to-find breed from eastern Virginia.
The dish (see the recipe) is sweet, and earthy, hard to pin down and easy to like--much like Reusing herself.
Reusing runs Lantern, a celebrated restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC, and is the author of the very pretty, personable book, Cooking in the Moment. Named Best Chef Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2011, she is self-taught and originally from New Jersey.
At Lantern, the inspiration is far-flung (Chinese, Thai, Korean), while the raw materials are sourced closer to home (North Carolina crabs and porgy and meat from farms 15 to 20 miles away).
Reusing got hooked on Asian flavors eating around Manhattan's Chinatown while studying film at NYU. When she moved south, she found an unexpected overlap between Southern and Asian tastes.
"A lot of what we love about Asian food are flavors people really love in the South: crunchy fried chicken, salty ham, spicy hot sauce, braised greens. We make an XO sauce at the restaurant with the finely shaved ends of country ham."
Asked why she called the place Lantern, Reusing says she was looking for something that didn't evoke one cuisine or another. "We wanted something warm and welcoming, made by people you'd want to have dinner with."
Again, that sounds a lot like Reusing herself.