The Whole Foods on West Paces Ferry Road is not what people generally consider budget shopping. Tucked inside Buckhead Village, across the street from restaurants like Chops Lobster Bar, the grocery store is set firmly inside a neighborhood steeped in luxury, a place where thrift is an afterthought if it's considered at all. Canoe's executive chef Carvel Gould knows what she's doing around here. She should — she grew up in a house on West Paces Ferry, attended primary school at Westminster on West Paces Ferry, runs her restaurant on West Paces Ferry and lives in a townhouse just off West Paces Ferry. Most of her life, save for a few crucial years attending the University of Georgia in Athens, has transpired around this road. It's no surprise she would shop on it, too.
Gould has a few tricks for shopping at Whole Foods without spending the whole paycheck. Those big bags of ripe cherries? She breaks one open for just a few because they're sold by the pound, anyway. Instead of buying the packaged slivered almonds, she gets a small handful — just what she needs — from the bulk section. Fruit and vegetables pile up in her cart — oranges, avocado, broccoli rabe — but she passes by the pricey options from the butcher, electing for a tiny can of anchovies instead. "I could care less about the protein most of the time," she admits.
Back at Gould's townhouse, her family history comes into clearer focus. Proudly displayed on the wall is a Civil War-era portrait of Col. L.P. Grant, the relative from whom Gould got her middle name of Grant and who donated the land to the city that became Grant Park. Seven generations later, Gould's family still lives in Atlanta. Margaret Mitchell baby-sat her mother. To say that Gould's Atlanta roots run deep would be a vast understatement.
Of course, a well-bred young woman like Gould wasn't supposed to grow up to be a chef, to work long, hard hours among the foul-mouthed men who typically run the backside of a restaurant. Gould says that when she told her mother of her intentions, she was sent to speak with Gerry Klaskala, an acquaintance of her mother's who was then the chef at Buckhead Diner, with the expectation that he would talk her out of it. When he found he couldn't, he offered to put her on the schedule for a few days, sure that the fast-paced and difficult work environment would change her mind. Gould says that after working in the restaurant for about a week, she meekly asked Klaskala if she was a real employee yet. Busy with an order, Klaskala looked over his shoulder and barked back, "You're on the goddamn schedule, aren't you?"
In the years since, Gould has developed a philosophy with her food that is as apparent at Canoe as it is with the modest menu she's prepared today. Each of the three dishes — orange and avocado salad, broccoli rabe and anchovy pasta, port wine cherry rice pudding — express singular, focused flavors. The saltiness of anchovy serves to bring out the nutty flavor of broccoli rabe, and the fat of the avocado adds depth to the citrus that runs through the salad. The creamy rice pudding is nearly a blank canvas for the sweet but substantial port wine cherries.
"I suppose I fuss over the ingredients, but I don't want to obscure them," Gould says. "I respect them. I work so hard to get them and get them right. I know it's a cliché, but there is always one star and everybody else is just a supporting actor. There's always meant to be one thing that stands out and everything else should compliment it."
Seated at her dining table, Gould is particularly in tune to the history of her ingredients, to the way that past is conveyed on the plate. "These farmers and these fishermen, they go through these processes. I go to Alaska every year to hang out with the guys from 'Deadliest Catch,' and what they go through and the politics concerning that is amazing. So now you have this fresh king crab that's never been frozen — how are you going to respect it and make sure people can taste the difference? If you put this big glob of stuff on it, then why buy the fresh crab? Why go to the length to make sure that it was only caught a couple days ago? There's no point; you can't tell. It's like making a beautiful couture dress and wearing an overcoat over it."
Next: Three delicious recipes from Carvel Gould
Orange and avocado salad
• 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
• 1 avocado, halved and cut into thick slices
• 1 navel orange, peeled with a knife and segmented
• 1 head butter lettuce, rinsed and roughly chopped
• 1 plantain, sliced thin as possible and fried until crispy
• 2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 2 pinches of salt
• 2 pinches of sugar
• Cracked pepper to taste
For the dressing, juice the orange remnants from peeling, strain into a large bowl and combine with sherry, olive oil, salt, sugar and cracked pepper, whisking vigorously until emulsified. Toss the butter lettuce, onion, orange and avocado in the large bowl, mixing until fully dressed. Serve with fried plantains atop.
Broccoli rabe and anchovy pasta
• 1 can anchovies, roughly chopped with oil reserved
• 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin as possible
• 1 bunch broccoli rabe, thick stems removed, parboiled until soft and drained
• 1 box whole wheat linguine, cooked in salty water and drained
• 1/3 cup olive oil• Juice of 1/2 lemon
• Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste
• Red chili flakes, to taste
Drizzle cooked pasta with reserved anchovy oil. In a pan over medium heat, toast garlic and red chili flakes in oil for a few minutes. Add broccoli rabe, lemon juice, a splash of stock or water, and anchovies and turn off heat. Toss the pasta in the pan until totally combined. Serve with a generous shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Port wine cherry rice pudding
• 1/3 cup jasmine rice (substitute Arborio, if possible)
• 1 1/3 cup milk (almond milk, if possible)
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1/2 tablespoon salt• 1 pinch cinnamon
• 1 large handful of cherries, pitted and sliced in half
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 small handful of slivered almonds
• 1/4 cup port wine (if port is unavailable, use any red and add an extra tablespoon of sugar)
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• Pinch of salt
For the rice pudding: Combine all ingredients in a pot over medium heat and stir. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to just above a simmer and half cover. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chill.