photographs by Eric Waters

Your average Sunday supper doesn’t include gochujang corn pudding. Fortunately, the chef behind this particular dish, as well as the collard-green kimchi, stands near enough to overhear this diner’s question. “Gochujang is a Korean red pepper paste, and we added a little hint of coconut,” she says. Oh.

Then again, your typical Sunday supper also doesn’t include a jazz quartet, airy white tents, 13 chefs and perhaps twice as many sous-chefs, and 112 guests ranging from foodies to bloggers to city council members to country club types. The cross-section of style ranges from white jeans and belly-button-length beads, to white-haired gents in button-downs, to pashminas and graphic tees.

The guests have gathered at Double Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Greensboro on this balmy September evening for Community Table, an annual fund-raiser organized by Triad Local First, a nonprofit that supports and advocates for all the locally owned, independent businesses in the area. Whether a company sells tires or antiques, sews clothing or landscapes yards, if it’s not a franchise or big-box store, Triad Local First exists to connect that business with others and to provide the most up-to-date information on running a small enterprise.

One of those businesses is Undercurrent, whose chef, Michael Harkenreader, is describing a sampling of hors d’oeuvres being passed around: “Pickled vegetables with basil, Peppadew, Lusty Monk mustard, bourbon maple aioli, and jalapeño watermelon rind. Bacon-wrapped emu and dried strawberry terrine. Beef summer sausage and peppered salami slices.” Those goodies are tucked on platters among dried okra pods, grape tomatoes, and blooming flowers, emphasizing the theme of this Community Table event, “6° of Southern,” which translates as: It’s Southern, all right, but with a detour around the globe.

Bringing community to the table: Double Oaks owners James and Amanda Keith (top left); organizer Mary Lacklen (bottom right). photographs by Eric Waters

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Community Table’s venue changes annually, and the choice of Double Oaks is a perfect Sunday supper fit: a grand, gracious home built in 1906 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Big-bellied porches define the exterior, while inside the Colonial Revival mansion, along with six upstairs bedrooms, is an expanse of foyer and square parlor and sitting rooms with polished dark floors, columns, and hearth mantels. Naturally, there’s a grand piano, often put to use on Wine Wednesdays, a 6 to 8 p.m. “happy hour kind of thing,” according to James Keith, who, with his wife, Amanda, has owned the place since 2016.

The Keiths have made extensive renovations to the outdoor spaces, including decks, a kitchen, a raised observation perch atop an old Model T, and a stage — all to host parties, weddings, and tonight’s Community Table. Local brewers and distillers, including Preyer Brewing Company and Sutler’s Spirit Company, have set up in the backyard. Beside life-size cardboard cutouts of their bearded selves, Bill Norman and son Andrew of Fainting Goat Spirits concoct very adult lemonades made with their award-winning Tiny Cat Vodka.

The coordinator, consultant, and all-around head honcho of Community Table is out here, too: Mary Lacklen, a Triad Local First volunteer, and organizer of the event for the past five of its eight years. “The dinner table is where things happen,” she says, reaching for a buttermilk fried pork cheek with grape confit appetizer. A restaurateur for 35 years, Lacklen considers the job “a natural fit for me.” She selected the site, the decorator, and the chefs, who vary year to year. “Organizing executive chefs is like herding cats,” she admits, but somehow, a gaggle of chefs from Mozelle’s Southern Diner, Gia, Crafted, Scrambled, and several other area restaurants have agreed on a menu longer than your forearm that includes five — yes, five — courses.

“I don’t want to micromanage the chefs because you don’t want to limit their creative side,” Lacklen says. Not that she need worry. The third course, “From the Fields,” is sheer creativity: sweet tea Manchester Farms quail, sweet potato-carrot agrodolce, dressed greens, Angostura-tarragon muscadines, brown butter walnut soil. Look twice at that “soil.” Sure enough, the dirt-textured patch on your plate is finely ground, toasted, buttered walnuts.

Among the inspired dishes at “6° of Southern” is Greensboro Country Club chef Reed Gordon’s “From the Fields”: sweet tea Manchester Farms quail with greens, muscadines, a sweet potato-carrot sauce, and a delicious secret ingredient called “soil” — finely ground, toasted, buttered walnuts. photograph by Eric Waters

During the dinner, guests sit at long tables with white cloths and fall floral arrangements in bark vases on a burlap runner down the middle. Chefs step up before each course to announce their handiwork — “East Branch Ginger micro beet and cilantro salad”; “blueberry chèvre cobbler” — and remark upon how they have each other’s backs. On this night, especially, the chefs form a community for a common cause.

Guest Matt Logan, a financial planner who donated a bus to help with transportation to the event, reaches for a small Ball jar on the table and examines the contents. Turns out that this utterly Southern container holds a honey-and-whiskey dipping sauce for the strawberry biscuits, whose dough is so soft and moist that you can smush it between your fingers the way you did as a child with fresh Sunbeam bread.

The wines, the ricotta, the delicately poached eggs, the flowers, the after-dinner coffee, even the small army of waiters — everything has been donated this fine fall evening. Community Table is hardly your typical Sunday supper, but exactly like your typical Sunday supper, it’s about fellowship, laughter, and giving. And really, really special food.

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Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.

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