Interview: Auburn, Alabama Chef David Bancroft
At the 2014 Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, chef David Bancroft really impressed us at the Southern Grown tasting tent with his dish Buckwheat Noodle “Take-Out” with Nduja Vinaigrette & the Acre Garden. Afterward, chef Bancroft shared a little of his background and told us about his new restaurant Acre.
What’s your background? How long have you been working with food?
I was born in Mobile, Alabama, but grew up in San Antonio, Texas. I loved the art of slow-rolling Texas beef barbecue. In high school I would throw briskets on the mesquite smoker and head to an early double-header baseball game. After the first game I would return home to replenish the fire, then return for the second game. After the second game the guys and I would head back to my house to mow down some brisket while my older brothers snuck us some Lone Star Light.
I enrolled at Auburn University in 2001 to study business marketing. I was elected kitchen steward at my fraternity because all I ever did was cook. I was obsessed with the original Iron Chef and began experimenting with more elaborate recipes. My senior year I asked my parents if I could enroll at the Culinary Institute of America instead of going to graduate school. They urged me to apply at a local restaurant first. After my first year in the industry I was offered the Executive Chef position. I stayed with that restaurant for six and a half years, transitioning it to a farm-to-table concept after I planted a one-acre garden behind the building. After that, in September 2011, I began my quest to open Acre on one full acre of land. We purchased the property during the fall of 2012 and began construction January 2013. We officially opened on August 22, 2013.
What's the concept of Acre and the gardens that surround the restaurant?
I built my restaurant on one exact acre of land in downtown Auburn where we try to work sustainably. We have a full working vegetable garden and fruit trees wrapping the entire parcel of land as our edible landscape. Currently we are growing broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, collard greens, beets, radishes, romaine, herbs, olives, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, plums, apples, pears, figs, persimmons, pomegranates, Meyer lemons, mandarin oranges, guava, and bay laurel. The foods that I am unable to source or grow in large quantities I source from local growers. I don’t have a special style or food philosophy — other than Southern hospitality — I just know where my food comes from.
Would you mind sharing your inspiration for the tasting tent dish you featured at the festival: Buckwheat Noodle “Take-Out” with Nduja Vinaigrette & the Acre Garden?
I really enjoy the concept of street food. After my first trip to Atlanta Food & Wine Festival two years ago I decided that I wanted sneak some street food to the festival. Last year, I served “Redneck Tamales” which featured homegrown collard leaves stuffed with sweet potato cornbread and brisket merguez and finished with garden beet "hot sauce." This year it seems like everyone is going crazy about noodles. My goal for AFWF-2014 was to feature our charcuterie program. Trying to find the link between charcuterie and Chinese take-out was a bit tricky. By turning nduja into "salami vinaigrette" and using soba as the vehicle, I was able to combine other simple ingredients to serve clean comfort food.