Top Chef’s Jamie Lynch Goes E-I-E-I-O

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By Helen Mitternight

Chef Jamie Lynch is bleeding. As he sits in the dining room of 5Church Charleston, an emphatic gesture nudges a drop of blood from his finger onto a legal pad. And, while you might expect someone who has competed on Top Chef to shed blood after high-speed knife-play in the kitchen, this is a different kind of wound.

“That’s a shovel blister,” he says, taking a bandage from his girlfriend and farm manager, Corey McGovern.

These days, Lynch is as likely to be using a shovel or a hoe as he is a knife. He and McGovern have started a six-acre farm in Belmont, NC, about a half hour from 5Church Charlotte and hope to provide vegetables to both the Charleston and Charlotte restaurants. The idea is a complete circle, with the farm supplying the produce and the restaurants providing the food scraps to become compost back on the farm.

Lynch knew nothing about being a farmer when he started, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to get up close and personal with his ingredients. He and McGovern apprenticed themselves to farmer friend and restaurant supplier Sammy Koenigsberg, of New Town Farms in Waxhaw, NC, providing labor in exchange for Koenigsberg’s depth of knowledge.

“He got free labor and we got a free education, but he let us do the dirty work like cleaning up the chicken poop,” McGovern says.

Although Lynch says he will still buy from others – his farm can’t possibly produce everything the busy restaurants need – he and McGovern are growing arugula, beans, cucumber, different types of radishes, squashes, baby head lettuces, microgreens, kale, and bok choy. They’re also raising chickens for eggs being used at restaurant brunch and McGovern is growing flowers that will grace the restaurant tables.

Lynch, who had somewhat of a reputation for partying hard, says living out on the farm allows him to better separate his work and his private life.

“It’s a game-changer,” he says. “Working outside, weeding and shoveling compost, hauling bedding for the chicken coop…it wears you out. As soon as the sun goes down, it’s lights out for me.”

“We under-anticipated a lot,” McGovern says. “Like the amount of work and money it takes to run a farm.”

 “Yeah, the farm is currently a nonprofit endeavor,” Lynch says, adding that he has “next-level” respect for farmers and the hard work it takes to do it right.

“Maybe I’ll use weeding as a punishment tool in the kitchen,” he jokes. “Over-cooked something? Weed a bed!”

Lynch says he hopes to expand the farm, adding beehives and event space for farm dinners, cooking classes and other events.

“This has taught me the art of patience and time,” Lynch says. “To go from the house where live and where the tools are kept to the fields is a giant vortex of time suck. I spend three hours a day wandering because I forgot tools. Everything takes time and I am not a patient person. It’s humbling.”

“It’s good for you,” McGovern says to Lynch.