Mallorey Atkins of Farm to Belly Delves into Local, Seasonal Food in France and Ireland

(left) Freshly plucked onions in a copper pot at the historic French château. (right) Chef Mallorey Atkins feeds the geese at the Château de Bouthonvilliers. PHOTOS BY COLLEEN SCHINDLER-LYNCH

Growing up in Callisburg, Texas, population 300, Mallorey Atkins could not have imagined that she would eventually spend an idyllic spring playing the role of chef for artists and writers in residence both in an historic château in France and on a quaint estate in County Kerry, Ireland. That she would teach an international cadre of creatives how to make ‘smores—with homemade marshmallows and graham crackers—around a firepit as the moon rose over mountains before returning to Texas, her mind full of lessons learned about farm-to-table freshness in other countries and climes.

Trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Dallas and a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Atkins was asked by Dallasite and photographer David Marriott to cook for his Atelier Artist in Residence program. Atkins is founder of the catering company Farm to Belly and, at home, grows an organic garden from which she plucks and incorporates seasonal zucchini, tomatoes and peppers, collard greens and kale, the staples of potatoes, carrots and onions and the bounty of asparagus and lots of herbs—a rotating, protean set of crops in a small space.

Cooking for the resident artists in France and Ireland, Atkins melded her Southern, Texan roots with the myriad local products at hand in a rollicking adventure of shared culture. In the Château de Bouthonvilliers, with its hectares of land and 18th-century Mansard roofs, she fed kitchen scraps to the grounds’ peacocks, ducks and geese while welcoming in local goat cheese and jellies and daily deliveries of fresh bread and croissants. The historic manor’s ovens weren’t calibrated, and so she gauged their temperature with her hands. She used the plentiful, knobby celeriac roots she saw at market to make puree and marveled at the abundance of “very good, fresh seafood.” And even with her proximity to farm- and garden-to-table vegetables in Dallas, “I was very impressed,” she says, with how much the produce felt “wholesome” and “pure” in both settings. Even in supermarkets, “it’s more fresh and seasonal.”

(left) Atkins surveys the fresh seafood stalls at the local farmers market in France. (right) In Ireland, guests roasted homemade ‘smores over a firepit.

Meanwhile, Atkins bridged cultures: her rabbit pot pies with a cutout of Texas sat next to the cutout of a shamrock or the shape of France. She “pivoted” mightily to find ingredients for a comforting batch of charro beans or tres leches cake and even managed to concoct a local Frito-esque Texas Chili Pie. Ultimately, for someone whose motto is “imaginative and in-season,” Atkins met a delicious match and node of inspiration. She’s bringing back memories of friendship and the importance of fresh, seasonal food in any local ecosystem. “It’s getting that way in America,” she says, “but we’re still not there yet. We still have a lot of work to do.” For her part, she says, “I try to get more and more from local farms and [cook] as seasonally as possible.” Yes, “it costs a little bit more,” but she’s hoping that increasing numbers of consumers will champion an idyll she lived abroad and supports at home.

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EVE HILL-AGNUS teaches English and journalism and is a freelance writer based in Dallas. She earned degrees in English and Education from Stanford University. Her work has appeared in the Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, and the journal Food, Culture & Society. She remains a contributing Food & Wine columnist for the Los Altos Town Crier, the Bay-Area newspaper where she stumbled into journalism by writing food articles during grad school. Her French-American background and childhood spent in France fuel her enduring love for French food and its history. She is also obsessed with goats and cheese.