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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region.

ORAL HISTORY

Ben and Karen Barker, owners


Magnolia Grill

The husband-and-wife team of Ben and Karen Barker has been serving traditionally inspired, ingredient-driven Southern food at Durham’s Magnolia Grill since 1986, long before restaurants in the area began to call themselves “farm-to-fork.” A native of the North Carolina Piedmont, Ben draws upon childhood memories of his parents’ and grandparents’ culinary techniques and use of farm-fresh vegetables. Karen, a native Brooklynite, has been baking for most of her life and now relishes the chance to pick fresh berries in the summer. The two met on the first day of culinary school and have been cooking together ever since. They are among the Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s most loyal patrons, having built close relationships with many of the farmers.  Though Magnolia Grill is consistently lauded as one of the best restaurants in the South and has garnered praise at the national level, the Barkers insist that much of their success lies in the quality of their ingredients.

Date of interview:
2011-07-10 00:00

Interviewer:
Kate Medley

Photographer:
Kate Medley

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