Oakleaf’s Chef Serves Generous Portions and Advice

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At first, Leslie and Brendan Cox thought about throwing a dinner party, but “[We’re] not fancy, dinner-party people,” Leslie says. “We’d be using the nice china that our children have already told you we never use,” she laughs. Daughter Catie, 13, had indeed pointed out the “never used” china cabinet earlier.

Brendan and Leslie at home.

In the kitchen preparing for a crowd, Brendan and Leslie put kids Catie, Charlotte, 11, and Evan, 10, to work shucking corn. “They’re all old enough now that, frankly, I feel like they should be doing everything for us,” Leslie jokes. Charlotte loves to play hostess and makes a mean dessert, Evan likes to be the dishwasher and Catie is a whiz with paperwork, helping out Leslie, who runs Oakleaf’s front-of-the-house business.

Perfecting the pork belly.

The spread at their historic Pittsboro home was impressive – grilled hamburgers and pork chops, as well as dry roasted pork belly, a salad of cucumber, tomato and cantaloupe, zucchini pickles and potato salad. “Brendan’s always afraid people are going to go hungry,” Leslie says. The chef was just as generous with his advice for cooking about any recipe. “Don’t forget to use salt, season as you go and don’t be afraid of butter: fat carries flavor,” he says. And buy good-quality ingredients: “You can only make a mediocre apple pie from mediocre apples,” Brendan says.

The Cox family’s backyard was the perfect setting for this casual meal.

Also check out the Coxes’ Alberello Cafe & Market.


2 star anise pods
2 Tbsp. black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 cardamom pods
1 tsp. cayenne
1 Tbsp. Espelette pepper
Kosher salt

Grind spices together. Mix with an equal amount of kosher salt, and rub on a 4-pound pork belly at least 8 hours before cooking.



2 lb. potatoes, diced*
White wine
1 Vidalia onion, diced
2 oz. chives, chopped
1⁄4 cup Duke’s Mayonnaise
4 Tbsp. whole-grain mustard
14 dashes Tabasco
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Poach potatoes in a mixture of salted water and white wine. Drain and chill. Combine all other ingredients and fold them into the potatoes. Serve.

“Buy potatoes from the farmers’ market,” Brendan says. “It makes a difference.

Photography by Briana Brough

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Laura Zolman Kirk

Associate Editor Laura Zolman Kirk is a Kentuckian turned Chapel Hillian and totally in love with this special slice of North Carolina.
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