Farmhouse at Serenbe with chef Marie Nygren

Marie Nygren was born into Southern cooking.

With her husband, Steve Nygren, she is the co-founder of Serenbe, the idyllic small town-meets-country community near Palmetto in south Fulton County. And these days she juggles dual roles as proprietor of the Farmhouse restaurant and director of the Serenbe Southern Chefs series.

But Nygren’s roots run deep in the traditions of the venerable Southern meat-and-three. Her mother, Margaret Lupo, longtime owner of the beloved Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta, was a grande dame of Southern cooking, known as the Queen of Greens.

“I say I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was in utero,” Nygren declared while sipping a glass of mint iced tea in the kitchen at the Farmhouse. “Mother was pregnant with me when she had her first restaurant, Margaret’s Tray Shop. When I was 2, she bought Mary Mac’s.”

Nygren spent much of her youth at Mary Mac’s, going from drying silverware as a child to cashier and hostess during her teens. Until recently, though, most of her time in the kitchen was about cooking for her husband and three daughters.

Originally, the Farmhouse kitchen was part of the family’s country home. Later, it became the hub of a bed-and- breakfast, which evolved into an inn and conference center.

The Farmhouse opened to the public as a restaurant in 2006, employing several professional chefs. But in early 2009, Nygren took back her kitchen, developing new takes on the kind of food she grew up with at Mary Mac’s.

“I’m not in the kitchen every day,” Nygren said. “I have cooks working with me, but I’m creating every recipe and menu and overseeing things much the way my mother did. It’s my own more upscale version of a meat-and-three that’s a bit healthier and more modern.”

Farm-to-table is a trend at restaurants these days. Many mornings, Nygren drives a few minutes down the road to gather tomatoes, okra, corn, greens and other vegetables from Serenbe’s 25-acre organic farm.

But she also has a kitchen garden close by, where she can grab some beans or clip a bunch of basil.

“When we permanently moved to the farm in 1994, one of the first things we did was put an organic garden in our backyard,” Nygren said. “We watched our girls help plant, harvest, then prepare and eat the food they’d grown, which was a wonderful educational opportunity and an almost magical experience.”

Bringing that kind of magic to others is one of Nygren’s passions. Last year, she started the Southern Chefs Series, which Garden & Gun magazine described as a “sleepover for Southern foodies.”

The two-day, hands-on workshops feature chefs such as Linton Hopkins, Anne Quatrano, Kevin Gillespie, Frank Stitt and Hugh Acheson working side by side with participants in the Farmhouse kitchen.

“I wanted to bring in people who are just as passionate about Southern food as I am, but from a different perspective,” Nygren said. “And I wanted to give people a really intimate experience. It’s really fun watching people interact with the chefs. It’s another way of fully honoring my Southern heritage.”

These recipes from Marie Nygren and the Farmhouse restaurant at Serenbe are filled with the flavors of Southern cooking made with seasonal vegetables and fruit.

Farmhouse Fig Cake

Hands on: 1 hour Total time: 2 hours, including cooling time Serves: 16

Figs are so abundant and delicious this time of year, and perfect for this sweet Southern layer cake. Use your favorite homemade fig preserves or good quality store-bought.

For the cake:

3 eggs

11/2 cups granulated sugar

11/4 cups canola oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups fig preserves

1 cup pecan pieces, toasted

For the cream cheese frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 pound box confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the layers: Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans. In a medium bowl, beat eggs until light in color. Add sugar and oil and continue to beat to make a smooth batter.

In a bowl, combine flour with cinnamon and salt and stir. Add half the flour mixture to batter and stir to blend. Add buttermilk and sour cream and mix well. Add remaining flour, baking soda and vanilla and stir to mix well. Add preserves and nuts and stir into batter. Divide batter equally among 3 prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool layers on wire rack for 15 to 30 minutes. Loosen layers by gently running a knife around edge and turning out onto wire rack to continue cooling while making frosting.

To make the frosting: In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese and butter and beat with mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add sugar and vanilla and beat at high speed until fluffy.

Spread frosting between layers and over assembled cake.

Per serving: 536 calories (percent of calories from fat, 53), 5 grams protein, 59 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 33 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 65 milligrams cholesterol, 317 milligrams sodium.

Chicken Paillards With Summer Vegetable Sauté

Hands on: 45 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes, including marinating time Serves: 4

This spicy version of chicken paillards is a Southern take on the traditional French dish, served with seasonal summer vegetables lightly sautéed to retain their color, flavor and snap.

For the chicken marinade:

4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon Tabasco

For the summer sauté:

1/2 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups fresh corn kernels

1 cup okra, sliced

1 cup tomato, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

To coat the chicken:

1 cup white cornmeal

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

To marinate the chicken: Using a heavy-bottomed saucepan or skillet, pound chicken breasts between sheets of wax paper or in a ziptop bag until 1/2-inch thick. Place chicken in a large bowl or new ziptop bag and add buttermilk, garlic salt and Tabasco and marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

To prepare the summer sauté: In a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil and onion and cook until golden. Add corn and sauté 3 for minutes. Add okra and cook until just tender and still bright green. Mix in tomatoes and basil and cook 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm until chicken is prepared.

To prepare the chicken: Distribute cornmeal in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Dredge marinated chicken breasts in cornmeal, coating all sides, and shake off excess. Season with salt and pepper.

In a cast-iron skillet over medium to high heat, melt butter with oil. When hot, place chicken in skillet and fry 5 to 7 minutes per side until cooked through and golden brown. Place each breast on a plate and top with a quarter of the vegetable sauté.

Per serving: 683 calories (percent of calories from fat, 55), 33 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 42 grams fat (9 grams saturated), 82 milligrams cholesterol, 376 milligrams sodium.

Chilled Cucumber Soup

Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 4 hours, 30 minutes, including chilling time Serves: 4 to 6

This chilled soup is a healthy way to cool down on a hot afternoon. Featuring fresh herbs and vegetables, it’s easy to make ahead and chill overnight.

2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup low-fat plain yogurt

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 cup mint leaves

Salt and Tabasco to taste

1 red bell pepper, finely chopped

In a blender or food processor, combine cucumbers, chicken broth, buttermilk, yogurt, onion, garlic and mint and puree until smooth. Season with salt and Tabasco to taste. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. Taste and season again, if necessary. Pour soup into chilled bowls and top with chopped red bell pepper.

Per serving (based on 4): 123 calories (percent of calories from fat, 15), 9 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 6 milligrams cholesterol, 310 milligrams sodium.

At Serenbe, community co-founder builds on and modernizes concepts she learned at her mother’s venerable Atlanta restaurant, Mary Mac’s Tea Room.