Fall is certainly one of Western New York’s more beautiful seasons, and the rolling, foliage-covered hills of Chautauqua County is an idyllic spot from which to view it. I was pleased to have been asked to co-host The Athenaeum Hotel’s first Farm-to-Table dinner last weekend, so Saturday morning I hopped in the car and made my way down state.
The Athenaeum is a stunning example of late 19th century Victorian architecture, and its location upon the grounds of the significant Chautauqua Institution makes any visit a remarkable getaway. Though late fall is considered off-season, and most of the residents have closed up their summer homes and the Institution’s event calendar is clear, it makes for a peaceful and romantic excursion.
Bruce Stanton, General Manager of The Athenaeum, and this season’s chef-in-residence, Ross Warhol, worked together to develop a true farm-to-table dinner. Chef Warhol visited farms and wineries all over Western New York in order to gather the appropriate ingredients for the dinner, and was even a guest on my recent Chef-to-Farm tour where he found the wine for the evening’s second course at Arrowhead Spring Vineyards.
Chef Warhol is a Western New York native who has worked in the kitchen of Chef Daniel Johengen of Daniel’s, and studied under Chef Steven Dufree, former Head Pastry Chef at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in California (considered by many to be the best restaurant in the United States). Chef Ross is a graduate of Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park and the Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley, where he graduated at the top of his class and received the Excellence in Baking and Pastry award. He is currently awaiting word on an internship at elBulli in Barcelona.
Dinner began with a brief social hour in the lobby with lovely hors d’oeuvres and the chance to meet many of the farmers whose products were being featured on the menu. Once we were seated at tables for eight in a dining room which overlooks the lake, we enjoyed a remarkable five course meal with brief introductions of each course made by Mr. Stanton, and in some cases, myself. It was a great opportunity to be able to discuss the Field & Fork Network and the efforts we’ve made to develop and support the farm-to-table movement here in Western New York.
For the purpose of anyone wishing to source local ingredients, I’ve decided that it would be best to simply include the entire menu along with links.
The Athenaeum’s Farm-to-Table Dinner
Haff Acres Rutabaga & Apple Soup with Nutmeg Crème Fraiche ~2008 Traminette, Leonard Oakes Estate Winery – Medina, NY
Good Grass Farm Pan-Seared Chicken Breast, Cauliflower Puree, Mustard Greens, Green Heron Grower’s Shiitake Mushrooms, Betts Farms Sautéed Grapes and Whole Grain Mustard Sauce~Proprietors Reserve, Mazza Chautauqua Cellars – Mayville, NY
Roasted Pumpkin, Vinewood Acres Maple Brown Butter Molasses Biscuit, Vanilla Yogurt Sorbet and Caramel Opaline~Red Ipocras, Johnson Estate Winery – Westfield, NY
I was very impressed with Chef Warhol’s plating and presentation, as well as how he paid close attention to integrate a textural experience into every course. The chicken preparation featuring Good Grass Farms Cornish Rock Cross Hen was the best chicken I can recall having ever eaten. Freeman Homestead’s pork was succulent and flavorful. Though Chef Warhol’s talents are to be credited for making both of these dishes excellent, the inherent flavor of the meat in both instances was outstanding.
My favorite course of the evening—the second–featured a remarkable and mind blowing bacon jam (Chef Warhol could make a fortune simply by bottling this product), beets, microgreens and Raindance Farms’ take on asiago; the accompanying soft poached sous vide egg was a delight.
Having worked on a number of Western New York farm-to-table events myself, I can tell you that only an extremely dedicated person can prepare a meal of this caliber, in this region, that is virtually 100% local. Chef Warhol is exceptionally talented, we can only hope that at some point in his career, he will return to Western New York to open a restaurant of his own.
I think this dinner provided a remarkable opportunity for the farmers and producers to experience what a talented chef can do with the ingredients they work so hard to raise. It was also a pleasure to meet excited guests who, prior to the dinner, were unfamiliar with the farm-to-table movement or the depth and breadth of Western New York’s agricultural bounty. I am very much looking forward to next year’s event—I hope you are, too!
posted by Christa Glennie Seychew