Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Opposite of Sous Vide

I'm gonna get an immersion circulator and cryovac machine in 2009. I really am. However, for right now, let's consider what I did this weekend.

I had the opportunity to cater a Holiday open house this past sunday and one of the requested items was a whole roasted suckling pig. So, I called up my friend Doug Hillyard and asked to borrow his pig cooker. He said yes and nicely dropped the beast off at the site. I started the fire around 6:15am and by 6:45 I had our 40 pound pig in the cooker and smoking away.(The open house started at 4pm) Why am I telling you all of this and spending an entire blog post on it?

Here's the thing. I've been doing a lot of research about the advantages of sous vide and compression through cryovac. One thing that impresses me the most is the precision with which you can cook food. I think I'm a little spoiled. When we turn on the gas, it's there. The ovens are calibrated. The copper cookware provides consistent results every time. And with the addition of sous vide, we'll be able to really get specific. That's cool. However, when I threw the pig on the smoker, I had a minute to think over how cool this idea of how little control there was in the cooking process I was engaged in. It was basically, pig and fire....no immersion circulator cooking to tenths of a degree C. Of course, there were variables. It was windy as hell for one. WWWWIIIIIIINNNNNNDDDDYYYYY. Anyhow, it was a beautiful thing for me. Self-proclaimed control freak. Cooking over a wood fire with not much control. It was amazing. Oh yeah, it turned out to be the hit of the party.

FYI, the pig isn't on the cooker. I kept some wood going into the night because I really enjoyed standing outside, watching Dan smoke cigarettes and just really enjoy the evening.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Tasting Menu, Part Three - Execution

OK, so this post will be primarily videos from our Chef's Table this past saturday. Obviously, I'm not Steven Spielberg, but you get the general idea of what dining at the Chef's Table is like.

Canapes: Roasted Swedish Peanut Potato with black truffle creme fraiche and bacon; cream of chestnut soup and a puree of Cope's Corn Soup; BLT-House smoked bacon, truffle mayonnaise, micro lettuces

First Course: Kobe beef tongue and brioche with horseradish sauce and cornichons
Fish Course: Gingersnap dusted tilefish

Poultry: Roasted Amish Goose
Meat: Chex Mix crusted Venision

Cheese: Prune and Argmanac Sticky Bun with warmed brie
Dessert: Peppermint doughnuts with warm dark and white hot chocolates

OK, there you have it. Happy watching.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Tasting Menu, Part Two - From Concept to Execution

So, here's Part Two. Like I said in the first post, everywhere you go, chefs and restaurants have different ideas about what a tasting menu means to them.....I thought I'd throw down some thoughts on what you're getting into at The Sheppard Mansion and the ideas that go into putting these menus together.

First, we need to start with a plan. So, here's the road map that we plug dishes into at the restaurant.
A. Canape
B. Canape
C. Canape
D. Bread Service
1. First Course
2. Fish Course
3. Poultry Course
4. Meat/Game Course
5. Cheese
E. Coffee Service
F. Pre Dessert
6. Dessert
G. Cookies

Hopefully, You'll notice that there are both numbers and letters. The numbers signify the actual 6 courses that are advertised as the 'tasting'. The letters signify small bite sized courses and bread and coffee service. These canape/pre-dessert courses are our way of saying thanks for not ordering the beef tenderloin and crab cake!(not that there's anything wrong with that.)

So, now that we have a road map, let's get into the nitty gritty of what I'm thinking behind each course. As far as overall concept goes, I'm looking to build from lighter to heavier flavors throughout the course of the meal. Also, I'm trying to 'push and pull' a little bit right up until the meat course and then relax the tension through the dessert. I know this sounds a bit over the top, but remember this is to be a gastronomic experience, not crab imperial at Phillips.

Canape A: This is usually our signature Swedish Peanut potato topped with black truffle creme fraiche and our own bacon. Yes, it is usually the same from week to week(the canapes may or may not change with the tasting menu....that's my one opportunity to bring some memory recognition if you've had the menu before, since there is rarely a dish duplicated in the 6 course menu)

Canape B: Almost always a pureed soup. Warm soups in the winter, chilled in the summer.

Canape C: This is more than likely where we'll slide in something unusual.(I know what you're thinking 'As if bone marrow stuffed french toast and pig's tails wasn't unusual enough') This course really just depends on what has come it. For example, we just got a hog in, so we'll most likely have some 'hog bits' as a canape C.

Bread Service: Yes, I know every Hanoverian is screaming for their warm bread and butter as soon as their butts hit the seat, but during the tasting, you'll have to wait until this course. Besides, you didn't even know you were getting the first three canapes, so shut your pie hole. We make bread an actual course because we're especially proud of the breads(pretzel rolls, the Sheppard Roll and mini baguettes) we bake at the restaurant and it also provides us an opportunity to share our house churned/kick ass butter.(this homemade butter is for tasting table only and is churned fresh on friday before the tastings are offered. If you wanna know how time consuming it is to produce your own butter, e-mail me. I'll give you the e-mail of Alan Taulbee, the guy stuck with it on his prep list! Also, for those of you who have had the tasting recently, the butter thingy is new. I've been getting bored, so I decided to churn our own butter.....)

FIANLLY, the First Course: Ok, you may have noticed that there isn't a salad course as part of the tasting. 9 times out of 10, the first course also serves as a salad course. It will be something light and hopefully a good opening to the meal. The things I concern myself most with here are that it is a notable course to start your tasting. Some of my favorite first course ingredients are foie gras, lobster, beef tongue pork belly and truffles(of course).

Fish Course: Kind of self-explanatory....However, since this is a tasting and each course leads into the next, I try to establish a common thread between dishes, so since this fish course is moving into the poultry course, you may see elements on the fish plate that may seem unusual to you as a stand alone dish, but when the next course comes out, it makes sense. An example could be something like paring some fried chicken livers with a lightly smoked tilefish or even using a sage and poultry based broth for the fish.

Poultry Course: Again, by the title of the dish, you get the picture. Poultry. Not too much more to say other that I wish PA Dept. of AG and our esteemed legislators would get their act together and make it easier for small farmers like Beau Ramsburg to bring his AMAZING(by AMAZING, I mean the best chicken I've ever eaten. Period. and some people think I have a pretty good palate. Heck, even the GOVERNOR OF PENNSYLVANIA GAVE ME HIS FIRST AWARD FOR CULINARY EXCELLENCE.....) poultry to market. It blows my mind that you say it's OK for me to eat steroid injected Perdue chickens that have been raised in their own shit, but you make it next to impossible for small farmers to cut through all your factory farm lobby red tape and bring wholesome, sustainable products that will make PA the LEADER in niche agriculture to market at a reasonable price. Come on, ladies and gentlemen. Screw your heads on straight and get this right......OK, back to the post. Did you really think I'd make it through a post without going off?

Meat/Game: So, I say meat/game because in the fall and winter, this course could contain venison or some other type of game that is more flavor forward than the poultry course. I also like to feature our Sheppard Mansion Farms beef on this course.

Cheese: Honestly, cheese is a hard sell in the 717. It really breaks my heart, because I think that artisanal cheeses are the second truest expression of the land(the first is wine). The other thing that tears me up is that we have so many fantastic American cheeses available to us. The last thing that tears me up is that nobody seems to want to buy a cheese course unless it's served as an appetizer with ring bologna and crackers. So, I've been considering cheese and our cheese course a lot lately. What I've come up with is something that I think satisfies the central PA palate and allows me to bring cheese into the equation. THE STICKY BUN. We actually call this course, Cinnabon because it's a prune and argmanac sticky bun with pecans and melted brie is the 'icing'. If anyone out there is producing an AMAZING brie style cheese in the Mid-Atlantic, please shoot me an e-mail. I'd love to use it on our menu.

Coffee Service: French press/Sheppard Mansion blend/custom roasted across the street at Merlin's. Enough said.

Pre-Dessert: Just a little something to get you ready for the sweet course. How about an egg nog creme brulee?

Dessert: Who knows? Recently this course has featured peppermint glazed doughnuts with dark and white hot chocolates(so good, that this dish is now on the regular dessert menu). This is our opportunity to show off our sweet side a little bit and also use some of the amazing fruits available to us in this region. It's also a good time to show off our ice cream making skills or use some chocolate.

Cookies: Finally.....a little package of cookies to take home and eat with your coffee the next morning. Yes, cookies with coffee. Why not?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Tasting Menu, Part One

Let's talk tasting menu. At some places, it means 36 microscopic 'tastes'. Some places compose a 'tasting menu' based on dishes listed on their regular menu.(incidentally, this isn't a tasting menu so much as it's a chef ordering for you off the menu) I think it's important to know what you are getting into when you go to a restaurant and order the tasting menu, so I'm talking tasting menu philosophy on this and the next post.

INSTANT UPDATE!!!: I've decided that instead of two posts, I'm gonna break this into three posts. I know I originally said two, but I wanna do three and it's my blog, damn it. So, the next post will still explore the philosophy and what is behind creating the menu each week. Here's the cool addition; I think I can convince the guests who have booked the table next weekend(Dec. 20th) to allow me to tape portions of their dinner so everyone can see what it's all about. And I'll have a camera in the kitchen taping the cooking and plate up. How cool is that? Thomas Keller has video conferencing between The French Laundry and PerSe.....I've got home movie cameras stashed in the kitchen and at the Chef's Table.....Is everyone on the edge of their seat waiting for this post???

Now back to our regularly scheduled post...We've had a bunch of folks order our tasting menu over the past few weeks. Some of them have even taken the time to outline their experiences on sites like Chowhound. I really enjoy reading these accounts of guests experiences at TSM, but recently, thanks to the supreme content geniuses at Chowhound, some of these accounts have been removed from their PUBLIC food forum. This is very disappointing to me since 'word of mouth is your best PR'. But I guess the imperial guard at Chowhound can decide what can be written and what can't. (A quick P.S.....Thanks to those of you who came, dined and posted. I'm sure ChowGeniuses think I know who you are and put you up to it, but I'm just glad you had a good time and thought enough of your experience to write about it. THANKS) So............... I decided to write a little FAQ about the tasting menu in Part One, and then in Part Two of this post, take you through an actual tasting from concept to on the plate. So here goes. If you have questions....please ask. I'll be glad to add them to the FAQ.

What is the tasting menu at TSM? The tasting at TSM is 6 courses, plus a battery of canapes and mignardise.

When is it offered? Currently, we offer the tasting on friday and saturday nights for the whole table. Yes, the whole table. We have found that it is in everyone's best interest to go through the tasting together so that guests are not waiting without food while their dining companions eat multiple courses. It also allows me to pace the meal accordingly and not rush or drag certain courses.

How much does it cost? The cost is $65 per person and an additional $35 for Karen to pair wine with your food.(an excellent idea)

Do you offer a Chef's Table? Yes, we do. The menu at the Chef's Table is served and explained by me. I cook each course and deliver each with a brief explanation between courses. Before the food is presented at the table, Karen offers a brief explanation of the wine pairing. At the conclusion of the dinner, I invite you into the kitchen to see 'where it all happens'. The Chef's Table is located directly off of the kitchen, so you are right in the 'middle of it'.(READ: It's not the table to have if you want to gaze longingly into your lover's eyes while you play footsies. It's kinda loud, there are waiters all around you carrying plates and polishing glasses all night....it's sort of like TSM's version of the infield at a NASCAR race. Holy crap. I just compared our dining experience to a NASCAR race. Somebody get Food and Wine on the phone) The cost for this table is $115 per person and includes food and wine pairing. Currently, the Chef's Table is available only on Saturday nights for parties between 4-8. Unfortunately for you, but fortunately for us, the table is booked through the end of the year, but we have started taking reservations for saturdays in 2009. Ask for Karen. :-)

What is the food like on the tasting? Well, you won't find beef tenderloin or crab cakes.(those puppies are on our regular menu) I think if you tune in to The Tasting Menu, Part Two, you'll get a good idea about the food.

How often does the tasting menu change? Well, here's the thing. It's a new menu every week. By new, I mean NEW. Like every dish changes....every week.(With the exception of the cheese course which I'll explain in part deux)

Can I call on monday and ask what will be on the tasting menu on friday? Nope. Sorry, Charlie. No Can Do. I'm not trying to be an asshole here....honestly, I'm not. Here's the thing. Lots of time, the menu is written that day....actually, much to Karen and the waiters chagrin....lots of the time, the menu isn't actually finished until just before our pre-service meeting.(Imagine this.....here's the menu guys, we have tables in 5 minutes, better learn it quick) If you're going into a tasting, you're buying the experience, as much as the food. If you have to have a steak for supper, the tasting isn't for you. However, our regular menu is.(just no foil wrapped baked potatoes)

Hope that whets everyone's appetite for Part Two and spurs some thought about doing the tasting at TSM.

Oh yeah, a friendly reminder to make your New Year's Reservations SOON. The 8 course tasting is filling up quickly and is going to be the shizz nit. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term shizz nit, click here.http://www.urbandictionary.com

Properly used in another sentence....'Chowhound is no longer the shizz nit of food forums.'

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Beaujolais Nouveau Release

Yes, beaujolais nouveau was released today. Yes, we continued our yearly tradition of sampling the new bottles. Yes, Sam is sporting an awesome flannel jacket. Enough said.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Talking Potatoes

That's right, it's not good enough to just be a potato anymore. We've started using a myriad of different potato varieties thanks to our annual mid-winter seed catalog meeting with Kathy Glahn and my dad's subscription to Seed Savers Exchange. The video below describes a few of the varieties we are using right now at the restaurant. I'll be posting videos over the next couple of days that show what type of application we are using for each potato variety. Please check back frequently to see how we are using these spuds. Like I said in the video....here's what's cool about this whole scenario. None of these potatoes were flown in FedEx from who knows where. They were expertly grown right here. South Central PA. Center of the food world.....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A 'Taste of Elegance' Preparation - Winner, Winner, 'Pork' Dinner Edition

I suppose you can tell from the title of this post that we were awarded the top prize at the National Pork Board's Mid-Atlantic 'Taste of Elegance' in Baltimore on Monday. I'd like to thank the following folks:
Howard Greenblatt from the Pork Board
Beau Ramsburg- without him there's not a pig
Scott, Dan, Taulbee, Karen, and my mom and dad without them there's no way this would have happened. Thanks guys!!!
The staff of the Renaissance Hotel - always professional and very welcoming as we invaded their home
Finally, all the participating chefs for an amazing event

I don't have much more to say....It's an amazing feeling to bring this award back to Hanover. Now we're on to the national event in which may be in Chicago in June. Hear that Nick Kokonas? I might be heading to Chicago....Love to snag a reso. at Alinea.....

Here's the closing video for the project. For all of you Top Chef and Hell's Kitchen junkies, here's what it looks like in the real world. Without make-up, lighting, sound and even 'Gladware'. This is the ultimate 'quickfire challenge'. Believe me, your blood pressure shoots up when the judge comes over and says 'oh, by the way you have 3 minutes.'

By the way....the camera catches everything. Here's our boy Taulbee......working hard.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A 'Taste of Elegance' Preparation - Day Three

I have to say a big 'I'm sorry' right up front. We took these videos late saturday night after a full night of service....and....Dan decided that he'd like to go see the Flyers, so we were a man down in the kitchen. So, I'm pretty sure the videos aren't the most descriptive, but you get the idea!


In this video we are preparing the shoulders for braising by putting a hard sear on them and then transfering them to a roasting pan. Please note how cool, calm and collected I am even though there is an open flame shooting out from under the pot. Unflappable!!!

No, this isn't a video on how not hot I look in a chef coat. It's me preparing the pork belly for braising.

The final video is me making the base for our sauerkraut sauce. I finished this sauce up today and it is........awesome. No really. It is.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A 'Taste of Elegance' Preparation - Day Two

Day Two: Today we moved forward with our preparation for monday's event. Check out the videos for the full run down....

First step: Strain the pork stock and then strain again. Once strained, I moved the stock onto the flame and proceed to clean it of impurities. Once cleaned and reduced slightly, this stock will form the base with which we braise the various parts of the hog.

Step Two: Grinding the fatback. We are calling the preparation we are presenting on monday a 'rillette', which is really stretching the terminology, but who cares. Basically what we're going to do is braise the shoulders, belly, head and tongue in the rich pork stock. Once the meats are cooked, then we're going to pick them and reform the meat into a log which we'll coat with panko bread crumbs and pan fry. Part of the flavorings we're going to add to the meat mixture is ground fat back which I think will promote the natural pork flavor, as well as, provide an amazing mouthfeel for the finished dish.

Step Three: Stomach Chips. Enough said. Watch the video.

Step Four: Making the fry oil. Yes, we're even messing with the fry oil to try and add more flavor. Actually, now's a good time to discuss how we're going about layering flavors for this particular dish. My whole idea behind this dish is that I want to make sure that the pork has maximum 'porkiness' and doesn't get lost behind another flavor that's trying to elbow in. Basically every decision we make has to have the underlying thought of 'is this going to enhance the pork flavor'? If the answer is no, then the idea gets thrown out. So, Beau's pork has a very earthy quality to it. Mushrooms also have earthy tones, so I thought perhaps we'd infuse the oil were going to fry in with mushroom stems. Done.

Step Five: Processing lard. Does anyone else's heart flutter hearing the words 'processing lard'? Anyhow, back to using the whole animal. We are taking lard from the animal and rendering it down so that we can use it to confit the yukon golden potatoes we'll be using as the base of our dish.

Step Six: Cutting brunoise vegetables: I alluded to the fact that I'll be folding 'flavorings' into the cooked pork product when I begin to roll the logs. One of the additions I'll be using is a brunoise(really damn small for the uninitiated) of carrot, leek and granny smith apple. Just thought I'd leave you with a video of how far we're willing to go in order to get an amazing dish. Seriously, cutting brunoise is a HUGE pain in the ass..... but worth it.

More tomorrow.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A 'Taste of Elegance' Preparation - Day One

A couple of months ago I was approached by Howard Greenblatt of the Pork Board and asked if I would like to participate in this year's Taste of Elegance in Baltimore, MD. The Taste of Elegance gathers 10 chefs from the Mid-Atlantic states and asks them to present their most innovative pork dishes for judging and then opens the room up for a gala tasting. I said, 'Sure, I'd love to do it, but.....'. There's always a 'but'. In true Sheppard Mansion style, I asked if it would be possible for me to bring my own pig instead of using the pork products provided. I'm sure Howard was on the other end of the phone thinking 'Who is this guy? He's wants to bring his own pig? This isn't a 4H show....' Anyhow, regardless of what he was thinking, he agreed. Next stop: Call Beau Ramsburg and get that little piggy to market. Actually since it was a couple of months ago, it was more like 'Hey, do you think you'll have a hog in line for the first week of November and can we do some of those super cool finishing techniques on it?' Answers: yes and yes. So, on monday, the whole team will be packing up everything we need and traveling to Baltimore to show off our pig prowess. I thought it would be fun to document our every step leading up to the competition for everyone to check out. Please check back often. I'm going to post every day leading up to the competition. Here we go.....

So, obviously, that was Beau and that was our competition hog. We won't be using all the parts shown on the video for our dish, put PROMISE to use the 'fun stuff' like tongue, head, stomach and tail. Yes, tail. Oh yeah, if you're a frequent watcher of my videos, you notice that both Beau and I like to keep our phones on during filming. For historical reference click here.

Next stop: The stock pot.

That stock will come off today, get cleaned and clarified and be a base for braising the shoulders and head.

Fat. Mmmm, fat.

We'll grind the fatback today and then store it for use in the rillette.

I just can't stomach this....

When the hog got dropped off yesterday, I noticed a small bag stuffed in the corner of the cooler. I instantly broke into a smile and said 'stomach'. Beau smiled and said, 'yeah, I thought it would be cool to see what you would do with that and you said you wanted the 'whole animal'.' Well, here's your answer. Stomach chips. Just sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Stomach chips.

There you have it. Day one. Please check back over the next couple of days and see our progress.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Its been a long campaign season with robo-calls, seeing Russia from our collective houses and 'Joe(Samuel) the(unlicensed) Plumber'(now turned back tax owing country music singer...Ah America, the land of opportunity). I encourage everyone to go out and vote....then come back to your computers and watch this video it ALWAYS makes me laugh.

Please remember....while some cling to guns and religion, I cling to pork products and pretzel rolls. Why wasn't that a campaign slogan?

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I've been contemplating bread lately. I think that bread service is a very important part of the dining experience and shouldn't just be a basket of 'stuff' you get when you sit down so that you have something to shove in your face while you're looking at the menu. So, taking that into consideration, we have an actual space alloted for the bread service during the course of the meal at The Mansion. You've already heard from Rich about the pretzel rolls and we also make a Parker House style roll. The one piece we were missing was a crusty french style baguette. There was the problem. In order to make a crusty loaf, you need a lot of even heat and steam. Some folks recommend baking on quarry tile. Some folks just recommend buying your bread from a bakery equipped with thousands of dollars worth of specific baking equipment. Ok, well, we're not in NYC or DC, so I can't have a bakery deliver bread....don't have thousands to spend on a specific baking oven, so what should I do? Well, I happen to 'know some people' at the RH Sheppard Company(yes, that Sheppard. You know, Sheppard Mansion, RH Sheppard.....boy, nothing gets past you guys) Kathy and I visited the Company two weeks ago and discussed an idea I had for producing a cast iron baking plate that we could insert into my ovens and help produce crusty bread.....all this writing is boring the hell out of me....let's cut to the video tape.

So, that was the plate, here's the first part of the baking process....

And, here's the finished product...

I have no idea why I continue to say 'crispy' and 'crunchy' when I mean CRUSTY!!!!

Here's a shot of our bread basket....ready for service.

And our bread being taken into the dining room ready for tableside plating.

So, that's the importance of bread for us at The Sheppard Mansion. You know that the product you get has been baked fresh every morning, not pulled out of the freezer and 'refreshed'. We obviously go to great lengths to make sure our bread lives up to our lofty expectations....hopefully, this post illustrates how crazy I am.(Do I need a blog post to prove that? If you're not positive, read on, brother, read on)

I'd like to thank the Sheppard Family and all the folks at The RH Sheppard Company for helping make this project a reality. With any luck, you might be seeing a home version of this very baking plate coming to a kitchen store near you.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Take Me Home Country Roads

I've been thinking lately about how busy we've been at the Inn and how time seems to slip away from us. It seems like just yesterday that we were excited about starting seedlings in the carriage house and the prospect of the first asparagus of the season. Now, fall is upon us and I don't really know where any part of summer went. With colder weather fast approaching, I thought it would be a cool idea to hop in the car and take a short drive so that when we're freezing our asses off this winter we'll be able to look back at fall and remember this trip.

It turns out that the weather cooperated, so Karen and I jumped(don't you like how I use the terms 'hop' and 'jumped' to make us sound extra energetic?) in the car and headed south toward Virginia. I've spent a portion of my life in Virginia between undergraduate school and cooking at The Inn at Little Washington, so it feels a little bit like going home for me and I know some cool spots along the way. First stop....The Apple House in Linden, VA. This place is about 30 minutes from The Inn and I used to drive up there on my days off and get their apple butter doughnuts in addition to a huge breakfast.
I don't think I've ever had their bbq before but after seeing their pig smoker, I had to give it a try. Yes, folks....it's a smoker that has been outfitted to look like a pig. Yes, Kathy...I'd like to have one of these in the back lot. It's AWESOME! So, after getting our fill of doughnuts(we bought 12), breakfast and a BBQ sandwich(seriously, the girl behind the register looked at me wondering who the hell else was eating with us) We leapt back in the car and continued our fall drive toward The Inn at Little Washington. I always like heading back to Washington, VA because I have so many memories(both good and well, dishwashing) of the magic that is produced there. It's very restorative for me to go back and see the 'machine in action'.

From the Inn, we ventured west toward Skyline Drive and a ton of fruit stands(complete with 'mountain honey') and even Ben 'Cooter' Jones and his Dukes of Hazzard car. Awesome. We saw some leaves, bought some honey and all in all had a memorable day in the Shenandoah Valley.

Alright, if I was reading this post, I'd be thinking 'Andy, we really don't care about how your weekend was. We wanna see you cut up a whole pig or talk about how people that buy asparagus in December are idiots'. Ok, so here's the point. I recently got my copy of the Alinea cookbook and I'm really struggling with what to think about it. I know this goes over the deep end for a lot of you because the 'food intelligencia' has fallen in love with everything Alinea and for that matter everything El Bulli. DISCLAIMER NOTICE: I've never been to Alinea or El Bulli, so if you're reading this Grant and Ferran, I'd certainly be willing to accept round trip airfare and dinner for two if you'd like to change my mind.

Listen, I can't argue with the creativity expressed in today's 'avant garde' cuisine. I just can't. It's some creative shit. However, I'm not sure that it's food in the traditional sense anymore. It's been manipulated, hung from pins, put in pillows, shot out of syringes...Heston Blumenthal asks you to listen to an iPod that plays sounds of the ocean as you eat one of his courses. I don't want my food manipulated with methylcellulose or Activa GS. I want a true expression of the food, raised by a farmer who is innovative in their husbandry techniques(Here's lookin' at you, Beau, Will and Hendricks)...The Avant Garde Army will say that with these additives(haven't we been working for years to get these additives out of our food?) they can make an egg taste more like an egg. How about this guys? Work with farmers who can produce you an egg beyond compare(www.whitmorefarms.com). Present it so that the egg is the star. It can still be interesting....but there's really no need to bring liquid nitrogen to my table to make me ice cream tableside. No need at all. Thanks, but no thanks. I've been called a classicist. If that means that I believe that the dining experience should be restorative and should center itself on the clean presentation of pristine ingredients, thoughtfully sourced in a welcoming environment with flawless service, then sign me up. I'm a classicist. Oh, and for the record...I put people who plate their food with tweezers in the same category as people who buy asparagus in December. That's just not for me.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Harvest Dinner

Yes, folks, it's that time of year. It seems like just yesterday that I was peeking outside and overjoyed to see the first vegetation poking through the still cool ground....held captive by thoughts of what the summer months would bring us. Now, the sunshine is fading, it's getting cooler and were faced with the end of another fantastic growing season. As I left the restaurant late last night, I was hit with the familiar smell of folks burning their wood fires.

The growing season is coming to an end here in South Central PA. Ok, Andy, why don't you go out with a bang? Well, we will.

The Sheppard Mansion will be hosting our second annual Harvest Dinner on October 14th 6pm(cocktails, ummm cocktails) and a 6:30pm dinner. Ever read this blog and wish you had some face time with Kathy Glahn or Beau Ramsburg or Will Morrow? Come on, you know you have... Well, now is your chance. I have invited some of our family of producers to join Karen and I for one fantastic night of 'the intersection of agriculture and innovative cuisine'. Here's how the night's gonna roll....Kathy, Will and Beau will talk a little bit about their respective products before the course is delivered. As it is being delivered, I'll hop out of the kitchen to give a little explanation about the preparation and then there will be a short description of the wine that has been paired with the course. Yes, we're pairing wine with all this stuff.(What that means is that halfway into the dinner, once everyone has had a couple of glasses of wine, it really gets out of control)

So, here's what you get. A five course dinner. Wines paired. Discussion with the area's Rock Star Farmers. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. $95 per person. Yes, only $95, all inclusive. Think about that. You could go to TGIMcFunsters a couple of times, drop some money, have crappy service and feel like garbage or you could come to this event, meet some of the most interesting folks you'll ever meet, talk about your food and eat some interesting food, to boot. Think about it ......feed your mind, body and soul in one singular event. Or go to some chain restaurant, eat your dry, hammered, hormone injected cheeseburger, have your 'server' do a squared dance while you're waiting to get your iced tea or greasy 'onion straws'. Really, the choice is yours. Vote for 'Food you can believe in'.

For reservations: Please call the restaurant at 717.633.8075

Monday, September 22, 2008


Open just about any food magazine and you'll certainly encounter an article on local foods or 'farm to table'....people who eat locally raised foods even have their own term 'locavores'. Awesome. Does it end there? Just buying stuff at the farmer's market? It could or we could take it one more step.....I'm the guy who doesn't just tippy toe over the line....I jump way over it, so here we go.

Again with the disclaimers....I know there are going to be those of you out there(yes, I'm talking to you Rich) who after reading the first paragraph of this post are fidgeting in your seats wondering if I've gone off the deep end and I'm going to piss off people who buy local foods. I'm not. So, hike up your madras shorts, crack a Natty Boh, (or San Pellegrino if that's what you're into) and check this out.

I source a lot of product locally(I'll work on the 'local' definition later, hold on speedy pants). I spend a ton of time ranting and raving about supporting local agriculture. However, I have noticed that I don't really talk much about what you're going to do with the arm load of food you just bought at the farmer's market (IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY....VISIT THE GETTYSBURG OUTLET CENTER FARMER'S MARKET ON FRIDAY MORNINGS. SHEPPARD MANSION FARMS BEEF. KATHY GLAHN'S PRODUCE. AWESOME 'KNOWFARMS, KNOW FOOD' SHIRTS AND HATS....COME ON, YOU KNOW YOU WANT ONE, ALL THE COOL KIDS ARE WEARING THEM) So, now you have the products in your kitchen. What should you do with them? You can do anything you want. The world is your oyster.

This is what I consider the next step. You could certainly take all the veg. and beef you just bought and make a killer stir fry. No problem, but what I am most interested in as a chef is creating a true expression of the area.

There is a saying 'what grows together, goes together'. Hello, basil and tomatoes. Here's lookin' at you chervil, mint and peas. And my favorite, peanut butter and squid (gotcha. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention or were skimming. Peanut butter and squid. That sounds horrible.)

The French call it Terroir. Travel magazines call it 'Wine Country Cooking' or 'Gulf Coastal Cooking'. Basically, places that have a regional food identity.(I'm talking about an evolution beyond slippery noodle pot pie and Shoo Fly Pie folks...) They take what is grown there and use it to express the area. It can't 100% be reproduced anywhere else but there, because you wouldn't be THERE. That's what I'm talking about. Food grown in a certain area tastes best when it is treated in a manner consistent with the area.

Listen, I grew up in Hanover. Lived in Virginia for some time, cooked at the bottom of the totem pole for 'The Pope of American Cuisine', went to New York, won some awards in Philly and now I'm back. In Hanover. Yes, Hanover. Still listening to everyone tell me that you can't do food 'like that' in a town 'like this'. I am. We are(if you haven't read my post about our staff, please click on 'we')....trying to create that true expression of the land....a feeling of connectedness to who we are and how we live. I can't imagine not having Old Bay seasoning in my flavor memory. Just can't and won't, thank goodness. It's part of how we're wired....

We are lucky to be situated so close to the agricultural know how of Pennsylvania, the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the rich Southern culture of Virginia. Trying to express that in food is an awesome challenge, but one that I really enjoy.

I'm home. Not 'back home'. Just home. I challenge all of you to find 'home' in your cooking. You'll be really glad you did.

Oh, p.s. .....while you're searching for 'home', come to the Sheppard Mansion and taste the Mid-Atlantic. Tell'em Andy sent ya.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Summer's NOT OVER

First off....thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. I guess someone's reading this stuff......

It's Labor Day weekend....the kids are going back to school...college football has officially kicked off...and the sun is throwing shadows like we haven't seen since last year at this time. All of these happenings conspire to trick our minds into thinking that it's fall. It's not. Sure, when you're growing up, the first day of school signals the end of summer. Vacations are over, you've gone shopping for your Garanimals, a new pair of sneakers, and a backpack and that's it for summer.(Don't forget the No.2 pencils) Well, summer hasn't given up in the food world. We are still brimming with corn and tomatoes, the herb gardens are overflowing and many crops are just coming back in after their second planting of the year. Don't line up the weekend apple picking trip yet, folks. Get your bum to the farmer's stand and take advantage of these summer treats. I guarantee you'll be wishing you had a plate of simply sliced tomatoes with some sea salt in September when you're biting into that stale, pithy, white tomato on your Subway sandwich in January. Ummm, the thought of stale, white and pithy makes me SO hungry.

Friday, August 15, 2008

She's not a chef....

Disclaimer: I've been advised not to write this post. The cool thing about advice is that you can either take it or leave it. I'm choosing to leave it today.

Forbes Magazine has recently released a list of the top earning celebrity chefs. Allegedly topping this list was Rachel Ray. I say allegedly because she's NOT A CHEF. Call her anything you want.....successful? I can't question that one. She's very successful and earns a ton of money. Lifestyle coach? Sure. She can teach you how to whip up some pre-packaged food into a meal with interesting catch phrases like EVOO, and YUM-O. Media Maven? You got it. I have no argument with any of those and I think she has worked very hard to achieve a level of success that not many folks can reach. So on that end; congrats. However, to totally rip off Lloyd Bentsen from the 1988 Vice-Presidential Debates 'Ms. Ray, I worked with chefs: I knew chefs; chefs are friends of mine. Ms. Ray, you're no chef.'

I bring this up partly because it chaps my ass that she's being described as a chef. However, the issue is a much larger one. It seems everyone wants to be described as a chef these days. Regardless of experience or talent, kids who haven't even graduated from culinary school or touched the hot line for that matter are asking for jobs 'with managerial responsibility' or changing recipes because their way is 'better'. I told you that so I could tell you this: Being a chef is about the grind. It's about the day to day. Putting your head down and doing it Can you peel a carrot better today than you did yesterday? Does the smell of browning bones still excite you? Do you live for the rush of dinner service? Did you learn one new thing today? Did you do one thing better today than you did yesterday?

I've been very fortunate to get where I've gotten as quickly as I have. Yes, I've worked hard for it and yes, every day I realize how much I have to learn. Someone recently asked me if I still like cooking....I love professional cooking. Love it. Walking in to a spotless kitchen first thing in the morning, putting on the coat and apron, knowing the possibilities of the day and working to fulfill them. Yes, I'm a chef. The guys that work with me are chefs, too. Let's not confuse the issue and dilute what we do by referring to every TV personality who shakes a pan and has a sweet set of catch phrases as a chef. They're not.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

You're not talking to the tomatoes.....

OK, stay with me folks. I know that based on the title of this post some of you are going to roll your eyes and think 'OK, I think Andy's been inhaling too many Sharpie fumes because this is just stupid. Who talks to tomatoes?' So, like I said. Stay with me. Grab a Tastycake and read on, brother.

I've been rereading 'Chef's Story' edited by Dorothy Hamilton and Patrick Kuh. The story below came from David Bouley.

The comment 'you're not talking to the tomatoes' was an actual conversation had between 'God of French Chefs Living in Switzerland' Fredy Girardet and 'Captain Amazing' David Bouley. Bouley was working as a cook at Girardet's (an interesting aside here....Gray Kunz was also working in the kitchen at the same time. If the thought of this illicts thoughts of 'Holy shit, those two guys working as cooks in the same kitchen?' then you and I need to hang out.) Anyhow, according to Bouley, Girardet told him he wasn't talking to the tomatoes, put his hand on a tomato and walked off.

This statement rings true today. The idea of 'talking to your tomatoes' simply means that no single item of produce is the same. Our current system of large scale agriculture/supermarkets has taught us that if the produce is pretty, that automatically equals great flavor. It doesn't. Let's use our friend the tomato as an example. I've seen many tomatoes, flats upon flats of perfect looking, huge, red tomatoes. On first glance, they look great. Then I go to touch them. Hard. Rock Hard. Ok, so it failed that test. How about smell? Take a big whiff. Nothing. No smell. Alrighty then, that's two strikes. How about taste? Nothing. No taste. If anything, the only thing you are given is a mealy texture in your mouth. Ummmm, I can't tell you how much I crave mealy textures.....

Choice is very important and we are lucky enough in this country to have it. Use all of your senses.(look at it, touch it, smell it....there's nothing sexier that the smell of tomato stems and......corn silk. Finally, taste the produce) If you simply choose by using your eyes, you'll have a tomato that looks impressive on your windowsill. Awesome, but aren't we trying to EAT this stuff? If you want something pretty to look at, go to TJMAXX and get some prints to hang on your wall.

Here's the next step in 'talking to your tomatoes' and it's something we have to think about a lot at the restaurant. We are lucky enough to have Kathy Glahn supply us with a huge variety of heirloom produce. Obviously, tomato season is in full swing, so we are getting a ton of different tomatoes. Well, each variety of tomato reacts differently to just about everything we try and use it for in the kitchen. Some peel easier than others, some have less acidity than others, some want a little salt to put them over the top, some like lemon oil and a little basil or thyme. So, you have to 'talk to the tomatoes' and see what they want. One very important lesson that Laurence Gottlieb, former Exec. Sous Chef at The Inn at Little Washington, taught me was to always ask what a dish wants. Not what you want it to have. I'd put a dish in front of him and he'd taste and then say, 'OK, but what do the beets want to push them over the top?'

So, what does all this blather mean? Well, here's the Cliff Notes version. When you are reading a recipe, just know that you are working in an extremely fluid environment. Tomatoes don't all act the same way. Flours can vary greatly based on the type of wheat, the mill and the humidity. How was your meat raised? Ask these questions as you are cooking and taste, taste, taste as you go along. Obviously, it helps to know the story behind your food as you're asking these questions..... Just coming to a conclusion, any conclusion can push a dish over the top. Talk to your food. What does it want?

OFF THE SUBJECT....I've been reading a lot of Q&A's with chefs and one question that always gets asked is 'What kind of music do you listen to in your kitchen?' My friend Carol puts her soundtrack at the end of each post. Well, here's the thing. We don't listen to music in the kitchen. I prefer it very quiet, so....no music. However, that doesn't mean that we don't get songs stuck in our head and sing a little bit. Last night, it was 'We are the World.'(I've also been known to belt out 'Don't Cry for me Argentina' when I'm in the shits) In honor of that, I've posted the video below. Please watch it until at least the 5 minute mark. Putting Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder on a split screen is, well, interesting......

Monday, July 28, 2008

What do you eat on your days off????

Well, here's a popular question....'what do you eat on your day's off?'. I'm not sure what people expect the answer of this question to be....Pop Tarts? Yes. Butterscotch Krimpets? Um, I grew up in Hanover. You answer that one. Will they see me at Applebee's sucking back Tyler Florence's latest amazing(?) 'recipe'? Not likely. Eating at the 'sneeze bar' at Ryan's Steakhouse? You're out of your freakin' mind. At the Tropical Treat eating Fat Boys? Check. Hot Dogs with Everything? You got it. Sometimes, the best summer meal and one that I really remember from my childhood is throwing some steaks on the grill, slicing tomatoes and eating fresh corn. So, that was dinner tonight, a night off. Dessert was some amazing ice cream(thanks, Carol) I think it's important to remember that sometimes it's the simple things that allow us to be rejuvenated. After a packed full week of cooking 'restaurant food' with multiple steps and fancy plating, it is so very satisfying to be able to grill some meat, drink some beer, eat some simply dressed fresh produce, and lean back and let the breeze take over. By the way, the soundtrack for all these outdoor dining events has to be the Orioles game on AM radio. For whatever reason, they were actually winning tonight, so that's a huge bonus. It really doesn't matter if they win or not...it's just part of 'summer sounds'. Enjoy the pics. Oh yeah, something I added to the childhood memories is the Natty Boh....the undisputed king of beers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sweet Corn Love

Well, it's finally that time of year. We're getting in cases upon cases of the finest sweet corn central PA can provide us with. On the restaurant side this means, that corn is making it into our corn and lobster fritters, provides a base for our Sockeye Salmon and makes up a really great black bean salad with cilantro, heirloom tomato and lime. This salad is the base for our crispy skinned rockfish which gets a final drizzle of light chimichurri sauce. On the dessert side,(yes, corn for dessert) our pre-dessert is a smooth corn custard topped with blackberries and garden mint.

I had a revelation about corn at home tuesday night.(yes, I eat things other than Pop Tarts and Tastycakes at home) Ever since I was a kid, I always slathered my corn with butter. I can even remember watching a scene from the movie 'War Games' where the family is eating corn on the cob and they're buttering it with butter that was spread on a piece of bread. I remember thinking that was the coolest idea in the world because not only did you get 'full frontal' butter coverage for your corn, but you had a sopping, butter soaked, slightly corn flavored piece of bread to stuff in your mouth. Genius. So the eating evolution continued with trying out fleur de sel or smoked sea salt, but butter was always a constant. Before I go any further you need to know this....I LOVE BUTTER....... First off, PLEASE TRY THIS AT HOME. Cook some corn on the cob. Once you drain the hot water off the corn, allow it to steam for a minute or two and cool down a bit. Now, take a bottle of nice extra virgin olive oil. Nothing too sexy, just a good olive oil. Drizzle it over the corn, making sure to make contact with the whole ear, but not drowning the corn in oil. Next season with kosher salt(I prefer Diamond Crystal). Next, eat the damn thing. Here's what you're going to find. Your corn will taste 'cornier'. I bit into the first ear I seasoned this way and was absolutely put on my ass(well, that could have been the bottle of white burgundy, thanks Rich) Anyhow, this was an amazing piece of corn and the next one after it was just as good. Here's why....as much as I like butter and believe me, I do, fats tend to mute natural flavors, especially vibrant vegetable flavors. So, while olive oil is certainly still a fat, it's doesn't coat the natural flavor of corn like butter does. Don't get me wrong....when you have average corn or some frozen corn you've put up for the winter a knob of butter in your corn saute is a righteous thing. BUT, when you have the luxury of eating crazy fresh corn then I think you should let the corn flavor be Bret Michaels, the salt be C.C.DeVille and the olive oil be Rikki Rocket. An interesting aside here....did you know that Poison passed on Slash to be their guitarist in favor of C.C. DeVille? Do you think Thomas Keller and Marco Pierre White dig Poison? Anyhow, get your ass to the farm market, buy some corn and try this out. I think you'll really enjoy the results.

Friday, July 18, 2008


I've been described as a bit of a Type A++++ kind of guy. I want everything and I want it yesterday. It has to be perfect NOW and there is no time to wait. Nature doesn't work that way. Here's how I know.

The pic to the left is of our herb and cutting gardens early this spring. You can see where my dad added brick and mulch and copper caps were soon to come. A great improvement over what we had last year and part of the evolution of the garden. As soon as green stuff started poking through the still cold earth this year, I wanted to have a fully grown, 'middle of summer' garden. Well, guess what....nature doesn't work that way. Nature says 'Wait a minute you impatient bastard, I've got some work to do warming up the soil and you're just going to have to wait until I'm ready. Suck it up and deal, big boy'.

The pic above is a shot we took today as Scott and Alan were picking herbs and garnish for service. As you can see, we've got a full grown 'middle of the summer' garden and what do you know....It's the middle of the summer. Finally, nature is cooperating with me......

What I've learned from this process is that cooking by the seasons and cooking in general is an evolutionary process. We move with the seasons and instead of looking ahead to 'what's next' we should step back and celebrate 'what's now'. I encourage all of you that might visit the restaurant in the next coming weeks and months to come early, go to the bar, grab a glass of champagne and stroll our grounds. Soak in 'what's now' and take a moment to really check out what's growing before your eyes. As for cooking in general being an evolutionary process, well, that one's easy. Every time we put our hand on a knife or a pot on the burner, we are trying to do it better than the last time we used the knife or stove. Same with writing menus, everytime a dish is brought on to the menu, I'm trying to respect the ingredient for what it is, understand what it wants and continue to refine my style. Every year there are some dishes or components of dishes that make it back on the menu, but every year we always look back to see what we have learned in the past year that can help us refine those same dishes, and the dish evolves. One thing that will always stay the same is that you have to start with the finest quality produce and even that is an evolution process. Once you taste one of Beau's chickens, you'll understand the evolution process....

Hope everyone is enjoying 'what's now'.....here's a little video of what we've got NOW...Also, you'll hear at the end of the video that the sexiest smell in the world is that just picked tomato smell. Well, the smell of bacon in the pan is pretty sexy, too. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm a big fan of a BLT with a fried egg and melted cheese on grilled country bread. Don't forget the Natty Boh. Now we're talking evolution.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Importance of Home Grown

If you think this post is going to be about food, you're wrong. Please read on....

We usually associate the term 'home grown' with produce....or perhaps you're a baseball fan from a time when home grown could have been associated with talent that was groomed for years in the minor leagues and then went on to play for the big league team (where have you gone 'Oriole Way'????). I've got a little different perspective (I know that doesn't surprise anyone).

We had the great fortune to cook for some 'industry-types' on saturday night. Without naming names, he is a former sommelier at a huge place in DC, has worked for a James Beard Award Winning chef and is opening a new place in two weeks. We had no idea he was 'in the biz' until after his dinner was over and I was asked to meet his table in the dining room. However, for reasons that I can't divulge, Karen and I had 'flagged' his reservation as a person of interest (yes, we work in much the same way the NSA and CIA work) Anyhow, I told you all of that so that I could get to the point of my story. As we were talking, he mentioned how great the service was....to which I in turn related to him that our restaurant team as a whole is home grown. Meaning, we are, as a whole from Hanover. For anyone who knows Karen's story, you'll immediately jump up and say 'wait a minute, Karen is from Tennessee.' She's actually from Morristown, Tennessee...for those of you who haven't been there, Morristown is basically Hanover with a drawl and Krystal Hamburgers. Enough said. Anyhow, on with the story. This guy was VERY impressed with the whole package...food, service, ambiance, the whole 9 and said so more than once. I mention that he was 'in the biz' for a reason. Folks who work in restaurants are a bunch of picky bitches. Myself included. We rarely kick back and relax when dining out because we're always 'working', looking for ideas, looking for chinks in the armor. So, a guy from DC was really excited about our product. Cool. The part that made his eyebrows raise up the most was the fact that we were 'homegrown'. My sous chef Scott went to the neighboring high school and most likely threw candy corn in my tuba during the Halloween parade when we were kids. My cold-side guy just graduated from Hanover High School after spending this past school year washing dishes for free because he wanted the experience. He's amazing. Waitstaff, we've got a set of twins who graduated one year behind me in high school, a kid from Littlestown who hadn't waited a table in his life before he came to us and now can work the dining room by himself on slower nights. We've got a guy who came to us from Bakersfield, CA, by way of Las Vegas and has been working in restaurants in the Hanover area so long that he's an honorary citizen....Home Grown. That's what we present every night. A true expression of the area. The personality of the area. Not just with food, but with service and ambiance. Each one of us presents the best expression of the area and together we are greater than the sum of our parts. For those folks who eat at TGIMcFunsters and think it's a great expression of the area, remember this. Those places actually have their staff wear buttons to provide some flair and personality. 'Pieces of flair' belong on Facebook, not on waitstaff. I'm not saying eating at those places is bad, it's just below average. It's cheap, sort of consistent and soulless, but mostly it's cheap.

Where the hell am I going with this?!?!?!?!? Here's what I'm trying to say. We're putting a really good product out every night and the right people are starting to notice( by right people, I mean the folks who don't ask 'why's that place so expensive? I can go to Ryan's steakhouse and eat till I vomit all over my wife for $9.99') We've all been through a lot of shit to get where we are, but, how about this? The same core staff is still here. Two years later and the same faces still cook your food, greet you at the door and take care of the 'details'. That is almost unheard of in the restaurant business and it's not because working at The Mansion is all hugs and puppies. It's not, believe me. It's because as a group we believe in each other and are proud to present a part of ourselves and in turn a part of the area every day. Homegrown.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

R.I.P. White Lily Flour

I love Southern foods.I don't know where that influence comes from. Either it was summer weeks spent in South Carolina as a kid, family trips to Williamsburg slurping peanut soup, my dad's forever fascination with country ham(I used to eat the marrow out of the bone of a fried country ham steak at dinner. Beat that for a childhood food memory) six years spent in Harrisonburg, VA (yes, six years. Let's just say I was studying southern culture for further use later in my life), my time spent at The Inn at Little Washington or perhaps just growing up in Hanover which certainly has a bit of a southern feel for a 'Yankee' town. I don't know where it comes from, but I do know that from the very beginning, I was always interested in the foods of the American south. I think perhaps it's the honesty with which the foods were cooked or the fact that they literally pulled from the farm.(I still can remember taking back roads from Dillon, SC to Myrtle Beach and seeing Bubba sitting on the back of his truck chomping on pork rinds selling freestone peaches) Maybe it was the fact that food was such a big part of life and I liked that it played such an important part in 'day to day'.(yes, I know this could be said of the PA Dutch, but sometimes it's tough to see the forest when you're literally sitting under the trees.) Alright enough of that....when I go see the therapist I'll blog about the professional opinion as to why I'm fixated on southern foodstuffs. (Hmmmm, tell me about your mother.....did she like biscuits as a child????)

On to our regular scheduled programming.....I like making biscuits. Sweet biscuits, savory biscuits, whatever. It's one of those things that southern folk take a lot of pride in. Here's a typical playground scene in Virginia.... 'Your mama's so fat that when they run out of lard to cover the hams they just ask her for a heaping helping from off of her ass'....oh yeah? Well, your mama makes TOUGH BISCUITS.' Enough said, biscuit boy wins that session every time. So, in my quest for biscuit nirvana, I discovered White Lily flour. If you read enough about biscuits you'll soon figure out that everyone has their own 'tricks'. However, one thing everyone agrees on is the use of White Lily flour. On our first trip to Tennessee to 'meet the parents' Karen took me to the White Lily plant in Knoxville, TN. Amazing. It was like a lifelong Red Sox fan at his first game at Fenway. Yeah, I know. Andy, it's just a factory. Well, it's obviously not. Smuckers bought White Lily and has since shuttered the doors of the Knoxville plant. Please read this article NOW http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/18/dining/18flour.html For someone like me who is an ingredient fanatic, this is a huge freakin' deal. When souther bakers are concerned, I'm concerned. Not too much, though. My parents were recently in North Carolina.....before the plant closed.....buying out grocery stores....coming home in a minivan that was loaded down with kilos and kilos of mysterious white powder.....this powder is now stored in the secure confines of the Sheppard Mansion.(before you ask....yes, I actually took samples of the bags to make sure that each one was the pure white original, not the grayer version from a 'newer plant'. yes, I'm neurotic. Lock me up) I'm not talking a bag or two folks. I was gonna take a picture of me with 'my stash', but was afraid that I might look like the fat local sheriff after a drug bust. If you want the old school real deal biscuit. I've got the flour if you've got the time.....

THE MORAL OF THIS RANT....ingredients matter folks. Flour isnt' just flour. Is it a turnip or a tokyo turnip? Grass fed humanely raised beef or feed lot garbage beef? Just picked heirloom tomato or some shit that looks like a tomato but tastes like nothing and was trucked in from California? Think about it before you buy it. If you make the decision to not work hard and find great ingredients, establish relationships with people at your local farmers market; that's cool. Your food just won't be very good. I don't care who you are, you can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit. You just can't. In the end, it's still heavily seasoned, heavily mayonnaised poultry excrement. However, you can make a bitchin' chicken salad with Beau's milk-fed chicken. Top that off with a thick slice of Kathy Glahn's heirloom tomato and some sweet lettuces and now you have a sandwich that doesn't
deserve to be called a chicken salad sandwich. We should come up with another name. How about....delicious. Let's start to taste our food again, America.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What do you cook for the guy who has seen the staff bathrooms?

Rich Matosky and his wonderful wife Tammy will be visiting for a couple of days tomorrow....so, that begs the question in the title. Which, incidentally, is the culinary equivalent of 'what to buy the person who has everything'.... Those of you who read the blog will no doubt remember Rich for his great description of working for a weekend in the Sheppard Mansion kitchen. If you aren't a blog regular, mine through the posts and find it. It's really great. In addition to working with us, Rich and his wife are great friends and 'foodies'. They eat everywhere and not just at diners and hot dog shacks. I'm talking Vetri, Tru, Del Posto, the list goes on and on. So, I got an e-mail a couple of days ago from Rich saying 'don't do anything special for us, just whatever the tasting menu is will be fine'. Right, Ricardo. We're in the business of EXCEEDING expectations, making special nights for people, making memories for goodness sake. Here's the problem....this guy's seen it from our end. He knows what goes on in the kitchen. He has had the distinct pleasure of donning the black cap. He has been in the shits with us. And yes, he has taken a leak in the staff bathroom. So, in his mind, he'd be sitting there at dinner thinking 'I've seen this before....it's not that hard, handful of this, spin, duck down, get the lobster, spin back, beurre monte, warm through, check seasoning, hand it off at the pass. Done' Well, I think that sucks and won't allow it to happen. Here's a little video teaser of what he might expect tomorrow night. Perhaps we can get him to post another essay describing the Sheppard experience from the diner's perspective in a later post.......

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Importance of Service

Service. I've had two particular experiences that made me really start to think about service. First, the positive. I had the great opportunity to spend Father's Day with my dad golfing at an insanely expensive golf course. No Blackberry, no restaurant, no farms, no food....just me, my dad and five hours for me to launch a large collection of golf balls out of bounds. We were paired with two guys from Maryland, who instead of riding in a cart had elected to have a caddy for the day. Yes, you read that correctly. It today's age of fat ass, cigar smoking, beer drinking, no manners, over testosteroned(I can hit it farther that you, Bill) jack assed, poseur golfers, these guys had elected to have a caddy walk along with them(of course he carried both of their bags the whole way). What an awesome piece of civility and a touch of the old school. Here's where the service comes in....their caddy provided US with local info, read greens, etc. He didn't have to; we weren't paying him. However, it did make for a great experience. Granted, most of his info was going to my dad. The best piece of advice he gave me all day was 'geez, you better hit another ball'. He turned what would have been a great experience into one that I really thought was over the top cool...even though I sucked ass that day. Now the negative. I have a wireless phone. My negative service experience involves my unnamed wireless company(AT&T wireless...come on, you knew I was going to name them....). Last week, I didn't have service for three hours. OK, whatever. Yesterday, I didn't have service for over an hour, so I decided to go to the store where I bought my overly expensive phone and ask what they could do for me. Here's the answer I got....'we only sell phones here, we can't help you'. Now, I'm fairly educated...I can look around and see that they do in fact sell phones. However, the person who 'only sells phones' happened to be the half wit who also SOLD ME A TWO YEAR CONTRACT FOR THAT DAMN PHONE!!!!!! I was told to call customer service. Here's the thing. If I was a salesperson, it would have gone like this.....' I'm sorry to hear about your outtage. I've inquired about the problem and AT&T will offer you a $20 credit to your bill because of the problem...here's the number you need to call and they'll hook you up. Unfortunately, we don't do billing at our store or I'd take care of it for you right now. I'm really sorry for the trouble and I hope you'll come back if you have any other issues. I'd be happy to take care of them for you. Thank you and have a great day!' That's service, AT&T. The folks at the NORTH HANOVER MALL IN HANOVER, PA SHOULD TAKE NOTES!!!!!!!!

Back to the point. Service. I write almost exclusively about food on this blog. The thing is, there is so much more to a restaurant experience. The ambiance, the grounds, the centerpiece, but the biggest part of all of this is your service. The picture above is of one of our dining rooms. Looks cool, right? Well, to me, it's just a room. It has a table where food can be placed and consumed. What's it missing, you ask? It's missing personality. Much has been written recently about my use of local ingredients and building a truly regional cuisine. Well, it's not all about the food.(what the hell? Did I just say that?) Our front of the house manager, Karen Van Guilder works very hard crafting a style of service that not only matches the food, but also matches the area we live in. It is relaxed and professional....the perfect blend of formal technique and engaging storytellers. Yes, storytellers. Our waiters are the ones who breathe life into the dining rooms. When you sit down, you're in our waiter's hands for the next two to three hours. Some folks might think that's a bit overbearing; it's not. Here's the beauty of Karen's style of service. If the waiter estimates that you just want to be left alone. Bingo, left alone. Still formally correct service, but you get what you are looking for in the experience. Wanna know everything about every ingredient?( a tip here: if you are inquiring about every ingredient on the menu, the waiter will alert me thinking that you might be a food writer and you'll get VIP'd) You got it. Again, it's all a matter of service and providing the experience the guest want. I'm not going out on a limb here by saying that we've got the best service team from Harrisburg to Baltimore. We do. By far. The next time you're at a great restaurant, take notice to how the waiters and front of the house staff breathe life into the experience and how they add personality to the experience and the room. Without them, it's just four walls, some tables, some chairs and food. Boring. Really boring.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pennsylvania's Inaugural Governor's Award for the Culinary Arts

Yes, folks, that's me addressing the crowd at the Gettysburg Festival.(Don't you think the orange tie is awesome???) Yes, folks, that's the Governor of Pennsylvania, Edward Rendell. This past friday, I was lucky enough to be chosen as the first recipient of the Governor's Award for the Culinary Arts. I can't really express how excited I am not only about this award, but also the prospect of taking some time and really working to promote fine food and agriculture in Pennsylvania. We like to say that the restaurant is the place where over the top agriculture and fine food collide. It is and I hope as a result of this award we will be able to spread the word about our great products!!! Watch out, folks....PA foods are on their way!!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Father's Day is that one day a year when you have so much to say, so much to be thankful for and the best your alpha-male make-up can muster is, thank you. Sometimes, I think Dad thinks that's enough.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Tomato Lady


I recently had the opportunity to spend part of an afternoon with Kathy Glahn of Gettysburg Heirlooms. Kathy was the first grower I met upon arriving back in Hanover who shared my crystal clear vision that food and, produce more specifically, should be amazingly flavorful and also very in tune with the movement of the season. Folks who have visited the Mansion from the beginning may remember Kathy more specifically as 'The Tomato Lady'. That's the first product of her's that I started using; amazing heirloom tomatoes. From those early days, my relationship with Kathy has become something that I think most chef's really would be jealous of. In mid-January, Kathy, Scott and I sit down with seed catalogs and we order our produce for the season. Yep, you read that correctly. The produce that is hitting our menu right now was actually thought out in the freakin' cold ass month of January. What makes this so special is that if I point it out, Kathy will grow it. Custom growing. In Central PA. Not just carrots, potatoes and onions either, but specific varieties of turnip (milan is on the menu right now), specific varieties of potato, loads of heirloom tomatoes, the list goes on and on. Kathy is one of those folks who shares my drive for amazing foodstuffs and works very hard to give the restaurant the very best and I have to say she delivers....every week. Here's the point in the story where all of you in blogger land are very lucky....Kathy operates stands at the Gettysburg Outlet Market on Friday's and the Gettysburg Farmer's Market on Saturday's. You can get the same produce I'm using at the restaurant and have the opportunity to meet an awfully inspiring person. Honestly, if you're buying produce at the grocery store right now, you should be ashamed of yourself. Seek out the small markets....shoot me an e-mail...I'll tell you the little farm stands I like to frequent(hhmmmm, should that just be another post?) Buy it local and support folks in your backyard. Give them feedback and become their friends. If you don't and you keep buying no name produce from the store, your food will suck. It just will. Cook with some soul and give your food an identity. KNOW FARMS, KNOW FOOD. P.S. Please don't write me and tell me how busy you are and that you just don't have time. That's a weak excuse...you should be ashamed of yourself. Actually, please do write me and also include your mailing address so that I can send you an autographed Andy Little baseball bat that you can hit yourself over the head with. OK, enough with that. Do you get the point? Buy great stuff from folks you trust.

This is a cool shot of Kathy's lettuce blend that she harvests for us. We get the first cut and always sample the lettuces when they come in the back door. Here's an interesting point for all of you budding 'know farms know food' converts. The food we cook with ebbs and flows with nature. So, for example, the strawberries we got this week tasted markedly different from the strawberries we got two weeks ago. Were they still good? yes, but they were different. The difference was made because we had a pretty impressive spell of rain in the weeks before they were harvested. So, they were different. You need to keep in mind that when you are working with products that are produced outside of a factory farm vacuum there are going to be nuances to their flavor. Celebrate them. If I hear one more person in the grocery store fawning over strawberries in December, remarking how 'beautiful' they look I'm gonna go cheftal on their ass (FYI, cheftal is my new term. It's like going postal for chefs). Those strawberries 'look' great. Cut into one and savor the sweet aroma of.....nothing. Enjoy the luscious beauty of their pithy white interior. Put them back, grab a fruit cake and wait for May. Here's Kathy talking about her lettuces.

Next trip was over to the tomato plants....like I said, tomatoes were the first thing Kathy supplied to us and I have to say that they are the most amazing tomatoes and I feel very lucky to be able to work with them when the season hits. Here's a little secret for optimal tomato flavor. Don't refrigerate them. If they are simply picked and used you'll have the full advantage of the warmth of the sun with no muted flavors from refrigeration. Remember, mother nature is the true genius, we're just technicans. If you have no other choice but to refrigerate them, I recommend that you take them out of the fridge very early in your day and let them sit in a window sill and warm up.

Finally, the potatoes. Not just any potatoes, but multiple varieties of potatoes....it's not good enough to just be a potato. It has to be a German Butterball or a swedish peanut potato or a yellow finn or, you guessed it, la ratte. Yes, I know I have a problem. I'm seeking therapy.....