This Saturday, we indulged in extreme cooking and extremely delicious food at our first Chef’s Dinner for the 2011 series. You could say that it started during a May Day heatwave, when I ventured to my favorite specialty heirloom vegetable and herb sale, Landis Valley Herb and Garden Fair. I love the spring ritual of meeting the producers who do a beautiful job of growing vegetable and herb varieties that I have not found myself. Every year I learn something new from trying a new vegetable or herb transplant. This year, in addition to finding new varieties, I found a new chef.
Chef Matt Schuler was talking with culinary vegetable grower, Tim Mountz of Happy Cat Farm. As I browsed Tim’s pepper plant assortment, I overheard Matt mention he was a chef, creating a new restaurant later in the year, looking for quality growers. I could not resist introducing myself. “You are a chef? We have a great place for you to showcase your talents while your restaurant is being built!”. Three and a half months later, with several meetings and seasoned with a bold hurricane, we were able to enjoy the meal prepared by soon – to – be – restaurant team, Ella’s American Bistro.
After studying at Johnson & Wales, South Carolina, cooking during an approaching hurricane was not a new event to Chef Matt Schuler. In Ottsville, we had humidity and a light rain during the day and the projections for our area was rain with wind up to 20 mph – some might say a typical Friday at the Ottsville Farmers Market in 2009!
Chefs Matt and Peter arrived early with their outfitted mobile kitchen. Not only did it make the meal possible in these conditions, the truck will soon to be painted to look like a rustic barn – a theme that coincides with Ella’s American Bistro and made Linden Hill Gardens’ barn the perfect setting to present their menu.
As guests arrived, they shed their umbrellas and began to sip Manoff Market Gardens peach sangria. Admiring Jerry Fritz’s barn renovation, guests met each other and enjoyed the Ella’s charcuterie and Bobolink cheese platter. The constant theme for the Chef’s Dinner Series is using seasonal local ingredients. The setting remains the same and the chefs provide their unique style and atmosphere. The Ella’s team, Matt, Peter and Leber described each course to the group with ease and a sense of humor. Ingredients were sourced from their own vegetable garden along with their local Lancaster market and some of our own vendors’ favorite items:
Guests were cozy inside the barn, seated at their candlelit communal table. Courses were delivered in a steady stream, in keeping with the weather outside. The chefs were picking up their stride and the last three courses were providing oohs and ahhs. With so much focus on the seasonal ingredients, the chefs strayed from the previously planned menu by creating a sweet heat peach bbq sauce for the pork. Old Time Tennessee Melon is a personal favorite and was taken to new heights with a beet juice and vanilla bean reduction sauce for the Intermezzo. Manoff Peach, Almond and bread pudding with caramel bourbon creme anglaise added a sweet finale along with home made cookies that Matt warned correctly, would put guests over the edge.
Guests lingered and enjoyed the flavors of the evening along with great company. Thanks to Ella’s American Bistro and Jerry Fritz’s cozy barn, it truly was a Good Night Irene!
Stay tuned for more details about the opening of Ella’s American Bistro in Wayne, PA later this fall. The Kitchen Potager’s Chefs’ Dinner Series takes place every weekend in September in the Barn at Linden Hill Gardens. Please see the website calendar and online products for details.