There is something uncanny about the power of cheese. From its extensive line of framework, developed for months in stinky aging cages and overanalyzed with proper bacteria strains in mind, the world of this farmstead creation is a beautiful, complicated thing. More simply though, it hosts an incredible ability to inspire people.
Take for example chef Patrick Feury of Berwyn’s Nectar Restaurant. The foundation of the his menus is constructed on Chester County’s bounty. The Main Line chef, who is naturally inclined to cultivate genuine relationships with local farmers, has anchored his culinary career in one of the area’s most lauded, continually brings his agricultural comrades in the limelight with him.
While Feury deserves a pat on the back for this selfless gesture with local purveyors within his flashy East Lancaster Avenue restaurant, it was his recent guest chef invitation to the New York City’s James Beard House that took him and his cheesemaking neighbors on a ride of a lifetime.
Since Feury has made a mission of sharing his local agricultural richness with anyone willing to bite, he brought all that he knows best up north to share with Manhattan diners. He also invited a cast of characters to the Beard House too, since he attributes Birchrun Hill Farm, Yellow Springs, Amazing Acres, and Doe Run Dairy to sparking cheesemaking inspiration within him. In fact, their relationships provoked him to the point of achievement, as he has attended cheese camp and received certification as an artisan cheese producer in Vermont.
At the one-night-only James Beard “Farmland Feast,” Feury aimed to display how relationships between neighboring chefs and farmers are able to prosper into successful collaborations. But, the local camaraderie does not end with the fermentation of only milk. His esteemed friend, Victory Brewing Company’s Bill Covaleski, rounded out the evening’s players, acting as the event’s guest sommelier by pairing his well-balanced, Euro-inspired beers with the farm-forward courses, as well as showcasing wine selections from Elverson’s J. Maki Winery.
It’s a critical moment for a chef when he’s asked to cook at the James Beard Foundation House. Patrick’s done it before, once with Nectar and two times prior, but this particular experience featuring his aforementioned neighbors leans toward an almost historic occasion.
“We’re a close-knit family in Chester County,” he shared. “It’s just awesome having our local families here [at the James Beard House].”
Just as his own words revealed, it was indeed “awesome.” As we giddily hopped on an Amtrak train from Philadelphia’s suburbs during what would be winter’s most abominable snow storm, no shade of weather worry arose while we eagerly waited to encounter Patrick’s culinary blizzard.
As we stepped inside the James Beard House, a repurposed brownstone in Greenwich Village, faint cork pops murmured in the backdrop. The center for the country’s culinary arts, it’s appropriate that in order for guests to join others in the rear greenhouse for a pre-dinner drink (in this case, it was J. Maki Winery’s Blanc de Blancs Reserve 2004), you must breeze through the kitchen. There, we bid our chef hello, as he busied himself on dinner’s final touches aside his wife, Tina, and his team of sous chefs.
Flocking to our native cheesemakers for fellowship, it was a definitive moment to hear Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm and Catherine and Al Renzi of Yellow Springs Farm share that they never envisioned that their cheese would bring them to a place like this foundation’s house. Soon, we joined the prideful pack in rounding out a large, circular table, still pining for more of the chef’s heavenly hors d’oeuvres (Yellow Springs’ goat cheese gougeres included).
Downstairs we sat, stationed next door to the kitchen, while a sold-out crowd filled out the remaining rooms of the house—some adjacent to us in the boudoir, some upstairs nestled among James Beard’s superior cookbook collection. Soon, the first Pennsylvania-focused course hit our tabletops, a fresh introduction to how the mindful chef excels in his craft. As a master of artful, approachable compositions hawking local ingredients, he started off the feast lightly with a slice of spiced Skuna Bay salmon and its blissful mate—a hunk of Doe Run’s Seven Sisters curd.
Bill Covaleski stood numerous times to charm the guests, guiding diners toward the nuances of each of the evening’s beer pairings. From the Braumeister Pils that complemented the evening’s starter with its pine-like finish, to the Moonglow Weizenbock’s sweet-malt that delightfully counteracted the refined mushroom consomme, the hopped couplings enhanced the Nectar pop-up experience while still standing firm as their own individual entity.
There was such a uniform feeling of elegance as each dish made its way to our round table that it became troubling to identify what we liked best. The crispy striped bass dressed with Doe Run Farm butter and truffle sauce was rich and genuine. It illustrated that if you are partial to the bounty in your backyard, an uncomplicated entrée may far surpass an overdone dish.
Adoration for the tea-smoked Pineland Farms beef tenderloin aside short ribs rang throughout the room, as the tender duet of soul-warming meat couldn’t have been more brilliant for our wintry Friday.
While midnight drew near, and squares of leftover parsnip cake became extinct, guests slowly rose to grab their coats, plotting wishful ventures to a certain Pennsylvanian suburb. Patrick’s dream for this dinner was to share Chester County with the unacquainted, and as an attendee and a native, I am certain he succeeded.
Chef Patrick Feury will recreate his James Beard House tasting at Nectar on Wed., April 24. Call (610) 725-9000 for reservations.