Sunday afternoon, we took the train up to Tarrytown, New York and visited the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.
What was the attraction, besides a lovely spring Sunday down on the farm? In a word: food.
Fergus Henderson, the gentle, possibly slightly mad genius behind St. John Bar and Restaurant in London (and the author of Nose to Tail Eating, a cookbook that has been cited as an inspiration by everyone from Mario Batali to Anthony Bourdain, and by people who aren't celebrity chefs too) was overseeing a dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
Carrie and I had planned to eat at St. John during our scheduled spring trip to London... a trip that, sadly, we had to cancel due to illness in the family.
However, we were clever enough to get signed up on St. John's mailing list, and when I got word via e-mail that Fergus would be cooking at Stone Barns, we couldn't pass it up. We've been fans of Blue Hill (the original restaurant in Greenwich Village) for years and had been meaning to make the trek to Stone Barns since they opened there last year; this brought all the threads together and we couldn't resist.
I am from the South (motto: "We eat anything"... I'll write another time about the wonder known as chitlins) and love organ meats and unusual preparations. Carrie, though far from a finicky eater, isn't quite the seeker of culinary novelty that I am, but was totally game and ready to go.
As the title of Fergus's book suggests, he advocates using almost every part of the animal, including bits that we often throw away. He takes offal and turns it into something truly sublime. In fact, his approach isn't "novel" for novelty's sake or "novel" at all... he is returning to the time-honored practice of using everything and wasting nothing, and lavishing his attention on some of the cheaper and more flavorful cuts of meat available.
I knew that we were in for a treat when the opening appetizer arrived... delicate, perfectly cooked slivers of pig heart with green sauce on beautiful little lettuce leaves. We moved through lamb and rabbit kidneys on toast, drank a fair bit of good wine on the patio, and waited to be called in to dinner.
Dinner didn't disappoint, either. It started with beautiful, peel-and-eat soft-boiled eggs ("they might be a little difficult to peel, because they just came out of the chickens this morning," Fergus declared proudly) and an aromatic pickled salad with plenty of chervil in it, and culminated with beautiful thick slices of pork loin atop lightly cooked fiddlehead ferns.
I can't remember enjoying a meal so much in quite some time, made all the more enjoyable by the company of our fellow adventurers, devoted tasters all.
(Flickr photo set: Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture farm tour: http://www.flickr.com/photos/enrevanc...)