As Patrick Roney interviewed for the executive chef’s job at Harvest last year, partner Ivor Chodkowski walked him through the restaurant’s kitchen for a tour. Like most who’ve entered the space, Roney was surprised by its size: nearly three times the expanse of its 100-seat dining room.
Without even being hired for the job, he told Chodkowski confidently, “I want to do a chef’s table back here.”
That happened a year later when 12 diners were escorted past the hotline to the kitchen’s prep room for the restaurant’s first Chef’s Table dinner. The Dec. 15 dinner featured five paired courses using produce from Chodkowski’s Field Day Family Farm, and meat from Caldwell Willig’s Rivercrest Farm in Goshen.
“This is a dream of mine come true,” Roney said. “For us, it’s another chance to elevate the level of hospitality here to a new level.”
Specifically, he meant letting diners meet the kitchen team by having the cooks prepare and serve the meal. Roney also believes guests not only want to see where their food is made, but see it made before their eyes. Lacking burners and exhaust hoods, the prep room wasn’t conducive for that level of interactivity, but many courses were assembled just a few feet from the long, barn-wood dining table.
As far as kitchens go, Harvest is utilitarian. No gleaming chrome, designer lighting or Euro-kitchen cooking batteries. Just three rooms: one for cooking, one for prepping, one for storage. It’s advantage is space. Restaurants with more seating commonly have kitchens less than half this size.
“Having room for guests will never be a problem here,” Roney said. “We can have them in here and seated and still have lots of room for the team to move around.”
Roney wanted the experience to be realistic, right down to the modern music playing on a nearby Bluetooth speaker.
“We always listen to music when we’re working,” he said.
No mood lighting or candles, no hushed tones coming from the hotline. Just another day in the Harvest kitchen. Mostly anyway. Kitchen crews are known for bawdy talk, and tonight at least, Roney’s was on its best behavior.
Roney introduced each course by explaining its ingredients’ farm origins, why he chose them and how he cooked them. Following him was general manager Tim Quinlan, explaining the beverage paired with each course. And as guests ate, they talked to each farmer about his products.
This wasn’t the common server’s tableside spiel. This was a high level of detail with the opportunity to ask questions about how produce and animals are raised, even definitions of French culinary terms so common to kitchen argot. Call it a classroom in which you could eat and drink adult beverages while filling your mind.
“We want our guests to learn about what they’re eating and where their food comes from,” Roney began, “but just as important to me is that our cooks learn who’s eating what they make. We want them to meet each other.”
For several years, Roney and his wife, Heather (banquet and catering sales manager at The Seelbach Hotel) were a chef and server team on private yachts. As the crafts sailed, they served at an intimate level.
“When you’re out to sea that long, you’re going to get to know every passenger,” he told me in an interview several years ago. “I really want our cooks here to experience some of that.”
Three of the courses were assembled in guests’ view. A scratch chicken noodle soup was amassed in bowls and delivered to the table where cooks poured hot chicken consommé over turmeric-spiked noodles and Russian River kale. Multiple cooks were required to assemble the course of potato gnocchi and rabbit sausage, as well as the beef duet of strip loin and short rib built atop creamed spinach. Fewer hands were required for the sweet potato pie with ginger Chantilly.
As guests raved about the food, Roney insisted that Chodkowski and Willig were the evening’s rock stars, “because without you, we have nothing to cook. I’m so proud to have you here and cook your products for you.”
The nearly three-hour meal isn’t inexpensive: $95 for the food, $35 additional for pairings, plus tax and gratuity. There are plenty of special occasion meals around town, but few with the immersive experience or, frankly, the quality of Roney’s food. It’s worth adding that the beverage pairings also were exceptional. (The only other chef’s table experience I can think of is at the English Grill, and I’m sure it’s a dandy as well.)
For now, Harvest’s chef’s table will be a monthly event and one seating only. Watch its Facebook page for announcements about upcoming meals, or reserve a seat now by calling 384-9090.