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The Forager King at The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

Jordan Wright
October 8, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Art
Photo credit – Jordan Wright 

The potager

The potager

For many years Ferran Adria’s now shuttered elBulli held the title of “The Best Restaurant in the World”.  Since then the fiercely sought after accolade has gone to his former student Rene Redzepi, Chef/Owner of Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Four years ago Redzepi’s publisher Phaidon sent me a copy of his coffee table size cookbook. “Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine”, which at the time I included in my “Best Cookbooks of 2010”.  The book continued my interest in the science and artistry of elegantly prepared wild foods.  In 2002 I’d read French chef and forager extraordinaire Michel Bras’s book “Essential Cuisine” and saw how a Michelin-starred chef could elevate wild local plants, locally caught seafood and humanely raised animals to their highest culinary purpose while at the same time employing a flower-strewn, naturalistic style.

A grazer since childhood, I munch on violets, honeysuckle and the early blossoms of the redbud tree.  And if I’m lucky enough to find them I still chomp on wild ramps, dandelion leaves and the tender watercress that pops up along small streams and culverts in the spring.  I consider it homeopathic and secretly believe it’s what keeps me from seasonal allergies.

Tarver King is a chef who answers the call of the wild too.  When we first met he was cooking at the Ashby Inn in Paris, Virginia where he wedded molecular gastronomic techniques to simple, local ingredients and spent many hours putting up jars of glistening cantaloupe jelly, pickled vegetables and berry jams from ingredients he picked from the bounty of a small garden behind the inn.

Chef Tarver King

Chef Tarver King

After gaining experience in such legendary kitchens as The French Laundry, Le Bec Fin, The Inn at Little Washington and the Woodlands Inn & Resort in South Carolina.  King now has found is roost in the kitchen at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm where he is the architect of the menu.  Using the bounty from owner Beverly Morton Billands vegetable and herb gardens, wildcrafting “weeds” and morels from the nearby woods and sourcing from the 40-acre farm where Billand raises chickens, ducks and beef cattle, he has a myriad of options at his command, including fish from the sustainable catches of local East Coast fishermen.

King’s commitment to local, seasonal and organic, as well as his compelling artistry has not gone unnoticed by the industry.  He was named “Grand Chef” of the year by Relais and Chateau, received the RAMMY award as “Chef of the Year” 2013 and this year earned the coveted title of “Best Chef – Mid-Atlantic” from the James Beard Foundation.

Reflecting his keen attention to land, sea and farm, the menu is divided into “Found”, heavier on seafood, “Grown”, some meat but largely paleo, and “Raised”, which leans more towards meat protein.  Each affords the diner with amuses bouche, noted as “snacks”, and a five-course progression menu of the chef’s design.

Snacks before dinner - Gougeres - Beet Cream

Snacks before dinner – Gougeres – Beet Cream

Some of the menu’s descriptors – smoked kraut, cicely gastrique, lambs quarters, sorrel soda, chicory root custard and hyssop ice cream – reveal the adventure.

Seared Wahoo with ramp chimichurri

Seared Wahoo with ramp chimichurri

King, who spends three days a week cooking and the rest experimenting, started us off with delicate gougeres and a beet cream toast, followed by Scallop Mi-cuit, a semi-cooked scallop enhanced by creamed corn, chanterelle puree, and lambs quarters, a wild edible.  Crispy Shrimp is sauced with cicely gastrique, ratatouille puree, fennel fronds and mustard cream – each element contributing to the nuanced whole of the dish.  My dinner partner who opted for “Raised” was busy devouring the Pork Fried Chicken with whey and mustard butter, smoked kraut and pole beans, which preceded Beef Cheek with whipped grits, grilled beets, horseradish and nasturtium leaves.  A happy carnivore, indeed.

Beef Cheeks with whipped grits and nasturtium leaves

Beef Cheeks with whipped grits and nasturtium leaves

The dining room is an enormous brick-paved, all-glass greenhouse (sans plants).  A separate white-tented space for outdoor dining features a view of the river and Harpers Ferry Bridge beyond and is decorated with nosegays and candles.  Very romantic.

 Chicory root custard with cocoa nib crumble, puffed rice and whipped fromage blanc

Chicory root custard with cocoa nib crumble, puffed rice and whipped fromage blanc

Courses came swiftly delivered by attentive and gentile wait staff, who re-described each dish as it was set forth.  We finished a spectacular evening of gastronomic delights and surprises with a lovely Silver Needle Jasmine white tea from local purveyor Shab Row Tea Emporium in nearby Frederick, Maryland.

Reservations, of course.  www.PatowmackFarm.com

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