Thursday, October 30, 2008


I've been contemplating bread lately. I think that bread service is a very important part of the dining experience and shouldn't just be a basket of 'stuff' you get when you sit down so that you have something to shove in your face while you're looking at the menu. So, taking that into consideration, we have an actual space alloted for the bread service during the course of the meal at The Mansion. You've already heard from Rich about the pretzel rolls and we also make a Parker House style roll. The one piece we were missing was a crusty french style baguette. There was the problem. In order to make a crusty loaf, you need a lot of even heat and steam. Some folks recommend baking on quarry tile. Some folks just recommend buying your bread from a bakery equipped with thousands of dollars worth of specific baking equipment. Ok, well, we're not in NYC or DC, so I can't have a bakery deliver bread....don't have thousands to spend on a specific baking oven, so what should I do? Well, I happen to 'know some people' at the RH Sheppard Company(yes, that Sheppard. You know, Sheppard Mansion, RH Sheppard.....boy, nothing gets past you guys) Kathy and I visited the Company two weeks ago and discussed an idea I had for producing a cast iron baking plate that we could insert into my ovens and help produce crusty bread.....all this writing is boring the hell out of me....let's cut to the video tape.

So, that was the plate, here's the first part of the baking process....

And, here's the finished product...

I have no idea why I continue to say 'crispy' and 'crunchy' when I mean CRUSTY!!!!

Here's a shot of our bread basket....ready for service.

And our bread being taken into the dining room ready for tableside plating.

So, that's the importance of bread for us at The Sheppard Mansion. You know that the product you get has been baked fresh every morning, not pulled out of the freezer and 'refreshed'. We obviously go to great lengths to make sure our bread lives up to our lofty expectations....hopefully, this post illustrates how crazy I am.(Do I need a blog post to prove that? If you're not positive, read on, brother, read on)

I'd like to thank the Sheppard Family and all the folks at The RH Sheppard Company for helping make this project a reality. With any luck, you might be seeing a home version of this very baking plate coming to a kitchen store near you.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Take Me Home Country Roads

I've been thinking lately about how busy we've been at the Inn and how time seems to slip away from us. It seems like just yesterday that we were excited about starting seedlings in the carriage house and the prospect of the first asparagus of the season. Now, fall is upon us and I don't really know where any part of summer went. With colder weather fast approaching, I thought it would be a cool idea to hop in the car and take a short drive so that when we're freezing our asses off this winter we'll be able to look back at fall and remember this trip.

It turns out that the weather cooperated, so Karen and I jumped(don't you like how I use the terms 'hop' and 'jumped' to make us sound extra energetic?) in the car and headed south toward Virginia. I've spent a portion of my life in Virginia between undergraduate school and cooking at The Inn at Little Washington, so it feels a little bit like going home for me and I know some cool spots along the way. First stop....The Apple House in Linden, VA. This place is about 30 minutes from The Inn and I used to drive up there on my days off and get their apple butter doughnuts in addition to a huge breakfast.
I don't think I've ever had their bbq before but after seeing their pig smoker, I had to give it a try. Yes,'s a smoker that has been outfitted to look like a pig. Yes, Kathy...I'd like to have one of these in the back lot. It's AWESOME! So, after getting our fill of doughnuts(we bought 12), breakfast and a BBQ sandwich(seriously, the girl behind the register looked at me wondering who the hell else was eating with us) We leapt back in the car and continued our fall drive toward The Inn at Little Washington. I always like heading back to Washington, VA because I have so many memories(both good and well, dishwashing) of the magic that is produced there. It's very restorative for me to go back and see the 'machine in action'.

From the Inn, we ventured west toward Skyline Drive and a ton of fruit stands(complete with 'mountain honey') and even Ben 'Cooter' Jones and his Dukes of Hazzard car. Awesome. We saw some leaves, bought some honey and all in all had a memorable day in the Shenandoah Valley.

Alright, if I was reading this post, I'd be thinking 'Andy, we really don't care about how your weekend was. We wanna see you cut up a whole pig or talk about how people that buy asparagus in December are idiots'. Ok, so here's the point. I recently got my copy of the Alinea cookbook and I'm really struggling with what to think about it. I know this goes over the deep end for a lot of you because the 'food intelligencia' has fallen in love with everything Alinea and for that matter everything El Bulli. DISCLAIMER NOTICE: I've never been to Alinea or El Bulli, so if you're reading this Grant and Ferran, I'd certainly be willing to accept round trip airfare and dinner for two if you'd like to change my mind.

Listen, I can't argue with the creativity expressed in today's 'avant garde' cuisine. I just can't. It's some creative shit. However, I'm not sure that it's food in the traditional sense anymore. It's been manipulated, hung from pins, put in pillows, shot out of syringes...Heston Blumenthal asks you to listen to an iPod that plays sounds of the ocean as you eat one of his courses. I don't want my food manipulated with methylcellulose or Activa GS. I want a true expression of the food, raised by a farmer who is innovative in their husbandry techniques(Here's lookin' at you, Beau, Will and Hendricks)...The Avant Garde Army will say that with these additives(haven't we been working for years to get these additives out of our food?) they can make an egg taste more like an egg. How about this guys? Work with farmers who can produce you an egg beyond compare( Present it so that the egg is the star. It can still be interesting....but there's really no need to bring liquid nitrogen to my table to make me ice cream tableside. No need at all. Thanks, but no thanks. I've been called a classicist. If that means that I believe that the dining experience should be restorative and should center itself on the clean presentation of pristine ingredients, thoughtfully sourced in a welcoming environment with flawless service, then sign me up. I'm a classicist. Oh, and for the record...I put people who plate their food with tweezers in the same category as people who buy asparagus in December. That's just not for me.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Harvest Dinner

Yes, folks, it's that time of year. It seems like just yesterday that I was peeking outside and overjoyed to see the first vegetation poking through the still cool ground....held captive by thoughts of what the summer months would bring us. Now, the sunshine is fading, it's getting cooler and were faced with the end of another fantastic growing season. As I left the restaurant late last night, I was hit with the familiar smell of folks burning their wood fires.

The growing season is coming to an end here in South Central PA. Ok, Andy, why don't you go out with a bang? Well, we will.

The Sheppard Mansion will be hosting our second annual Harvest Dinner on October 14th 6pm(cocktails, ummm cocktails) and a 6:30pm dinner. Ever read this blog and wish you had some face time with Kathy Glahn or Beau Ramsburg or Will Morrow? Come on, you know you have... Well, now is your chance. I have invited some of our family of producers to join Karen and I for one fantastic night of 'the intersection of agriculture and innovative cuisine'. Here's how the night's gonna roll....Kathy, Will and Beau will talk a little bit about their respective products before the course is delivered. As it is being delivered, I'll hop out of the kitchen to give a little explanation about the preparation and then there will be a short description of the wine that has been paired with the course. Yes, we're pairing wine with all this stuff.(What that means is that halfway into the dinner, once everyone has had a couple of glasses of wine, it really gets out of control)

So, here's what you get. A five course dinner. Wines paired. Discussion with the area's Rock Star Farmers. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. $95 per person. Yes, only $95, all inclusive. Think about that. You could go to TGIMcFunsters a couple of times, drop some money, have crappy service and feel like garbage or you could come to this event, meet some of the most interesting folks you'll ever meet, talk about your food and eat some interesting food, to boot. Think about it ......feed your mind, body and soul in one singular event. Or go to some chain restaurant, eat your dry, hammered, hormone injected cheeseburger, have your 'server' do a squared dance while you're waiting to get your iced tea or greasy 'onion straws'. Really, the choice is yours. Vote for 'Food you can believe in'.

For reservations: Please call the restaurant at 717.633.8075