Food Wisdom from Chef Kieffer

We asked Artisan Chef Frederic Kieffer to share some insights and tips for preparing this menu, entertaining at home, and the importance of locally sourced foods.

Q. What’s the main difference between entertaining at home and at the restaurant?
A. The difference is that even though you want it to be the same, the standards are not the same. It is more casual at home; you can use one set of silverware! In a restaurant, there are a couple of steps of service that you cannot skip. But at home it can be just be relaxed and informal.

Q. Are there any chef’s rules that you throw out the window when cooking and entertaining on your night off?
The main thing is that there is no time pressure, whenever it’s ready it’s ready … and you also care a little bit less about the presentation. You can have more of a family-style meal … but the main thing is there is no time pressure. If you have to wait 10 extra minutes for it to be done, you’ll wait.

Q. What do you like about the entrée you selected?
It’s all about the chicken: It’s well seasoned, not disguised. It’s all about the quality of the bird; we use all-natural chickens … it’s not about the breading or the sauce. The honey brings a little sweetness forward and the ginger brings a lingering peppery taste to finish.

Q. How flexible can a cook be in choosing the vegetables?
Very flexible: Just open your eyes when you go into the produce aisle. The only thing that you have to know is that the vegetables [in this dish] have to be cut down to the same size and that they require the same cooking time. That’s the only rule. For example, if you were to use quince or chestnuts, those would have to be cooked ahead since they have longer cooking times.

Q. Tell us where the ingredients come from … and about your garden.
The carrots and beets came from my garden and the radishes came from Sport Hill Farm in Easton. I also use Urban Oaks Organic Farm in New Britain. We get the fingerling potatoes, squash, apples and white baby turnips from these local farms. From early May to late September we get 70 percent of what we need from my garden. I now grow potatoes, too. In the beginning I overlooked potatoes because I believed, wrongfully so, that they were not “noble” enough for a garden, but now one third of my garden is dedicated to potatoes because the taste is so different. You have not tasted potatoes until you have tasted one freshly picked from the garden and cooked. It is truly an amazing difference.

Q. Are there any secrets to getting the chicken just right?
Slightly undercook it and then give it 7 to 10 minutes to rest. In Europe, we have a saying that we eat it pink to the bone, and this is what leaves it perfectly juicy.

Q. We love the Jasper Hill Blue cheese, Red Bee honey, local sweet butter, toasted bread … it’s both hearty and fresh; tell us why you chose it.
I love a cheese and honey dish to finish a meal. This is the prefect introduction to dessert! It’s hearty because of the cheese and fresh because of the local sweet butter and honey, which works very well with the blue cheese. Blue cheeses are elevated to another level when you combine them with sweet butter and honey!

Q. How did you develop the lentil soup recipe?
Lentils are very good, but their flavor profile is pretty bland, so when you combine the green lentil with the smokiness of the ham hock and the sweet creaminess of the creme fraiche, the combination makes a very flavorful, multidimensional soup. When I start with an ingredient that has a lower flavor profile I like to bring in bacon or vinegar.

Q. The cobbler with almond crust is a little more involved than your everyday cobbler … in your opinion what makes it special?
The mix of texture makes this dessert so special: the creaminess of the baked apple, the graininess of the pear, the burst of the blueberry, the scoop of blueberry sorbet and vanilla ice cream all come together wonderfully. Once again it's about the fruit themselves and not so much about added spices.

Q. Why is the farm-to-table movement so important today?
The thing that motivates us (and I think I speak for a lot of restaurateurs) is that it is not a fashion trend; I have been doing this for many years. Why? First of all, [locally sourced food] tastes much better. The second thing is the health component. Just look at what’s been happening over the last 30 years: If you look at conventional produce grown with fertilizer, pesticides, chemicals … those things are passed on to us and can be linked to many of the diseases that we have today. So there is the health aspect to the farm-to-table philosophy as well.

Q. How do you support it in your restaurant?
We support it as much as we can; every week we get a phone call or email from a local farmer or vendor saying what they have available for that week. We then reply with what we want. We are a new restaurant and are just starting to do some crop planning with local farmers so we can increase our business relationships and support even more local agriculture.

Q. How do you keep seasonal meals from being boring in the winter?
You sometimes have to rely on California and Florida because local greenhouse production is limited. You keep trying to be creative and come up with new ways to use different vegetables. For example, beets can be used raw in a salad, or you can juice them for a cocktail, you can cook them and make a puree, or you can roast them, so now you have four different uses for the same vegetable. You can do this with a lot of vegetables during the winter. But of course summertime is the most fun for working local fruits and vegetables.

Q. What can the average home cook do to support purveyors of local, sustainable food and prepare more nutritious and delicious meals?
People should participate in CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture programs), where you have a co-op of five or six farmers who will provide each member with one basket of fruits and vegetables a week. You should also go to the supermarket and take a look at the organic produce first.