by Margo Callaghan
When distance from farm to table is measured in moments, the relationship between the grower and the chef has to be equally close. Thus defines the nature of the relationship between Chef David Hugo at the Inn at Shelburne Farms and Josh Carter the manager of the Market Garden on the same estate. How else can the temperamental and weather-driven inventory of the garden be perfectly prepared and served that evening or the next to discerning palates? Those palates belong not only to the guests of the Inn, but the local foodies who make the pilgrimage over lush hill and dale to Shelburne Farms to sample the talents of Chef Hugo, who has been at the helm of the estate kitchen for four years. Even more so than the property’s landscape, its gardenscape changes weekly under Carter’s watchful eye.
So last Friday night, my friend and fellow journalist Carol Casey and I shared a table on the veranda of the Inn at Shelburne Farms. Being that the Champlain Valley was in the throes of a heat wave, there was no better spot to be found than lakeside in this bucolic setting. (And who did we meet, but Bob Roesler of Shelburne’s Selectboard at the Rehearsal Dinner of his daughter’s wedding the following day. Much happiness to the new couple!)
We settled in with our appetizers: for Carol it was a cool, soothing bowl of vichysoisse, that featured a decadent swirl of thyme oil on top, and the addition of asparagus to the otherwise classically interpreted chilled spud puree. I tried something I’ve wanted to have since first hearing of a grilled romaine-based salad a few years back. Who comes up with this stuff? Did the Romaine Growers Initiative witness a dip in that lettuce’s popularity and feel the need to bolster it with trying a charred rendition? To whoever birthed the notion, it is a grand one. It reinvents both texture and taste. The Inn simply shaved Shelburne Farms’ clothbound cheddar on top of the wilted greens and added vinaigrette to the mix, with exciting Nuevo (for me) Caesar results.
Ebb and flow and weeds
The Market Garden’s choices this evening were served aside our entrees; think roasted cabbages, curried turnips, kohlrabi, arugula, and other greens. It was the following morning that I met up with Carter in his milieu–an 1860’s farmhouse on Shelburne Farms’ property he shares with his wife, within eyeshot of his greenhouses and vegetable beds. The New Hampshire native with a masters degree in environmental studies now oversees a staff of four, plus three interns from UVM. “I talk with David [Hugo] almost daily,” Carter explained while noting the ebb and flow nature of his crops. “He is creative and talented enough to make menus work.” That “work” might mean dealing with an extreme influx of spinach (there is a bumper crop this year), or introducing diners to Carter’s harvest of “husk cherries,” which are related to the tomatillo and are also referred to as Ground Cherries, or Cape Gooseberries. Hugo has introduced them to diners in everything from cocktails to desserts. Carter also sang the praises of edible “weeds.” When asked to name an up and coming one, he supplied “purslane” which is an annual succulent, bred for its juicy leaf. He happened to have had an entire bed of it ready to be harvested and put to good use.
Back on course
Our main courses featured rabbit (mine) and duck (Carol’s). My rabbit saddle had a nutty farro grain stuffing which worked so well with the mild game meat. And a lovely mound of lightly dressed greens were on the side. The duck breast, from Brohm Lake in Canada, had a perfectly crisped, rendered skin and was paired with a piquant red currant and port wine sauce. Carter’s harvest of turnips supplied the side vegetable (roasted and curried). And even the dessert course found access to the Market Garden, by way of the chocolate cupcakes with fresh basil flecks throughout the rich butter frosting. I didn’t ask, but will go out on a limb: the strawberry jam filling in the shortbread thumbprint cookie no doubt also originated in the Market Garden. I’ll run a correction if I’m wrong, but I doubt I am. It’s just that I’ve experienced no stronger bond between the farm and table than between Shelburne Farms’ gardens and dining room menus. Try to make the scenic journey for yourself before mid-October, whether for the Inn’s breakfast, Sunday brunch, or dinner.
Breakfast: 7:30-11:30 am daily
Dinner: 5:30-9:30 pm daily
Sunday brunch: 8 am-1 pm