Tag Archives: Cherry Grove Organic Farm

Interview with Craig Shelton; Slow Food Winter Farmers Market; LA Times’ Devilish Quiz

Coffee & Conversation With Craig Shelton

When I read in an interview in Inside Jersey that Craig Shelton – historically New Jersey’s most renowned chef for his groundbreaking restaurant, the Ryland Inn – had moved to Princeton, my home town, I invited him to conversation over coffee at a local shop.Craig Shelton I wanted to know why and how he had landed in Princeton after a stint in Texas, and what was on his horizon. As always, Shelton was gentlemanly, thoughtful, and unpredictable. I can’t think of any other chef whose responses to restaurant-related questions would encompass: artists ranging from John Singer Sargent to Basquiat, the differences between the British and German banking systems (a discussion that was, frankly, over my head and so is not included here), and the nature of man and the universe.

Me: Why Princeton?
Shelton: The reasons were several-fold. First and foremost, the children. My son, William, is 14 and in middle school. My littlest, Juliette, is at Community Park elementary. (Olivia, my oldest, is soon to be 23. She’s finishing up at Villanova. Her major is pre-med and communications.) Princeton is one of very few locations where you can have an extremely high-value quality of life without needing much money. I lived for many years in nice places that required a nice income. Have you been to the university art museum? I was blown away. I’ve always been a bookish guy. It’s nice to be in a community where you’re not an oddity. Well, I’m still an oddity. I’m probably the only guy in town that’s right-of-center politically.

Me: How has your family coped with the recent changes?
Shelton: My wife fell in love with Texas. We went down without expectations – the rolling hills and horse farms reminded us of Far Hills. People were so lovely, I can’t begin to tell you. We found the area singularly beautiful, quiet, whole, and wholesome. I didn’t see the level of spiritual emptiness that is worldwide. My wife was a shy person, but they embraced her. It affected her in a most beautiful way.

Me: I know you’re consulting with Constantine Katsifis, owner of the Skylark Diner in Edison and other ambitious diners around the state. What else are you involved in these days?
Shelton: Constantine uses me as a kind of Special Ops guy on serious issues. I go in for 90 days, do triage, implement fixes, take a look at finances, marketing – whatever his needs are. I even consult on issues outside his restaurants. But my highest aspiration is to be a bridge between the worlds of finance the restaurant arts. The Ryland was like the canary in the coal mine: it was not in a big city – it was exurban – and it had no big financial backers. It was ten to fifteen years ahead of the others in having to face the current financial and global issues. We have created a sort of Frankensteinish monetary code in the US – very injurious to the working and middle classes –  that makes any kind of traditional business [harder]. Finance and banking trump all other aspects of business, and the government is failing to resolve current issues of financial trust. There’s an unprecedented need for balance sheet work to be done!

Me: Where is the dining world headed?
Shelton: It’s easier to figure out than you think. Like all the plastic arts, it is constantly evolving. But of all the arts it has the greatest latency factor. Just look at any other art form, what you see on the plate will have come out of that. Sculpture, architecture, music – you can map alongside the resulting aesthetic changes in cuisine. What creates beauty? The mind creates beauty based, I think, on the nature of the universe – god and man. Beauty deals with these things on some level. If you take an art history class you’ll see the changes from, say, William Merritt Chase and Singer Sargent to Basquiat and beyond. You see Rothko on the plate today: a smear painted with a brush. Chefs don’t create ex nihilo, they’re a product of their environment. The current worldview is that we have rejected painterly painting, that you see the effect of modernism everywhere. You see evidences of the changes, not just in painting but in advertising, packaging, signage, etc. But I think you’re going to see a psychological need to draw support from traditional beauty with more frequency.

Me: What does it take to have a successful restaurant these days?
Shelton: The guys who have followed me have done so at a nearly impossible moment in time. Their range of choices is driven by economics, as it has been for 25 years. Like when Jean Georges began to use the secondary cuts of meat – really, it was the only economic choice at the time. Why do you think people are into foraging now? The range of options keeps shrinking. A lot of restaurants are going to go under – 20% or more. Of course, there will always be a few geniuses and a factor of luck, like finding the right business partner. A dining room of ten seats can work; anything more than that may be a liability these days.

Slow Food Winter Market @ Cherry Grove Farm on Saturday

Cheeses from Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville

Cheeses from Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville

At this special holiday market you can, of course, pick up outstanding meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and other foodstuffs from these participating farms: Cherry Grove, Cherry Grove Organic, and North Slope. But you can also put a serious dent in your holiday gift list. Personally, these are what I plan to cross off my own:

There will be much more: Organic ghee from Pure Indian Foods, fresh mozzarella and ricotta from Fulper Farms, alpaca wool products from WoodsEdge, Jersey Jams and Jellies, Artisan Tree handmade natural soaps. Plus live music by Bo Child & Anita Harding.

Shibumi Farm Mushrooms

Shibumi Farm Mushrooms

I’ll also be purchasing exotic mushrooms from Shibumi Farm to make wild mushroom mac ‘n’ cheese for a holiday dinner party I’m hosting. If you haven’t encountered the spectacular fungi of Alan Kaufman and company, like the lemon oysters, pioppinos, and king oysters show here, you’re missing out on something special.

The Central NJ Slow Food Winter Market runs from 11 am to 3 pm on Saturday, December 15 at Cherry Grove Farm on Route 206 in Lawrenceville. For directions and a full line-up of vendors, click here.

Jonathan Gold’s Cooking Weights & Measures Quiz

I am not going to tell you what I scored on this clever multiple-choice test; it’s embarrassing. Hopefully you’ll do better.

Lobster Bake in Princeton; Philly Restaurant Recommendation; Old-Fashioned Tomato Soup Recipe

$19.82 Lobster Bake to Celebrate Nassau Street Seafood‘s 1982 Founding

Princeton’s foremost fishmonger is hitting the big three-oh and to mark the occasion owner Jack Morrison and crew are holding an outdoor lobster bake at the Nassau Street store on Saturday, September 8, from noon to 4 pm.

Colin Rooney. Nassau Street Seafood

There’ll be live music by Pi Fight, family activities, and trivia, but the centerpiece will be the lobster bake, which includes a one-and-a-quarter pound lobster, Jersey corn, steamed potatoes, coleslaw, drink and dessert. 1982 was a good year, and $19.82 is a great price. Just show up at the appointed time at 256 Nassau Street.

While we’re on the subject of seafood….

I Had a Terrific Meal at Philly’s The Farm and Fisherman

One of my best meals of the summer was at this very personal 30-seat byob on Pine Street. So many restaurants tout “farm to table” but this one, by the husband and wife team of Josh & Colleen Lawler, is the real deal. Every dish is bright, light yet satisfying, and most of all inventive, with unexpected combinations that work. Some prime examples:

Grilled Sicilian eggplant with blueberries, pistachios, burrata, golden raisins, tomato confit.

Bloody beet steak with yogurt, pan drippings, aged balsamic, amaranth.

Marlin with cherry tomatoes, anise hyssop, red grapes, purslane, cucumber.

Next time I hope to try Chicken Its & Bits: terrine, cockscomb, liver, oyster, concord grape. Yowza! The Lawlers have a pretty impressive pedigree: she was sous chef at Picholine and he chef de cuisine at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Local Girl Scout Troop Takes on Sustainability & I Get a Free Cookbook

If you stopped by the West Windsor Farmers Market on some Saturdays in August you would have come across a table of Girl Scouts with a sign offering FREE COOKBOOK. Well, that’s a siren song I never resist, and what I found impressed me. The cookbook – a glassine folder of 25 recipes – was but one result of their journey towards earning the Girl Scout Gold Award.

Under the guidance of Lynn Mahmood and Angie Crichton of Princeton Junction, co-leaders of Troop 70676, seven of the troops, all incoming high school juniors this fall, had tackled the “Sow What?” project. Each of the girls had visited a local farmers market and then together toured Cherry Grove Organic Farm in Lawrenceville. They also calculated the food miles of popular supermarket items and the resulting carbon footprint.

Scout Lauren McTigue took on the task of developing the cookbook. She elected to focus on recipes for apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raspberries, and tomatoes, and uncovered a series, new to me, of charming recipe booklets with “Old” or “Old-Fashioned” in their titles. All are by J.S. Collester, a historian at Indiana University. Among the 30 titles Collester produced through Bear Wallow Books are, besides those that focus on each of the above ingredients, those for pumpkin, cheese, candy, bread, bread puddings, and honey-maple syrup-sorghum. Others offer traditional Shaker, pioneer, fishing village, and Native American recipes. All are charming, inexpensive, and available through small distributors like AbeBooks.com and Kauffmansfruitfarm.com.

When I came across the old-timey tomato soup recipe in the Scout’s folder, it made me realize that although I use fresh Jersey tomatoes all the time to make gazpacho and cooked and uncooked tomato sauces, I had never thought to make homemade American-style tomato soup. My family loves Campbell’s so, I thought, why bother?  Well, because this simple recipe is a taste revelation – not to mention lower in sodium and, as Troop 70676 would point out, food miles/carbon footprint.

Slightly adapted from “Old-Fashioned Tomato Recipes” by J.S. Collester (Bear Wallow 2000)

8 to 10 firm ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)
Fresh chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

Combine tomatoes, onion, celery, green pepper, and bay leaf in a soup kettle and cook, stirring frequently, until celery is tender. Push mixture through a sieve or food mill and return to kettle. Make a paste of the flour and butter and stir it into the cooking tomato liquid. Add remaining ingredients and cook over low heat, stirring frequently for 15 to 20 minutes. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley, if desired. Makes 3 cups.

(Reprinted in part from the August 31, 2012 edition of The Princeton Packet)