In Part 2 of my farm-to-table food journey for research, I wrote about Arethusa Dairy Farm in Litchfield County and how ridiculously delicious the milk, cheese and butter that come from Arethusa’s prized cows are. It only made sense for Arethusa’s owners, the brains behind Manolo Blahnik stilettos, to launch a restaurant adjacent to the dairy and to recruit a chef who would best utilize their products. Arethusa al tavolo opened last summer and was an immediate hit – a fine dining eatery that offered the freshest, highest quality ingredients in innovate menu items but without the pretentiousness and stuffiness of “fancy” places. I became a fan from my first bite of the lobster and avocado appetizer.
Michael and I went back a few more times last summer, and al tavolo never disappointed. When we were in Connecticut this time around and I was determined to learn about chefs at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement, I had a perfectly good excuse to revisit the restaurant. The only catch was getting Chef Dan Magill, who makes magic in the kitchen, to sit down and talk to me. Luckily, Chef Dan was a prince among men, generous with information and recipes and philosophies of cooking. He was the opposite of the diva type you read about or see on television food competition shows but rather down-to-earth, funny and, most importantly, earnest about his craft. He doesn’t come out front to shake hands and take bows. He works the line with the other cooks, turning out perfection night after night, as does his pastry chef, April Massey. He started in the business at age 14 as a dishwasher and after putting himself through culinary school took jobs that allowed him to observe the best chefs in the food world. (He did a stint with Daniel Boulud, for example). Now, he’s come into his own at al tavolo and, despite the accolades, his head is still on straight.
Having grown up on the North Fork of Long Island and fished as a kid, he’s partial to cooking the freshest seafood around – “sea to table,” he calls what he does in the kitchen. But he’s also known for his duck and Michael raves about his lamb and beef. And he’s all about Arethusa’s dairy products, of course, and there’s not a single appetizer, entree or dessert on the menu that isn’t swoon-worthy because of those products. I mean who wouldn’t want to dive into this? We’re talking ice cream straight from the cows, people.
I’m back in Santa Barbara now and not exactly stuck in a culinary wasteland, but the challenge will be to put together all the info I gathered in Connecticut and create an entertaining story for my novel’s characters.
Oh, did I mention that the novel will be a spin-off of Princess Charming?
Yup, I’m bringing back Elaine, Jackie and Pat for another vacation together. They’re going to be “agri-tourists” in Connecticut, staying at a fictional resort on a fictional farm and getting into all sorts of trouble as they milk cows, take cooking classes, interact with the chefs and other guests and – you guessed it – solve another mystery. Who will be marked for murder in this one? Stay tuned.