Edible Blue Ridge Summer 2011 : Page 24

The owners of Zynodoa restaurant serve up the bounty of their own home garden. GARDEN MENU behind Staunton restaurant Zynodoa, the back loaded with wire baskets of summer produce and herbs. Squash blossoms, Purple Beauty peppers, Roma tomatoes, rose-mary. Plus, a couple of cartons of chicken eggs, and another two of duck eggs. Susan Goode slides out, fills her arms with as much as her small frame can manage, and heads inside. Goode isn’t a farmer making a delivery to this 70-seat farm-to-table restaurant. She and husband Jeff are the owners. And to-day—as she does throughout the growing season—she’s bringing the fruits of one labor (two gardens on their farm in Swoope) to be transformed into the fruits of her other labor (four-year-old Zynodoa). “We created the kind of restaurant we’d want to eat at,” says Goode, unloading her baskets onto the stainless countertop in the small, immaculate kitchen. “We just kept our fingers crossed that there would be other people who would want the same.” Other people do. The restaurant—whose name is Native American for Shenandoah and is a tribute to the agricultural bounty of this re-gion—has amassed a loyal following of foodies who not only enjoy the sophisticated South-ern fare, but also come for the experience: 26 | EDIBLE BLUE RIDGE SUMMER 2011 A BY NATALIE ERMANN RUSSELL t PHOTOS BY SERA PETRAS BLACK JEEP PULLS INTO THE ALLEY to learn about the farms and producers whose foods grace their plates, and to marvel at the simple preparation that gives those ingredi-ents their due respect. It says a lot that many of those same farmers and producers are themselves regular customers. The wizard behind the cuisine at Zynodoa is 32-year-old chef James Harris, who has just returned from a morning scouring the Harrisonburg Farmers’ Market. Because the bounty of the Goodes’ farm—dubbed Buffa-lo Branch—makes up less than 10 percent of the produce needed by the restaurant, Harris supplements with trips to Staunton’s Saturday market, Verona’s market on Wednesdays, and Harrisonburg’s market on Tuesdays. He’s happy to find the baskets that Goode has delivered, and adds them to his market haul of peaches from Critzer Family Farm, carrots from North Mountain, and beer-and-cheddar bread from Staff of Life. With his lar-der stocked, menu brainstorming can begin. “Our stuff is so simple,” says Harris, who prior to his gig here was the kitchen manager at the five-star Inn at Little Washington in Wash-ington, Virginia. “There might be a lot of steps, but we use old techniques that are tried-and-true. They’ve been around for hundreds of years.” Harris gets busy blanching the Goodes’ Roma tomatoes, which he’ll use in tonight’s tomato broth, accompanied by his Polyface rabbit sausage and handmade ravioli stuffed with the Goodes’ kale, Caromont Farm ricot-ta, and amFog mushrooms. He prefers the Romas because they have a high flesh-to-juice ratio, and Jeff and Susan have been bringing him some good ones. He gestures toward the bags from the mar-ket, and begins the explanation of what came from where—plus a little background on the characters who grew it. Like the father-son duo who always set up at adjacent booths, the younger with much more produce, thanks to a new fancy irrigation system. And of course, that irks the elder, to everyone’s amusement. “For us, it’s all about our farmers,” he says, rinsing the Goodes’ mint, which he’ll use— along with their eggs—to create a house-made ice cream. But alas, he’s out of eggs, and now someone in the kitchen will have to dash over to Cranberry’s Grocery down the street to buy a few cartons of Polyface’s. “Our farmers are fantastic,” he continues. “Many ask us if we have crop requests, but the way I look at it is I don’t know enough about farming to know what’s going to be feasible. I’d rather have them grow what works for them—it’s going to be lovely,

Garden on the Menu

The owners of Zynodoa restaurant serve up the bounty of their own home garden.<br /> <br /> BY NATALIE ERMANN RUSSELL • PHOTOS BY SERA PETRAS<br /> <br /> A BLACK JEEP PULLS INTO THE ALLEY behind Staunton restaurant Zynodoa, the back loaded with wire baskets of summer produce and herbs. Squash blossoms, Purple Beauty peppers, Roma tomatoes, rosemary. Plus, a couple of cartons of chicken eggs, and another two of duck eggs. Susan Goode slides out, fills her arms with as much as her small frame can manage, and heads inside.<br /> <br /> Goode isn't a farmer making a delivery to this 70-seat farm-to-table restaurant. She and husband Jeff are the owners. And today–as she does throughout the growing season–she's bringing the fruits of one labor (two gardens on their farm in Swoope) to be transformed into the fruits of her other labor (four-year-old Zynodoa).<br /> <br /> "We created the kind of restaurant we'd want to eat at," says Goode, unloading her baskets onto the stainless countertop in the small, immaculate kitchen. "We just kept our fingers crossed that there would be other people who would want the same."<br /> <br /> Other people do. The restaurant–whose name is Native American for Shenandoah and is a tribute to the agricultural bounty of this region–has amassed a loyal following of foodies who not only enjoy the sophisticated Southern fare, but also come for the experience: to learn about the farms and producers whose foods grace their plates, and to marvel at the simple preparation that gives those ingredients their due respect. It says a lot that many of those same farmers and producers are themselves regular customers.<br /> <br /> The wizard behind the cuisine at Zynodoa is 32-year-old chef James Harris, who has just returned from a morning scouring the Harrisonburg Farmers' Market. Because the bounty of the Goodes' farm–dubbed Buffalo Branch–makes up less than 10 percent of the produce needed by the restaurant, Harris supplements with trips to Staunton's Saturday market, Verona's market on Wednesdays, and Harrisonburg's market on Tuesdays.<br /> <br /> He's happy to find the baskets that Goode has delivered, and adds them to his market haul of peaches from Critzer Family Farm, carrots from North Mountain, and beer-andcheddar bread from Staff of Life. With his larder stocked, menu brainstorming can begin.<br /> <br /> "Our stuff is so simple," says Harris, who prior to his gig here was the kitchen manager at the five-star Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia. "There might be a lot of steps, but we use old techniques that are tried-and-true. They've been around for hundreds of years."<br /> <br /> Harris gets busy blanching the Goodes' Roma tomatoes, which he'll use in tonight's tomato broth, accompanied by his Polyface rabbit sausage and handmade ravioli stuffed with the Goodes' kale, Caromont Farm ricotta, and amFog mushrooms. He prefers the Romas because they have a high flesh-to-juice ratio, and Jeff and Susan have been bringing him some good ones.<br /> <br /> He gestures toward the bags from the market, and begins the explanation of what came from where–plus a little background on the characters who grew it. Like the father-son duo who always set up at adjacent booths, the younger with much more produce, thanks to a new fancy irrigation system. And of course, that irks the elder, to everyone's amusement.<br /> <br /> "For us, it's all about our farmers," he says, rinsing the Goodes' mint, which he'll use–along with their eggs–to create a house-made ice cream. But alas, he's out of eggs, and now someone in the kitchen will have to dash over to Cranberry's Grocery down the street to buy a few cartons of Polyface's.<br /> <br /> "Our farmers are fantastic," he continues. "Many ask us if we have crop requests, but the way I look at it is I don't know enough about farming to know what's going to be feasible. I'd rather have them grow what works for them–it's going to be lovely, because all of the farms out here are lovely and all of the food they grow is lovely."<br /> <br /> He passes a bunch of the Goodes' kale over to sous chef Jeff Jacklin. Working here since Zynodoa's inception, Jacklin has the passion and organization to help keep this kitchen running like a well-oiled machine. Around here, he's known as the Chef with 12 Arms.<br /> <br /> Harris and Jacklin start breaking down the kale. The greens will be sautéed and served with Virginia rockfish. The stems–often tossed in the trash or compost at other restaurants–will be pickled and added to that dish as well.<br /> <br /> "Byproduct is our favorite thing," says Harris. "It's not just economical; it's tasty. You're paying by the pound for a lot of this stuff, and you don't want to throw any of it away."<br /> <br /> There's a fluidity and a rhythm to the kitchen at work. Nothing is static, especially the flavors: The same variety of tomato from the same grower will taste different each time, depending on sun exposure, placement of the plant in the field, and if it's early or late summer.<br /> <br /> "I don't want it to taste the same every time," Harris explains, now peeling the blanched Romas. "My focus is to always keep a nice balance of flavor–sugary over here, salty up here. It should go all around the palate."<br /> <br /> Gunner, a large Chesapeake Bay retriever, bounds over to join Jeff on the short path between the Goodes' home–a former caretaker's cottage he restored himself–and one of the gardens.<br /> <br /> There are 50 acres of rolling hills and 14 picture-perfect outbuildings here–providing insanely pastoral vistas. Twenty-two acres are being used for hay. A small patch of ground is home to a handful of apple trees of unknown variety. And there are two gardens totaling a quarter acre, yielding the high-quality produce that winds up feeding the hungry locavores at Zynodoa.<br /> <br /> The gardens have been quite a success–perhaps too much so. The Goodes have had to shrink the square footage several times, because there just wasn't enough time in the day to man the crops, the restaurant, and Jeff's construction business (which he has put aside for the time being). Not to mention, fend off the deer, foxes, and raccoons.<br /> <br /> Still, the garden has been prolific, in large part because of help from their "garden gurus," Phil and Deirdre Armstrong, owners of Harvest Thyme Herbs in Staunton. "They're very supportive of our garden and of our restaurant," says Susan, plucking pesky weeds from the space between the garlic chives and chocolate mint. She's the queen of weeding here.<br /> <br /> A few feet away is an arbor almost completely covered by clambering vines of Concord grapes, which, if they do well this year, will spend their afterlife as jelly. But it seems the more Jeff tends the grapes, the worse the results are. This year, he's taken a hands-off approach, and, indeed, the fruit is looking pretty good.<br /> <br /> It's early summer, but there are still spring vegetables like peas in full swing. "We're several weeks behind the curve," says Jeff, explaining that the cold river valley means they don't plant before the freeze date, no exceptions. "We've tried pushing the date, but then to have to pull out 36 tomato plants just because we jumped the gun is heartbreaking. You can easily get ahead of yourself." Plus, by harvesting later, they are able to extend the season and serve those ingredients at Zynodoa for longer.<br /> <br /> Suddenly, a line of marching ducks emerges from a quaint cinderblock building bearing the rustic sign hatchery. They are headed across the property, their daily pilgrimage to the spring-fed stream just beyond the main farmhouse, where Jeff's parents live. They'll return come dusk.<br /> <br /> Still inside the hatchery are the three bantam, two barred rock, and two Rhode Island red hens, each of which produces an average of one egg per day. These eggs find their way onto Zynodoa's menu in everything from house-made pasta to mint ice cream. The rich, large duck eggs, on the other hand, are destined for Sunday brunch, prepared as a remarkably rich, almost orange-colored scramble.<br /> <br /> Hopping on an E-Z-GO golf cart, Jeff and Susan and their shovels and hoes arrive within minutes at what they call the "upper garden." It's there along the fence line that they've planted some sunchokes, graciously passed along to them by the Arm-strongs of Harvest Thyme. On the other side of that fence are Mia and Rosie–two horses that were born at Buffalo Branch–which makes for a postcard-pretty garden scene.<br /> <br /> Also growing here are several varieties of potatoes, including Yukon Gold and Kennebec. A couple of years ago, the Goodes had a 450-pound yield, which lasted in cold storage until almost spring. This year, the plan is for 600 pounds. "It makes us proud to be involved to this degree," says Jeff, pointing to the 60-foot rows where this year's spuds have been newly planted (he puts them in late so as to bypass the ubiquitous–and damaging–potato beetle). Once it's time to dig them up, it's all hands on deck.<br /> <br /> Actually, there are really just four hands here. It's clear Susan and Jeff aren't afraid of hard labor. Jeff applies organic oils and fish emulsions plant by plant to ward off pests. And he composts both horse manure and farm waste, which he spreads over the crops with a tractor. The couple used to hand-water everything, standing there for hours, aiming a hose at each individual plant–and savoring the chance in an otherwise busy day to daydream.<br /> <br /> It's 4:30 p.m. and Harris has gathered the entire restaurant staff in the dining room to tell the story of tonight's service. Details about preparation–sautéed, braised, fried, stuffed with cheese–as well as about the farms from which the ingredients have come.<br /> <br /> In about a half hour, guests will start arriving, asking questions, and the servers have to be prepared. "We want them to be able to answer 99 percent of the questions, without having to ask someone else," says Susan, motioning toward the board where the names and locations of all the regular farm suppliers are listed. "A lot of people who dine with us want to talk about where the food comes from, who grew it–it's part of the experience. The kitchen, the wait-staff–we're all proud, and we hope the farmers are too."<br /> <br /> Throughout the year, the staff visits area farms on company field trips–Polyface in Swoope, Caromont in Esmont, Ayrshire in Upperville. Yes, they enjoy the experience ("It's where their passion is created," says Susan), but it's not all fun and games. What they learn is also fodder for the pop quizzes they are given a few times a week. Which farm grew the potatoes in the croquettes? How is the ravioli prepared? Where is Harvest Thyme located? This ensures that the farm-to-table message will make it to each and every, well, table.<br /> <br /> The restaurant's message also has an environmental component. The huge carbon footprint left by transporting food thousands of miles is simply nonexistent here. Instead, almost everything comes from within 7 to 75 miles. Even elements of the décor were made by local artisans–like the handcrafted fiddle-back-mahogany cabinetry behind the bar and the hand-blown-glass pendant lamps overhead.<br /> <br /> "The environmental aspect is important," says Harris, putting the final touches on squash blossoms that have been stuffed with local oyster mushrooms and ricotta, and then fried. "To me as a chef, what's more important is that fresh just tastes better. It makes us look like heroes."<br /> <br /> Sous chef Jacklin has begun ladling out the gumbo, which includes the Goodes' okra. These are a special variety–spineless, skinny, without the profusion of seeds. Maybe tomorrow Harris will pickle some in port vinegar from Virginia Vinegar Works in Nelson County. And the next day, fry some in canola oil from Portwood Acres in Rockingham County.<br /> <br /> This commitment to seasonal dining is palpable, making the Zynodoa kitchen a dynamic, exciting place. A dish might change three times from Wednesday to Sunday, depending on what's available. "It is what it is," says Harris with a smile. "You'd have to be very, very careless to screw up these ingredients."<br /> <br /> FRIED SQUASH BLOSSOMS WITH CHIVE MAYONNAISE<br /> <br /> From James Harris, chef at Zynodoa Serves 4 (appetizer)<br /> <br /> FOR STUFFED BLOSSOMS: <br /> <br /> 4 Tbsp. whole butter<br /> 1 lb. oyster mushrooms, stems removed<br /> 3 Tbsp. roughly chopped shallots<br /> 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. brandy<br /> 1 pint heavy whipping cream<br /> 1 lb. ricotta cheese, drained<br /> 1 dozen squash blossoms<br /> Canola oil, for frying<br /> Flour, for dusting<br /> 3 whole eggs, beaten<br /> 1/2 cup buttermilk<br /> Chives, as garnish<br /> Salt and pepper, to taste<br /> <br /> FOR CHIVE MAYONNAISE: <br /> <br /> 3 egg yolks<br /> 2 lemons, juiced<br /> 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard<br /> 1 Tbsp. chopped chives<br /> 11/2 to 2 cups canola oil<br /> <br /> 1. In a large skillet or Dutch oven, melt butter and cook mushrooms on high. When browned, add shallots; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in ¼ cup brandy, and flambé carefully.<br /> <br /> 2. Add cream and cook until reduced by 75 percent. Add 2 Tbsp. brandy. Purée in batches in blender until smooth (never fill blender more than halfway with hot liquid).<br /> <br /> 3. Once cool, mix with ricotta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place mixture in a pastry bag or plastic bag with corner snipped off. Gently fill each blossom. Place in freezer for at least an hour.<br /> <br /> 4. Meanwhile, make mayonnaise: Blend first 4 ingredients in a food processor. With machine on, slowly add oil until desired consistency (slightly thinner than storebought mayo). Season with salt and pepper.<br /> <br /> 5. In deep fryer or large saucepot, bring 2 inches oil to 350ºF. Dredge stuffed blossoms in flour; pat to remove excess. Mix eggs with buttermilk in a small bowl. Now dredge blossoms in egg wash, followed by flour again.<br /> <br /> 6. Carefully place blossoms one at a time into hot oil; cook, turning, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with dollop of chive mayonnaise; garnish with chives. <br />

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