MILFORD, PA — For years, chefs have been championing the local foods movement, buying from local farmers who provide fresh, top-quality ingredients. But how many chefs have their very own garden to work with? Chef Christopher Bates at Milford’s Hotel Fauchère does, and he says it makes all the difference.
From a chef’s viewpoint, it’s all about the food. “There has to be more than just the quality of the produce,” Bates explained. “Our food focuses on seasonality and artisanship. We’re always pushing the envelope with the dishes we serve, and the garden is the launching point for that.” The garden serves all three of the hotel’s restaurants.
“Being connected to a farm brings us closer to what we use. If you have only six or maybe 12 ingredients to work with (depending on what’s available that week), it gives us a limited parameter, but it allows us to be more creative with what we have.
“Growing it yourself instills more respect in what you produce. Our cuisine is more vegetable heavy. We do use meat and fish, but our specialty is vegetables. The farm helped us focus on this.”
Hotel Fauchère’s one-acre garden is located about a mile away on a farm owned by one of the hotel’s principals. It has one fulltime, year-round employee, who tends the garden in the summer and works in the hotel in the winter. Hotel guests are welcome to ask for a garden tour, or the site can serve as a venue for a picnic lunch packed by the kitchen staff.
This year’s spring planting was already underway several weeks ago, and it won’t be long before the kitchen is receiving a bounty of fresh vegetables. In winter, the kitchen relies on root vegetables that store well or overwinter, as well as on a small greenhouse to grow microgreens, carrots, beets, radishes and fresh herbs.
“We plant a little bit of everything,” Bates says, including some vegetables perhaps you never heard of, such as crosnes (pronounced CRONES) and cardoons.
“Just about everything is an heirloom varietal, and the garden follows natural growing practices (no chemical pesticides or fertilizers).
Bates has been the Fauchère’s chef for four years. He talks fondly of learning to cook. “I started cooking with my mother when I was a little kid. I always loved it,” he said. “Just about everything my Mom taught me is still with me today. I think I just always had a passion for food.”
His first job in a restaurant kitchen came when he was 14. Later, he attended hotel school at Cornell before working his way around the country (Wyoming, Chicago and Texas) and around the world (Italy and Germany).
Bates is also an accomplished sommelier. Right now, he’s working on his Master Sommelier exam, which will include a blind taste test of six wines.
Bates is proud of his food. “We try to have a connection with everything we serve. We cure all of our own meats in-house. During tomato time, we probably harvest 150 pounds a week—enough for all of our restaurants, but also, we make an entire year of Bloody Mary mix from the farm.”
Bates is a strong supporter of the local food movement. “It’s important,” he said. “It supports small farmers, stimulates local economies, makes people more aware of where their food comes from.”
The hotel’s restaurants feature many Pennsylvania wines as well, including Pinnacle Ridge and Galen Glen. “We do winemakers dinners (on Fridays) and food and wine paring workshops, too,” Bates added.
On Saturday, June 1, from 12 noon to 6 p.m., Hotel Fauchère will host the Milford Wine and Food Faire, outdoors behind the hotel, at the corner of Catharine Street and Blackberry Alley.
“Meet the Chef/Meet the Vintners” workshops will be held indoors. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $30 on the day of the event.