It might be a stretch to say that cider is the wine of North America, but cider apples do find a more natural home in the northeast (and produce delicious, interesting, complex stuff) than wine grapes do, and certainly there’s a higher percentage of world-class cider made here than there is of world-class wine.
Some other time for that discussion; back to Cider Week: This year, it included a a Glynwood farm dinner by Gramercy Tavern chef Mike Anthony and a “small” crew of his staff. On this trip Anthony was joined by sous-chefs Aretah Ettar and Kyle Goldstein, and by an assortment of fourteen cooks, servers, and managers. They took over the place, turning it into something more resembling a swank outdoor restaurant than a typical catering operation: Everything but meat-smoking was done pretty much a la minute.
After a half-day of moving the farm’s sheep and some of its cattle, working with the vegetable team, and tasting ciders, the tired and perhaps slightly inebriated team got to work. Part of the crew, led by Goldstein, got two huge grills going, and broke out primal cuts of pork they’d smoked back in the city. Back in the kitchen, Ettar’s crew was working on a cucumber gazpacho and a spectacular salad of new breeds of ancient grains.
I wound up kibitzing at the grill: The pork, destined for tacos, was glistening – few hunks of meat ever looked more beautiful – but the star wound up being marinated and grilled chicken, simple enough in its appearance but a complicated and complex dish devised by yet another of GT’s sous chefs, Ian Benitez. Benitez, who was back in the city working, oversees the restaurant’s informal tavern, and some time ago was charged with creating a chicken dish that would compete against the room’s improbably high burger sales.
Gramercy once had a finite amount of ground meat from sustainable sources nightly. This produced a limited number of burgers, which were kept off the menu and available only by request. They were almost immediately so coveted that people began showing up early – like at 4pm – to demand one. What was supposed to be a special treat led to some customers feeling deprived and others annoyed.
But “when we increased supply and put that burger on the actual menu,” says Anthony, “it outpaced everything. So we decided to try to come up with some universally popular dishes that would compete with the burger, in part because none of our cooks wanted to work our grill and flip a hundred burgers a day.”
Using a traditional Peruvian sauce for inspiration, Benitez created a pickled red pepper sauce emulsified with cheese, and pairs the chicken with sautéed potatoes. (“This time of year we put in some radishes too,” notes Anthony.”) It’s a fantastic dish – and yes, it competes with the burger. We’re reproducing the (original, barely edited) recipe here, should you want to tackle it. (Please let us know how it goes.)
Anthony himself was in flight, almost leaping from one team to another, interacting with his staff, Glynwood’s, and ultimately with arriving guests. I asked him what the point of all of this was, besides giving a lucky seventy or so people a chance to eat Gramercy food in an improbably magnificent, non-Manhattan location.
“There’s nothing like the magic people feel when they get out of the city and connect to a place where food is actually grown and raised – really everyone here is so invigorated, so alive while we’re here,” he told me. “And we’re trying to really form a bond between GT and Glynwood – there’s really no better place for us to tie together the full cycle of learning. You know, many restaurants have established a presence on a garden or a farm; we’re not going to do our own, but a partnership with Glynwood really brings us much closer to that notion.”
For Glynwood, the benefits go beyond the obvious involving creating a top-flight meal (with some of the country’s best ciders) in an astonishingly beautiful location: “Our vision of a regional food system,” says Finlay, “needs the involvement of passionate and educated culinary professionals, and we’re lucky to have Mike and the rest of the Gramercy Tavern crew as strong, dedicated allies.”
We produce reported pieces, profiles, interviews, and rants about what’s broken in the food world (there’s a lot) and how to change things for the better. People sometimes tell me to just keep politics out of it. Respectfully: No. Food is political. We can’t and won’t ignore that.