Tucker Yoder is good at making friends.
Last year, the executive chef at the Clifton Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia, hosted his first installment of Chefs in the Garden, a dinner series that features local guest chefs who work with Yoder for a night at the Clifton Inn to craft a locally sourced, seasonal dinner. The 2014 installment of Chefs in the Garden kicks off on Monday, April 28.
The dinners take place on three separate nights from April through September, and each night involves different guest chefs. Yoder says he started the series because he thought it would be fun to cook with his chef friends. He invited them to join him in his kitchen, using ingredients from his garden, and as the idea took off, other chefs began contacting him to participate in the event.
This first session of the 2014 series on April 28 features guest chefs Melissa Close-Hart from Palladio Restaurant in Barboursville Vineyard and Curtis Shaver of Hamilton's, both from Clifton’s own backyard in Charlottesville. They will work alongside Yoder in the garden and the kitchen to present locally sourced, seasonal dishes, served al fresco to 60-70 guests.
One benefit of inviting outside chefs is that the visiting chefs flex different culinary muscles than they normally do in their own restaurants. “When we invite chefs from the outside to come in, what we prepare for the series may not be necessarily what they are serving or highlighting at their own restaurants,” Yoder says.
Yoder says the natural landscape of the Clifton Inn provided an impetus for him to begin the series. “It is such a beautiful property here [that] we wanted to get people outside and see the vegetables and herbs we are growing in our gardens. We are always using ingredients from the garden or that are growing around the property in our dishes. I can point to what is growing in the garden and tell guests that that the Swiss chard being served in their dishes, this is where it came from.”
Most any herb Yoder uses in menu prep comes from the garden or elsewhere on the property, along with a long list of produce that includes radishes, turnips, rhubarb, arugula, beets, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, blueberries, and strawberries.
Yoder is presents food with a similar style to what is served at the Clifton Inn. “We are serving lighter dishes, so you can eat a several-course meal and not be uncomfortably stuffed,” he says, adding he avoids butter and cream on these menus. “When chefs come and see that we are sitting outside, they understand we need to prepare food that is lighter and fresher tasting.”
While much of the menu’s ingredients originate from Yoder’s own garden, locally-sourced ingredients include chickpeas from Steadfast Farms, used in a Chickpea Falafel With Spring Vegetable Salad And Roasted Jalapeño Riata; Chamomile and nasturtium from Manikantowne Specialty Growers, for Jumbo Lump Crab With Yuba, Chamomile and Nasturtium, and Caramelized Cabbage Vinaigrette; and goat cheese from Caromont Farm, for Steamed Goat Cheesecake With Rhubarb Shrub, Borage, Sweet Cicely, And Crispy Brioche.
The Tuesday, July 29, dinner showcases Chef Lee Gregory of the Roosevelt and Caleb Shriver and Phil Perrow from Dutch & Company. Both restaurants are located in Richmond, Virginia.
This season's series concludes on Monday, September 29, when Yoder teams up with chefs Tim Burgess and Vincent Derquenne, owners of Bang!, Bizou, and private event venue The Space in Charlottesville, Virginia.
By Joann Whitcher