Like many chefs, Kieron Hales takes inspiration from the changing seasons. But Hales splits with his peers in other aspects of the dining experience—specifically, the location. Instead of turning out dishes in a trendy, urban restaurant, the chef hosts his operation at a 42-acre farm and special events venue about 20 minutes northwest of downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Since opening in 2014, Zingerman’s Cornman Farms has played host to corporate gatherings, supper club–style dinners, and a number of weddings (the retreat was recently named one of the top garden wedding venues by Harper’s Bazaar). The property encompasses working pastures, a chef’s garden, a restored barn, and a farmhouse.
Hales, who grew up in the English countryside, brings that rustic mindset to the menus. To further highlight the ever-changing bounty of its gardens, Cornman Farms launched a new dinner series to coincide with each passing season. In late September, the venue hosted its Fall Harvest Dinner with a multi-course meal showcasing the flavors and produce of autumn. These dinners have the double benefit of reaching out to the greater community and drumming up business for Cornman Farms’ private events.
“When we finalized our seasonal menus for the upcoming year, we thought, what better way to celebrate each season than with a special dinner that not only offers a sneak peek at what we are creating in the kitchen each season, but is also a great way to promote our private dining offerings,” Hales says.
The offerings marry Hales’ international background and Michelin-star tutelage (he worked at Restaurant Paul Bocuse in France and Dal Pescatore in Italy) with Michigan flavors and culinary traditions. Think: an amuse bouche of Welsh rarebit and house-cured pork belly, a hearty whole-hog cassoulet, and an “intermezzo” granita that includes foraged Michigan gooseberries and local honey.
Although the next dinner in the seasonal series will not debut until January, Cornman Farms is opening its doors to the public with another special event before year’s end. Later this month, Chef Hales will teach a three-day Thanksgiving cooking class in which each of the half-dozen participants will create and then take home a complete holiday meal for eight to 12 dinner guests.
The menu includes upscale iterations of classics (roasted turkey, sweet potato mash, and Brussels sprout and parmesan gratin), as well as less conventional—but seasonally appropriate—creations like Bacon Steak topped with pickled beets and pimento cheese, winter kale and pine nut salad, and wild mushroom and cheese roulade.