When I begin searches for chefs and restaurants for article series, such as this seasonal produce series, I never know what sort of response I will receive nor where the restaurants will be located. I was pleased with the great response that I received for this query and with the diversity of locations. From West Coast to East and many stops in between, I have found fabulous restaurants and chefs that are utilizing locally harvested ingredients in their menus.
Interestingly, out of the twenty restaurants that I will be featuring, three are located in Pennsylvania. Thus, our culinary journey from Monday’s interview to today’s is merely an hour. For today’s interview, I was able to speak with John Brandt-Lee, chef and owner of Avalon Restaurant in West Chester.
TT: What local produce items are being used in your dishes currently?
CB: Mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, poblano peppers, golden beets, red beets, cayuga beet, Noble cheddar. We have our own herb garden. We also use lamb, veal, and chicken from Lancaster farms.
TT: Have you created any special menu items that highlight the local produce or infused the produce into your regular menu?
CB: We do a little bit of both. When we write a summer menu, we make two for the season: early and mid-late summer. We don’t really do specials; we change the menu every three months, sometimes twice in three months. If something is truly special, the peppers are an example, and is not on menu, then we create a special dish for it. We brought in peppers and made a pepper relish. We will serve a baby meatball dish with relish.
TT: What is your favorite dish that includes local produce?
CB: Our Heirloom Tomato. We only get them for two months a year. It is served with basil, imported buffalo mozzarella, ricotta, and caramelized onions.
TT: Do you work with any farms in particular?
CB: We work with Pete’s Produce, Bluemoon Acres, and Shellbark Hollow and from Lancaster Farm Fresh, a local farm co-op.
TT: What makes your menu/restaurant unique?
CB: I am very humble. I just do good food. I am a self-taught chef; it’s my heart and soul. I take a style of authentic Italian cooking and use minimal ingredients. I do this 4-course, price fixed menu that is all heart and soul. It is based on more impoverished areas around the world, how they use all parts of vegetables and meat and provide bold flavors. I deliver a good value and a great product. My passion is in every dish that goes out.