Museum chef perfecting art of farm-to-table

When it came time to create a new dining experience at the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art, the ingredients all fell into place, refining a taste for symbiosis in the process.

Blanch & Shock, MacGregor Mann's catering company, specializes in using locally produced ingredients in creative ways.

Blanch & Shock, MacGregor Mann's catering company, specializes in using locally produced ingredients in creative ways.

Conservancy officials said they realized that an organization committed to sustainability needed a chef who shared that passion, and MacGregor Mann offered a perfect match. The owner of the acclaimed Junto Restaurant in Chadds Ford, Mann has demonstrated a commitment to locally-sourced products that’s in synch with the conservancy’s mission, said Virginia A. Logan, its executive director.

Now, in addition to world-class art on the walls, visitors can get world-class meals. Mann’s career includes a stint at Restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, a two-star Michelin choice, as well as work as a sous chef with Jose Garces during two seasons of “Iron Chef America.” In 2011, he was named a “rising star sous chef” by Tastingtable.com and appeared in the Willliams-Sonoma Thanksgiving catalog.

“I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place,” said Mann as he looked around the museum’s café, which also received a makeover.

Logan said the transformation represented one of the last projects for George A. “Frolic” Weymouth, the conservancy’s co-founder. Weymouth, who died last month, was instrumental in designing “a more joyful” space, she said. He emphatically rejected suggestions to name the restaurant after him, insisting that Millstone Café reflected the historic building’s origin as a gristmill.

When the floors needed to be redone, Weymouth wanted the oak planks to mimic the museum’s signature millstone design, derived from the giant stones used to grind grains. Logan said Weymouth spent hours with different colored tapes, marking the pattern, determining the number of rays, and adding shadows.

The new floor at the Millstone Cafe features a design by the late George A. 'Frolic' Weymouth, co-founder of the Brandywine Conservancy,

The new floor at the Millstone Cafe features a design by the late George A. 'Frolic' Weymouth, co-founder of the Brandywine Conservancy,

“He taped and re-taped, taped and re-taped, on and on,” Logan said, explaining that the final result “is meant to draw your eye to the river,” which shimmers below.

Such accomplishments enable the staff to continue to celebrate Weymouth’s life and spirit, Logan said. Moreover, the redesign produced “a wonderful canvas for the culinary arts of our new partner,” Logan said.

Mann said he is equally excited about the partnership, as is his executive sous chef, Jason Peabody, whose experience includes the Four Seasons.

“It was all very foreign to me,” said Peabody of Mann’s philosophy, “but I found it an interesting concept and I jumped right in.”

Mann said that there’s a lot of delicious food and drink being produced within a close radius. Mentioning just some of his local favorites, Mann said he loves getting fresh buttermilk from Baily’s Dairy in Pocopson and produce from H.G. Haskell’s SIW Vegetables in Chadds Ford and Pete’s Produce in Westtown Township.

He’s also a proponent of fermenting, pickling and foraging, which means that a fly-fishing interlude or a walk in the woods can produce a bounty of ramps, morels, garlic mustard or nettles. Cooking takes the sting out of the latter, he assured.

Chef MacGregor Mann, whose catering company will add culinary art to the Brandywine River Museum, directs his staff in the placement of appetizers.

Chef MacGregor Mann, whose catering company will add culinary art to the Brandywine River Museum, directs his staff in the placement of appetizers.

“It’s given me a new appreciation for what’s in your backyard,” he said. “Plus, it forces you to be much more creative.”

And he said now that he has developed a taste for the open spaces of the suburbs, he might never go back to the city – although it may come to him.

After cooking in Philadelphia for 15 years, he developed many culinary friendships, and is now receiving inquiries from former colleagues about where to find the ingredients he uses. “I'm not going to make it too easy," he said with a smile. "I’m inviting them to come out here and explore.”

In addition to providing food in the Millstone Café daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mann’s catering company, Blanch & Shock, will serve as the conservancy’s in-house caterer for events.

On Sunday, the museum will offer a special Mother’s Day Brunch with farm-to-table offerings, some of it from land that the conservancy protected, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.brandywine.org/museum/events/mothers-day-brunch.

 

 

 

 

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