Farm fresh; Guest chefs, organic food steal the show at dinner nights
TAMWORTH — For those lucky enough to score a seat, the farm-to-table-dinner at White Gates Farm is a lot like the TV show “Chopped,” but instead of there being mystery ingredients, the mystery is you don’t know how the chef will prepare them.
Set high in the hills of Tamworth with views of the Sandwich mountain range, the 110-acre, four-season farm on Cleveland Road is operated by Heather and Hank Letarte with help from their four children. This year they started hosting farm-to-table dinners that feature organic produce and naturally raised meats.
The dinners are Saturdays at 5:30, but there are only three more planned for this season: Aug. 9; Aug. 23 and Sept. 26. The cost is $75 per person for the dinners, which begin with a tour of the farm and the chance to see, depending on the decision of the guest chef, some of what may be on that evening’s menu. You will do well to wear your Wellingtons, or at the minimum, to be ready to tread carefully, because this is a fully working farm.
The family displays a highly-scientific, yet fundamentally ancient ethos — “We’re stewards,” said Hank — meaning a lot of thought, care, compassion and common sense go into what is raised at White Gates Farm.
The beef comes from Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle, which Letarte notes are known for their leanness, high growth rate and flavor. The cattle feed on grass that has been cleared of insects by Cornish Cross and Red Broiler chickens, which also fertilize the fields and the grass.
On a recent day, Berkshire pigs romped in the woods, eating what they found there as well as grain, all of which yields a delicious pork, said Letarte, who also noted that while his pigs are smaller than those raised in confined pens, they’re also happier.
When he calls them, the pigs come running to Letarte, whose approach to livestock is straightforward and simple. Each animal deserves and gets personalized attention.
“Animals have good lives with us,” Letarte said, which translates into a great product for consumers, whether they enjoying a farm-to-table dinner at White Gates or buying the ever-changing variety of items offered at the farmstand or at the Tamworth Farmers Market on Saturdays or North Conway Farmers Market on Sundays.
After touring the facility last week, Marbin Avilez, the executive chef at Hobbs Tavern & Brewing Co. in nearby West Ossipee, said White Gates Farm is “like Disney World for chefs.”
Avilez came to the farm to look at how he might integrate its meats and produce into the menu at Hobbs, but said he’d also definitely return to White Gates to be a guest chef.
After taking in all of White Gates Farm, Avilez said Hank Letarte was to farming what Michael Jordan was to basketball in the 1990s when “MJ” helped the Chicago Bulls win six NBA championships.
“Wow,” said Avilez, “You cannot get any closer to nature,” adding, “You become a better chef just by being here.”
Heather Letarte said that Avilez’ experience is exactly what she, her husband and kids are hoping to share with every farm-to-table diner. That experience starts by calling White Gates Farm at 662-7538 or going to whitegates-farm.com, and making a reservation.
Pan-Seared Breast of Chicken with Wild Mushroom Sauce was the main entrée at a recent farm-to-table dinner at White Gates Farm and Chef Scott Willard, graciously shared the recipe.
“The beauty of using food this farm fresh is you don’t have to work hard to get amazing flavor,” Willard wrote in an e-mail, “prepare it simply and let the food speak for itself.”
Pan-Seared Breast of Chicken with Wild Mushroom Sauce
Two, 4-pound free-range chickens
2 oz. of olive oil
1 c. of flour
Salt and Pepper to taste
One pound assorted, wild mushrooms, cut into bite-sized cubes
2 T. of corn starch
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
Remove breast meat from birds, which will yield four halves with skin on. Set aside. Remove legs and save for future use.
Cut or break all remaining bones and wings into 3” pieces, place in large stock pot and add 1 gallon water.
Bring to a simmer then pour off the water. Add 1 gallon fresh water to bones and bring to a simmer again.
Add any vegetable scraps and peelings; a bay leaf and some fresh thyme are good also. Simmer at least 1 ½ hours, skimming off any foam.
Strain stock and put back on stove and simmer until reduced by half.
Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Dredge chicken in flour mixed with salt and pepper. Add oil to pan and carefully place chicken in pan skin side down. Cook until browned and turn over to brown other side. Finish cooking in 350 degree oven until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees.
Remove chicken and keep warm. Add garlic, shallots and mushrooms to pan and sauté for a minute or two, then add reduced chicken stock. Bring to simmer. Mix corn starch with a splash of water and add to pan. Stir well and bring to simmer. Adjust taste with salt and pepper, if desired.
Slice breasts on a bias and slightly fan out on warm plate. Spoon over the mushroom sauce.
“Serve with the freshest vegetables you can find at the farm stand,” said Willard, which on the night he was cooking, was just-picked rainbow Swiss chard accompanied by maple-roasted sweet potatoes.