- FARM FRESH Stephen Barber's guest chef series works kind of like a culinary version of a tribute album.
Last week, we wrote about pop-ups ("Popping Up," May 31), and this week we've got another culinary trend: guest chefs. Farmstead, the seven-years-old restaurant at the Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena, is trying the concept out this summer with a small series of dinners cooked in collaboration between chef Stephen Barber and friends.
Barber, who joined Farmstead soon after its opening in 2010, cooked in restaurants from Miami to Mississippi before landing in Napa County. Locals may know him from BarBersQ, now called the Q, which Barber opened in Napa in 2008. At Farmstead, he's been serving tourists and regulars a familiar California fare of fresh vegetables, risotto and grilled mains from ingredients grown on the farm, as well as barbecue ribs true to his Southern roots.
"The series provides the opportunity for Stephen and the Farmstead team to partner with guest chefs and learn from their different techniques and flavors," says owner Chris Hall, treating the summer project as a tradition in the making. Preparing for the dinners is no easy feat, he says.
"Stephen has several calls with our guest chefs prior to their arrival in Napa Valley to discuss how they'd like certain ingredients prepped," he says. "Once the guest chef arrives, they work with our culinary team on final prep and execution."
For the chef series, Barber is planning to expand on the grilling and smoking, his favorite summertime activity, and to open up the menu to some new flavors. His first guest of honor, Matt Bolus, hails from one of Nashville's trendiest restaurants, 404 Kitchen. Situated in a converted shipping container in the hip Gulch neighborhood and serving dishes like uni salad alongside a very nontraditional chicken potpie, 404 Kitchen was a 2014 James Beard Foundation nominee for Best New Restaurant. For his guest dinner, Bolus is incorporating blistered spring radishes and grilled King Richard leeks from the farm, a whole heritage pig and his signature iron-skillet cornbread, paired with Long Meadow Ranch wines.
Calling other future participants "old and new likeminded friends," Barber is preparing to host Charles Welch of Honey's in Chicago (July 14); Jenn Louis of Ray, a Portland, Ore., restaurant (Aug. 18); and, from Stockholm, Johan Jureskog of AG and Rolf's Kitchen (Sept. 15).
The lineup is nothing if not eclectic. Louis recently closed former fine-dining institution Lincoln to focus on Ray, a Portland-meets-Israel spot where she juggles sumac octopus and shawarma burgers. Welch opened Honey's, an American-Mediterranean eatery, last year, and has been focusing on bright, bold flavors ever since. As for Jureskog, whom Barber got to know through winetastings and mutual friends, his résumé currently includes a tapas bar and meat-centric restaurant combo, co-ownership of a cooking school and a TV show.
The guest chefs are expected to bring their own interpretation of Californian cuisine to the table, and, given the group's varying backgrounds and passions, variety is pretty much guaranteed.