Preserve and Gather: An Autumn Dinner in Bovina, NY
The past summer was a green and bountiful one, spilling over with farmed produce of plump tomatoes and melons, succulent alliums, and bright herbs. While fall is generally thought of as the end of the growing season, we find the gathering and preserving of root crops, greens, and other vegetables at the peak of perfection to be a fine cause for celebration. This is why, at the height of autumn, we partnered with Jetsetter to host an intimate harvest dinner with Brushland Eating House on 80 acres of private land in the hamlet of Bovina, a pocket of the Catskills we find ourselves growing increasingly attached to with every north-bound visit.
Chef Sohail Zandi of Brushland Eating House worked with Chef Antonio Mora of Quality Meats in Manhattan, to grace us with an evening meal that celebrated the season’s bounty with fresh ingredients from Burnett Farms and other local purveyors, as well as cured and preserved fare that hinted at winter’s approach. Acidic wax beans, beet-stained eggs, swine confit, and sticky sun-dried tomatoes commingled with savory cheeses, fresh pasta, and hearty game. “We devised the Preserve and Gather menu quite spontaneously, near the end of summer, and spent those last months, from August on, literally gathering and preserving ingredients, using as many different techniques as possible,” explains Sohail. “We like to think we are on a farmer’s schedule here at the restaurant. At peak summer, we are overrun with delicious vegetables. Our enthusiasm grows and we know we must buy, buy, buy and worry about how to use the product later. The menu came from that feeling of being overwhelmed with goodness, not wanting to forget or waste anything.”
Our guests were a thoughtful mix of food and design folk, all of whom journeyed up from the city and different upstate regions in time to enjoy drinks and warm conversation around a golden hour bonfire. It was important to us that every element of the dinner honor upstate makers, which is how we came to dress our table with black beeswax tapers from Greentree Home Candle, powder grey linens from Boxwood Linen, blush linen napkins from Silk & Willow, and wild bouquets from flower arranger Molly J Marquand. Later, under hats and scarves, we cozied up around a decorative wooden platform set up by Tentrr for a rousing performance by one-man blues band The Bones of J.R. Jones, the sparkling embers of two small bonfires disappearing into the night. We toasted the season while sharing stories, toffee pudding, and pickle-flecked spirits; it was a time that felt much like a dream. Thank you so much to all of our makers for adding such beauty to an unforgettable event, and to our guests who traveled near and far to celebrate the magic of fall with us in a most special upstate setting.
Hudson Valley floral designer Molly J Marquand mixed foraged autumnal branches and local blooms for her various arrangements. She wove a balloon vine in and around our table settings to add a simple yet wild element to our meal.
“Bovina is made special by the residents, first and foremost,” says Sohail. “The people that choose to settle here, or even spend little bits of time each season, are a rare breed. The folks here genuinely love Bovina. They come for the beauty and sprawling, bucolic farmland; they also come to rest and read in their cabins, but also hike the mountains and walk Main Street to visit friends.”
Set on the dock of the pond, our bar was the perfect lookout spot to admire the reflected foliage off the water. Complete with a foraged arrangement by Molly J Marquand, the bar offered White Pike Whiskey cocktails and Ravines Wine that guests were invited to sip by the sunny afternoon bonfire before dinner was served.
White Pike Whiskey, distilled at Finger Lakes Distilling, supplied the whiskey for our cocktails. Two locally sourced concoctions were on offer: Black Magic, highlighting black walnut syrup, bitters, and lemon, and Ground Control, a mixed drink made with smoked blueberry vinegar and palm sugar syrup.
All around the property, so graciously provided by owners David Young and Fred Dust, were cozy corners and epic views of the autumn landscape. This converted garage space offered guests a homey sanctuary in which to enjoy their drink or warm up by the fireplace.
Our 40 foot table became the perfect canvas for showcasing some of our favorite upstate makers. A luscious Belgian linen tablecloth created by Ghent-based designer Boxwood Linen set the stage. From there, naturally dyed pale pink napkins by Silk & Willow were placed next to simple white ceramic plates. As the sun began to set, black beeswax tapers made by Greentree Home Candle illuminated the table, adding to the magic of the day.
The Vesper Board, an age old tradition in many cultures, set the tone for our Preserve and Gather dinner theme. Late season herbs, charcuterie, local cheeses, house smoked trout, pickled mackerel and vegetables, house smoked bacon, pickled deviled eggs, roasted garlic, black radishes, pork relish, and duck liver mousse comingled to celebrate the textures and flavors inherent in pickling and preserving local fare through the winter months. “In my and Antonio’s opinion, there’s no better way to start a meal than by grabbing and tearing and picking and peeling. We wanted to set the tone as a communal dinner, not one started by a precious plate of food,” explains Sohail.
When it came time to make the dinner a reality, Sohail was fortunate to call on Chef Antonio Mora for his talent and expertise. Antonio works as the Executive Chef at Quality Meats, a popular steakhouse in midtown Manhattan known for its modern interpretations of everyday dishes. “We truly wouldn’t be able to run a successful restaurant or switch gears as quickly as we do, without such a strong team,” says Sohail. “Working on the Preserve and Gather dinner gave us all a chance to grow and learn a bit, working outside of our comfort zones and in a new space. This time around, we were able to work with one of my dear friends and mentors, Antonio Mora, who is insanely talented. His spirit and technical abilities are such a nice example for the kitchen team, and I believe they all had a great time.”
“It is only our third year living in the Catskills, but even in such a short time, we’ve noticed a really amazing trend of tourism and relocation of young creatives to our neck of the woods,” says Sara. “It’s important to us as an eatery that we act as stewards of our community and draw attention to the farmers, so that nothing is wasted and we can support growers year-round. Hopefully, the examples spread out on the dinner table ignited and inspired ideas about next year’s bounty.”
Steve Burnett, who runs Burnett Farms in Bovina with his wife Kristie, was instrumental in the conceiving of this dinner. His toast at the beginning of the meal spoke to the uniqueness and richness of the area: “This is an unusual area, it collects odd people and grows in odd ways. We have a short season, think Alaska. We get food here that when you eat a cucumber, you think melon; when you eat a carrot, you think candy; and then it’s over. And like every household up here for generations have done, if you’re going to eat and survive, you preserve it. New cuisine happens because there is something unique happening in a habitat and there are people using that and doing things that are kind of extraordinary — it becomes understood by the people that taste it.”
Tentrr provided us with one of their luxe 10-foot by 10-foot canvas tents set up on a wooden platform, which we fashioned as a stage for our musical act, The Bones of J.R. Jones.
Hannah Leighton, who worked on the floor of Brushland Eating House all summer before relocating to western Massachusetts in September, traveled back to Bovina to help with the dinner. Much of the produce used that night had been expertly grown by Hannah, a farmer by trade, in a garden she built for Sara and Sohail behind the restaurant. “I love our team; I feel so lucky to have each of them, with their strengths and tenacity,” says Sara. “Hannah is such a force, a bright light, and I know anything will be safe in her hands.”
Poured tableside were bowls of Garbure, a French-inspired peasant soup best known for making use of what’s left in a pantry. A light stock of celery root, carrots, turnips, and seaweed paired beautifully with local creamer potatoes and homemade sauerkraut.
Next was the Hamachi crudo in a vinaigrette made with sun gold tomatoes that had been sun dried in the garden, along with a salsa verde made with freshly picked chilis, fermented and mixed with salad oil.
A close relative of lasagna, the Vincigrassi was a dinner stand-out, featuring locally sourced meat from Greenane Farms and Bramley Mountain Farms, housemade tomato sauce, creamy bechamel, and fire roasted Burnett Farms tomatoes topped with whipped ricotta cheese. “Steve’s tomatoes have an extra sweetness that allows them to be eaten fresh off the vine as if they were an exotic heirloom varietal,” says Sohail. “Their natural sweetness and tannins really shine through when canned.”
Blankets were handed out tableside as the night grew darker and chillier. Flickering candlelight mixed with the aroma of the final course added a sweetness to the air that can only be described as magical.
“It’s a good sign when tomato sauce and leaves of endive are draped all over the table — it just means everyone was chowing and sharing like they were supposed to,” says Sohail. “It’s also the best time of the evening when my crew and I can say we are done-done, and sit down for a beer together.”
There was no better way to end the night than with a stirring performance from The Bones of J.R. Jones. Singing intimately from a Tentrr platform lit by string lights and bonfires, guests enjoyed his captivating melodies while dining on sticky toffee pudding with black walnuts and Bovina creme fraiche.