The smell of smoldering apple wood signals winter in the air at Southall, as chef Tyler Brown cracks the door of the smokehouse to check on the progress of sock sausage that is slowly working its magic. Nine days of smoke should be good, he says, but it could be…Read More
“How do we express the season that is uniquely Southall?”
It’s a question that drives Chef Tyler Brown daily as he works to shape the culinary elements of Southall. Each day, the answers become clearer. Since 2016, Chef Tyler has been carefully observing each of the 325 acres of the property in order to better understand what the land can provide at any given moment.
There are the greenhouses, one housing an orangerie and a variety of tomatoes and herbs, and the other, a hydroponic greens operation established by grower Jeffrey Orkin of Greener Roots, as well as an aquaponic system growing striped bass. Throughout the year, each will provide a steady stream of fresh ingredients, such as bright tufts of butterhead and bibb lettuces, purple-topped microgreens, or sour kumquats. Campari tomatoes, from just a handful of plants, might mean a tomato and onion sandwich, available for just one day, to delight a few guests. The fish, grown in four 500-gallon tanks, will be harvested regularly, providing a consistent source of fresh seafood. Only at Southall can these elements land on the plate in a succession of dishes.
On the grounds, there are the kitchen gardens and production fields, as well as the 1,300-tree apple orchard, where Chef Tyler will be sourcing much of the menu’s produce, fruit, honey, and eggs. This is where, with planning and patience, seasonality can be harnessed through production. From the gardens, that might mean a breakfast radish, pulled by its tender leaves, going onto a plate with little more than a pinch of salt; or a dish of English peas, fava beans, and fresh sprigs of mint. The apple harvest will yield an abundance of fruit for the fall, that will also be preserved in various forms to be used during the colder months, including cider and vinegar.
But it’s from the wooded hills, the trees, and the natural landscape surrounding Southall where the magic and gifts of true seasonality take shape. The fruits of nature show up spontaneously and without much warning—ramps, toothwort, golden wood poppies, and morels appear as soon as the earth warms up; there one day, gone the next. A handful of ramp tops might be cut or pulled, used sparingly in order to preserve the supply for years to come. Persimmons might be collected as they come. As hickory nuts land with a thud from their trees during the late fall, they’re collected and carefully hulled, then ground down to be put into a hickory nut pie.
“If it’s wild and it’s forage-able, it’s there for a moment, for a glimpse,” Chef Tyler says.
Having spent several years foraging the property, Chef Tyler has a sense of when and where to look so that he can take these moments, fleeting but abundant, and honor them on the plate as they come. “We are looking to maximize those opportunities right at that moment, and then get it to the table to celebrate it,” Tyler says.
There’s a dance to working this way, a flow that happens between nature’s progression and a chef who’s watching and waiting. To craft a truly seasonal menu is to be constantly inspired by what the land provides, but also to be prepared and ready for the daily offerings.
“When you allow yourself to see your surroundings, oftentimes opportunity presents itself,” he says. “I want Southall to be a place to where any creative thought at any moment can be valid.”