Whether talking about his recent past helping to start a beach resort and several restaurants in Beirut, or Crest’s plans for solar paneling and its growing rooftop garden, Dustin Brafford, Executive Chef at Crest Gastropub, is passionate about what he does. Food is what it’s all about for him, and the fresher and more sustainable, the better. And that’s his goal for Crest. The Columbus-born, Phoenix-raised food lover cooked in Beirut for two and a half years, and has now returned to Columbus to be a part of the the growing local food movement. —Claire Paniccia
How does it feel to be back in the Columbus food community?
It’s awesome because when I left it was starting to go up. And now it’s amazing what’s happening around here. It used to be corporate, corporate, corporate. It’s nice to see some culture. There’s some really good stuff happening here.
Like what, do you think?
For one thing, the coffee movement here has been amazing. And obviously the food trucks.
An Ohioan born and bred, Nancy McKibben has been writing all her life, including her first novel The Chaos Protocol, which was a finalist for the 2000 Ohioana Book Award for Fiction. A master wordsmith, Nancy has crafted more than a dozen feature articles for Edible Columbus over the years in addition to writing other professional pieces and raising six children. Read on to learn more about Nancy, her writing process and her food reading recommendations.—Leah Wolf
Leah Wolf: Tell us a little about your journey as a writer.
Nancy McKibben: I began my first novel in fourth grade (thanks, Miss Leedy, for being supportive!) It was about a girl jockey who rides her horse in the Kentucky Derby. I know, a little derivative—National Velvet, anyone?—but I was only ten. I finished my first novel (a different one) when I was in my forties.
I’m currently writing the third novel of The Millennium Trilogy and experimenting with ebooks. I also write songs, poetry and essays. I hadn’t done any food writing before Edible Columbus, so I owe thanks to Tricia and Colleen for giving me an avenue for writing about food and sustainability.
“There’s a few things I’ve learned in life: Always throw salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for good luck and fall in love whenever you can.”—Alice Hoffman
In the language of flowers, lavender can mean distrust and suspicion, or devotion, loyalty and good luck. It was once believed that the deadly asp made its home in lavender so any harvesting of wild plants needed to be done with care and suspicion. I prefer the notion of devotion.
Down through history lavender has had many devotees. Both the Queen of Sheba and Cleopatra were reputed to have used lavender in their alluring perfumes. Queen Elizabeth I commanded that lavender conserve be served at every meal. And Queen Victoria appointed a “Royal Purveyor of Lavender Essence” to provide Buckingham Palace with a constant supply of lavender for scenting linens and rooms.
My love affair with lavender began in the late-’80s. When it was time to choose a plant for my master’s thesis, lavender was my first choice. After three years researching and testing this species I became an admirer of this herb of use and delight.
Lavandula angustifolia is the botanical name for English lavender. The name directly translates to narrow-leaved lavender. Etymologists believe that the word Lavandula comes from one of two Latin verbs: lavare—to wash—or livendulo—livid or bluish. The former refers to the practice of using lavender to cleanse while the latter refers to flower color. The translation lavare is more popular and it implies that lavender’s many qualities have been understood and valued since the time of Ancient Rome. Today we know that lavender has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties. According to Valerie Ann Worwood, a well-known aromatherapist and author, it is also an antidepressant and a sedative. Another way of expressing this: Its scent invigorates the senses while decreasing anxious feelings.
In the everyday world, lavender shows up in many products, some which may surprise you. Check your cleaning products, especially if they are “natural.” Lavender is used in many cosmetics, perfumes, lotions and soaps. In a blended perfume, lavender is used either as a top note—the first scent you detect—or as a middle note—a bridge between the ephemeral top note and the long-lasting base note. Its placement in the recipe depends on the other scents that surround it.
Lavender is one of the modern components of Herbes de Provence. Traditionally, this basic herb mix contains rosemary, savory, marjoram and thyme. In the 1970s other herbs were included as cooks personalized the combination. Now you will find lavender buds, fennel, chervil, basil, tarragon and oregano in the mix. Some purists maintain that oregano should never be included and the other modern ingredients should be added carefully, but I find Herbes de Provence to be lacking “something” without lavender and fennel. Try using Herbes de Provence liberally in your fish, chicken and vegetable recipes. In our home, it is a required addition to roasted vegetables.
If you want to grow your own supply for cooking or scenting, there are three requirements: sun, drainage and air circulation. Lavenders grow in the windy, Mediterranean region in gritty, alkaline soils. Often the tough, fibrous roots anchor the plant in a thin layer of soil over rock or in the rock itself. So imagine the “culture shock” lavender undergoes in Ohio’s clay soils. Lavenders are easily hardy to zone 5 (average minimum temperatures in the -10° to -20° range), so it isn’t cold that kills them, but wet, slow-draining soils. Bottom line: Plant lavenders in higher, well-drained areas of the garden where they will get six or more hours of sun. And avoid those dead-air spots in the garden such as in the corner by the evergreens.
Often lavenders will have some branch dieback in the winter. In early- to mid-April prune out obviously dead branches, but wait until you harvest the buds in late May/early June before shaping the plant. The best essential oil is in the unopened lavender buds. Once the buds open, the quantity and quality of the scent and the essential oil content significantly decreases. The leaves, while nicely fragrant, are not harvested for essential oil production and should not be used in food, aromatherapy or in body products. Without getting too far into the chemistry, there are some compounds in the leaves that can be harmful to sensitive users.
Lavender has been a part of my life for years. I hope you will give it a try. Here’s a good place to start: our family’s answer to biscotti.
Lavender Mandelbrot (Almond Bread)
Recipe courtesy of Debra Knapke
1 scant cup sugar
½ cup sunflower or canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour (½ whole-wheat and ½ white flour)
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds, rubbed
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup slivered almonds
Beat eggs until thick and light in color. Add sugar gradually as you continue to beat. Add oil and mix well. Add vanilla. Mix together dry ingredients with nuts and herbs. Add to wet ingredients and mix well.
(At this point you can put in refrigerator for 1 to 4 hours or leave it in overnight, but bring close to room temperature before forming dough strips.) Divide dough, and form into three long strips, about 2 to 3 inches wide, 1 inch thick and 8 to 9 inches long. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake in a 350° oven for approximately 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cut into ½-inch slices with a serrated knife, place on cookie sheet cut side up and return to oven for 7 to 10 minutes (depends on how crisp you want them), turn them over and bake another 5 to 8 minutes. Cool completely before storing in a tightly covered container. Mandelbrot keeps well; up to 4 weeks.
1. If you lightly oil your hands before forming the strips, you will have less dough on your hands.
2. More lavender is not better; too much lavender can impart a soapy flavor to the recipe.
The Martin Pickens Wedding at Jorgensen Farms
Every wedding begets details: food; flowers; guests; rings; things old, new, borrowed and blue. Darling rogue barn cats don’t usually figure in. Then again, not every wedding involves a locally grown feast, set amidst a field of sunflowers stretching forever.
New York residents Zachary Pickens and Manda Martin knew what they wanted in a wedding. They wanted to marry in Ohio, where both were born and raised and where both families reside. They wanted food to be a focus of their celebration, as it is in their relationship. They wanted to spend their money mindfully. And, as probably goes without saying, they wanted a rip-roaring good time with people they cherished, bellies full and taste buds giddy, surrounded by beauty beyond compare.
By all accounts, they succeeded.
Agriculture Meets “I Do”
Val Jorgensen wasn’t actually in the wedding business when Zach and Manda approached her about holding theirs at Jorgensen Farms. The 65-acre organic Westerville farm is known for flowers, herbs, eggs, honey—for agriculture.
But Zach and Manda couldn’t find a Central Ohio farm that shared their “farm-centric, food-centric” vision. So in 2010 they reached out to Val, whose farm is located five minutes from the bride’s childhood home. Thus began a two-year conversation that culminated in a wedding to remember for Zach and Manda, and a new farm business model for Val.
Already active in engaging the community through Slow Food dinners and educational outreach, Val found weddings a natural extension. “I enjoy being part of people’s lives at this joyful time,” she explains. And it shows.
From hiring staff to coordinate with brides, to expanding the soaring barn to accommodate additional guests, Val’s impeccable professionalism is evident, everywhere. “It’s vital to me that guests are treated the way they should be.” If her calendar is any indication, guests are delighted. Three years after that first inquiry, every 2013 weekend, from May through October, is booked.
Farm weddings, Val points out, aren’t for everyone. “We don’t try to make it anything but a working farm.” Stiletto territory, this is not. But if an open-air, sunflower-bordered ceremony appeals, if herbs overhead and planks underfoot entice, her farm offers an unparalleled setting.
“It’s unique and it’s real,” Val says. “It’s magical. It really is.”
Local Food for 130
Farm found, Manda and Zach moved on to food, a subject dear to both. In addition to being dedicated locavores and home cooks, Zach’s unusual career—urban farmer with Tom Colicchio’s Manhattan-based Riverpark Farm, and founder of Rooftop Ready Seeds, dedicated to city-friendly seed strains—made local food a priority. So when they heard praise for Two Caterers, first from friends, then from Val, they knew they had their second partner.
Together, Manda, Zach and Catering Specialist Carly Ziemer brainstormed the menu. They selected a style (upscale barbecue), settled on dishes (mini-burgers and pulled pork), and then, in a departure from most catering companies, they began talking sources and seasonal foods.
Personally committed to knowing “where our meat is coming from,” the couple brought these same standards to their wedding. Far from balking, “Two Caterers went out of their way to tell us the farms they were sourcing things from.” So the beef came from Canal Winchester’s Blystone Farm; the pork from Millersport-based Bower and Sons; the cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs from Val Jorgensen’s own fields.
This attention to detail—personal, local, delectable—proved the Two Caterers’ way. Vegan, gluten-free options were offered—and so well-received they were extended to everyone. Peak-season potatoes and corn rounded out the menu. Dinner was served family-style, platters passed hand-to-hand, food shared face-to-face. Pickles were homemade, canned by the groom, from his own New York–grown produce. Cocktails were custom, the “Spicy Pickens,” created by Riverpark in honor of Zach, using habanero rum infused by the bride’s father. Dessert? Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, of course.
Cocktails through ice cream, Two Caterers helped the couple craft a profoundly personal feast, one that would be not only “a celebration of us and the season,” but of their lives and homes, past and present.
All Together, Now
Would, but for Hurricane Issac.
Outdoor weddings always entail risk, namely fickle weather. Farm weddings are no exception. With Val’s vast, vaulted barn as backup, Manda and Zach planned their ceremony and dinner for the flower-tapestried fields, with indoor dancing to follow. September doesn’t always mind plans.
On the big day, Issac crept ever closer. To hear the bride and groom tell it, they hurried cocktails and pictures a bit, to fit in their feast before the rain. To hear Two Caterers owner Angela Petro tell it, the afternoon was a blur of radar-watching, texting, judgment-calling and last-minute maneuvering, all while serving exquisite food with unwavering grace.
Same story. Different perspective. Such is the hallmark of an extraordinary team.
Good caterers, Angela explains, are like ducks: calm on the surface, paddling madly underneath. Ditto good venues. Val’s team worked with Carly (“a ROCK star,” says Angela) to honor the couple’s field dinner dreams, while hustling heroically behind the scenes, so seamlessly guests “never knew any different.”
So what did the guests, bride and groom think? “Everyone was just thrilled,” Manda recalls. They “loved that it was such a unique setting, [a celebration] not just of Zach’s career, but what’s important to us.”
And what happened when those barn felines escaped?
“Lots of cute photos of cats,” Manda laughs. Yet another small, delightful detail in an evening filled with memorable moments, each deeply local and utterly personal—a fine cornerstone for a new life together.
Created by Justin Harter to honor Riverpark Farm’s farmer Zach Pickens. Courtesy of Riverpark: riverparknyc.com.
1½ ounces dark rum
½ dropper Habanero Rum (recipe, below)
1 ounce sage-infused simple syrup
1 ounce lime juice
1½ ounces pineapple juice
Sage leaves, to garnish
To make Habanero Rum: Crush 2 dried habanero peppers into 1 bottle of Zaya rum. Infuse for 2 days (3 for additional heat), then strain.
Combine all ingredients into a Boston shaker, adding the ice last, and shake well. Strain into a glass filled with crushed ice and add another drop of the Habanero Rum on top. Garnish with sage leaf.
Fingerling Potato Salad with Creamy Mustard Dressing
Courtesy of Two Caterers
Yield: 6–8 servings
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced fresh garlic
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place vinegar, mustard, mayo and garlic in bowl. Slowly drizzle in oil, using an immersion blender, until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
1½ pounds fingerling potatoes, washed and roasted
1 tablespoon oil
½ pound green beans or haricot vert, blanched “al dente,” cut in 1-inch pieces on bias
1 medium onion, roasted and julienned
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
Salt and pepper
Toss potatoes in oil, season with salt and pepper. Place on sheet tray and roast in preheated oven (350°) for approximately 45 minutes or until fork tender. Set aside and let cool. Cut in half after cooling.
Blanch green beans and cut into 1-inch pieces on the bias. Cut onion in half and place on coated (oil) sheet tray.
Roast in preheated oven (350°) until soft. Set aside and let cool. Julienne after cooling.
Rinse grape tomatoes and cut in half. Combine all ingredients and mix with dressing. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
5851 E. Walnut St.
Westerville, OH 43081