Blue Plate Special: The Rustic Elegance of Bernardston’s The Farm Table
The Recorder, December 15th, 2015, by Tinky Weisblat
At first glance, Chris Pappademas looks too young to be the chef at a large restaurant. In fact, this middle-age reporter might even use the word “baby” when referring to him. The head chef at the Farm Table on South Street in Bernardston is indeed young for his job at 25.
His fluidity in the kitchen belies his years, however. He balances his tasks like the experienced, classically trained chef he is, moving from counter to stove to oven and supervising his helpers with ease.
Pappademas grew up in Gill. “Ever since I was seven years old I was obsessed with food,” he told me when I visited the Farm Table recently. He started culinary work at 14. He was hired as a dishwasher, but when the restaurant’s sous chef quit he took on that job at age 15.
“I worked six days a week and went to school every day,” he recalled, adding that he managed to get straight A’s.
In 2007, the high-school junior submitted a family recipe to the “chef of the year” competition sponsored by Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts. He placed as a finalist and ended up in a dual-enrollment program in which he could finish his final year of high school while attending the college.
After graduating from Johnson & Wales he studied food science at the University of Massachusetts, where he learned “the foundation behind what cooking is, how food works in a scientific way.”
Never abandoning his work ethic, he worked at Bistro les Gras in Northampton while at UMass. He traveled around the world for a while and then returned to Bistro les Gras before joining the Farm Table in 2014. He was promoted to chef this past September.
Pappademas loves his job and his cooking team. “We have fun together and we cook good food and we make people happy,” he told me with a smile. “That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”
The restaurant is the culinary arm of the Kringle Candle Co. and inhabits an expanded version of a gracious old farmhouse. It radiates what Pappademas calls “rustic elegance.”
“Our motto is ‘the way it used to be,’” he explained. “We offer refined New England classics.”
The Farm Table uses as many local ingredients as it can and patronizes area farmers. A garden on the grounds offers Pappademas and his staff tomatoes, herbs, Swiss chard, and other fresh vegetables in season.
Pappademas hopes the restaurant will acquire a greenhouse in the future to extend the pickings into the cooler months.
Much of the clientele at the Farm Table is local, but Pappademas noted that he likes to think of the restaurant as a destination. That destination is for more than food. Diners can shop at Kringle, and the company likes to stage events to keep customers coming back.
“We want you to spend the whole day here,” Chris Pappademas concluded.
Pappademas plated up a holiday feast for photographer Matt Burkhartt and me at the Farm Table: a roasted chicken dish with parsnip puree, black-eyed peas, and collard greens (perfect for the New Year).
He also served a rustic apple tart, the recipe for which is available at our newspaper’s website.
You do not have to include all of his side dishes (complicated but delicious) with the chicken — and you can work on most of the components of this concoction simultaneously.
Farm Table Roasted Chicken
for the chicken:
4 Statler (boneless but unskinned) chicken breasts rubbed with salt, pepper, and olive oil
for the barigoule and black eyed peas:
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1½ cups black eyed peas, soaked overnight to soften
1 cup white wine
2½ cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
for the parsnip puree:
6 parsnips, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ cup heavy cream
salt to taste
1 tablespoon apple-cider vinegar
for the collard greens:
1 bunch collard greens
for the cippolini onions:
1 pound cippolini onions (small onions that resemble pearl onions)
1 tablespoon butter
chopped fresh parsley and chives
fresh herbs or flowers
Begin with the chicken as it will take the longest time to cook. Chris Pappademas uses a sous vide technique to cook his chicken to 141 degrees; then he sautés it briefly and roasts it over high heat.
Home cooks without a sous vide machine may sear the chicken breasts, skin side down, for 2 to 3 minutes, then roast the chicken pieces in an oven-proof skillet in a 400-degree oven until they are done, 13 to 18 minutes (depending on the size of the chicken pieces).
Next make the barigoule, a wine sauce that flavors the black-eyed peas. Place the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and the garlic and sweat them until they are just translucent. Add the black-eyed peas.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, the bay leaf, and the salt and pepper. Cook over medium-low heat until the peas are just tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the peas but reserve the sauce.
To make the parsnip puree, boil the parsnips in water until very soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the parsnips from the water (reserving some of the water) and place them in a blender. Add the cream, a pinch of salt, and the apple-cider vinegar.
Blend until very smooth, adding some of the water used to boil the parsnips if mixture gets too thick. The result should be a smooth paste.
Move on to the collard greens. Thoroughly wash them and remove the stems by cutting the leaves off either side of the stem. Roll the leaves into tight bunches and chiffonade them — that is, slice them into very thin ribbons.
For the onions, bring a pot of water to a boil. While it is heating slice the ends off each onion. Place the whole onions into the pot of simmering water. Blanch them for about 2 minutes; then drain them and place them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
Once the onions are cool the skins will slide off very easily. Keep the onions whole and set them aside.
To assemble the whole dish, remove the chicken from its roasting skillet and set it aside to rest. Toss the Cippolini onions into the same skillet and caramelize them over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes.
Toss in the collard greens and cook until they are just wilted and tender. Add the drained black-eyed peas and about 1 cup of the barigoule sauce left over from cooking them. Cook the mixture until the liquid is almost gone. Remove from heat and stir in the tablespoon of butter.
Let the butter melt until the sauce is slightly thickened and glazes the vegetables. Add the fresh chopped parsley and chives.
To plate your food, take about ¼-cup of parsnip puree per serving and swirl it on each serving plate. Scoop about 1 cup of the black-eyed pea and vegetable mixture on top of the puree. Drizzle any saucy glaze from this mixture around the plates.
Slice each chicken breast in half, and place the two halves on top of the vegetables on each plate. Garnish with fresh herbs or flowers. Serves 4 generously.
Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” If you have a suggestion for a future Blue Plate Special, please email Tinky at Tinky@TinkyCooks.com. For more information about Tinky, visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.