Walking into Old Sturbridge Village for Mass Foodies’ inaugural Chef’s Best event was a delightful surprise. Greeting your guests with champagne tends to have that effect.
The concept behind Chef’s Best is simple. A chef, in this case Chef Bill Nemeroff, creates a menu to showcase his best work. Nemeroff and his team took advantage of the opportunity to tap into the uniqueness of their tranquil 200-acre surroundings, all reserved just for us.
After imbibing our champagne, a horse drawn carriage carted us to the Carding Mill for appetizers and cocktails. Our short ride gave us a chance to see the OSV grounds. This outdoor history museum depicts a 1830s rural New England town fully equipped with a bank, a school, three water-powered mills, farm animals, and authentically costumed staffers.
Assuming its nostalgia and quaintness would be sanguine would be incorrect. Instead the change of scenery was refreshing. We were far from the exposed ductwork, concrete flooring and industrial design of trendy, modern restaurants—and we liked it. There was a disarming wholesomeness to the scene. Hearing our horses trot away generated an upbeat energy signifying the makings of a very special evening.
The preplanning of Chef’s Best was noticeable as we left the mill behind us and headed toward our intimate dinner under the Vermont Covered Bridge. The OSV team hung twinkly lights on the lofted ceiling, pressed the linen, and lit candles in a way Martha Stewart would marvel and applaud.
We were told a few times that this was the first dinner under the bridge, but definitely not the last—meaning you can’t bring your table to the farm any old day of the week. However, there’s hope for your dining dreams.
The ambient lighting and the drink menu—mint juleps, pinot noir and chardonnay—made an already social group even more gregarious and comfortable. In table-to-farm dining you’re not there to see and be seen. Frankly, it’s too dark. Instead the setup replicated the perfect dinner party—you don’t have to cook or clean and the food tastes like home cooking.
This caliber of food isn’t found in most homes but it was in Nemeroff’s. His Aunt Rose’s southern cooking inspired his comfort-food menu.
The dinner began with Nemeroff sharing what his Chef’s Best menu entailed.
To start, a spinach and baby kale salad with cob bacon lardon, pickled egg, and cornbread crouton topped with roasted green tomato vinaigrette along with a piece of fried okra was served in addition to homemade biscuits.
For the main course, fried Murray Ranch chicken breast with house-made sage sausage gravy, mashed Yukon gold potato and braised collards came out in a hearty portion. Considering we don’t enjoy a lot of Southern influence in the Northeast, it was a treat to feast on crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside, authentic fried chicken.
And for dessert, they prepared a beautifully balanced banana pudding.
Since the menu consisted of my favorite food, fried chicken, and my least favorite food, bananas, I experienced a broad range of emotions before the salad came out. Excitement for fried chicken, disappointment for bananas, but happiness because I would eat fewer calories, then sadness because I longed for a cobbler and ice cream.
Luckily Nemeroff had the antidote for my neuroses in the form of a well-timed anecdote. In his introduction, he singled out one of the salad’s inclusion of his least favorite foods: okra. Chef said, “If I go to a restaurant and there’s something I don’t like on the menu, I order it.” He said he assumes if he doesn’t like something it’s because he hasn’t had it prepared the right way. Nemeroff’s life lesson to never let your personal bias come between you and sugar was right on. His banana pudding satisfied the night’s biggest banana discriminators.
At the end of the meal, our group of 40 whistled and cheered as Nemeroff walked toward us for a few closing words.
To me, this was a highlight of the night because Nemeroff applauded his servers. He said he’s never worked with a group that is more willing to try new ideas. “Even when I said let’s set up under the bridge and carry our heaviest OSV plates 150 feet from the kitchen to the table, they responded, ‘Sounds cool!’”
WorcesterScene.com’s inaugural Chef’s Best event will be hard to beat. Apart from the personal stories Nemeroff shared; apart from the atmosphere—the journey—through the Village; apart from the delicious combination of flavors that don’t often find themselves on Nemeroff’s menus; Chef’s Best was able to create a sense of community and appreciation that was profusely felt from chef to diner. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.
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