Chefs Glorious Chefs, a New Series about Connecticut’s Best Chefs: Drew Stichter, of Hidden Valley Eatery
Drew Stichter’s life was transformed into becoming food conscious in high school, which started his culinary adventure, “My father fell ill with heart disease at age 42, and that woke me up,” he said. His family cooked “traditional suburban meals” when margarine was considered good for you. Drew realized that eating healthy food might be able to help in reversing his father’s life, and he was determined to avoid heart disease. This fundamental fact set his life on a path of learning everything that he could about cooking natural food. He worked at “Food Naturally” a health food store in his home town of Emmaus, PA, also the home to The Rodale Press, one of the first publishing companies to release such magazines as, “Organic Gardening” & “Prevention”. He taught himself to prepare and create by staying abreast of the Culinary scene which was rapidly changing in the 1980’s from Nouvelle cuisine to celebrity chefs popping up all across the country. Traditional French technique books by Jacques Pepin and Julia Childs along with Art Culinaire and Cooks Illustrated formed his foundation and those early experiences paid off in spades and put Drew firmly on the road to becoming a celebrated chef.
At the age of twenty, he traveled to California in pursuit of learning more about the food, mind, and body relationship, where he worked at “The Dessert House of Health”. At that time, The Pritikin Diet was really big and Nathan Pritikin would frequent the store, which played a huge role in shaping his knowledge of healthy food. He returned to Pennsylvania searching for the perfect place to use his knowledge of cuisine that can be prepared creatively and healthfully. He found that home at The Ann AR Soup Bowl, where he met his wife and partner Rebecca. Later he worked as the Executive Chef in Allentown’s Maison Suisse restaurant. He certainly found the perfect platform in which to blossom and by 1987, he became the first to receive the James Beard Foundation’s award for Rising Stars of American Cuisine.
Drew then took on the Executive Chef position at the legendary Glasbern Inn. He and Rebecca worked their farm to table restaurant where they used fresh ingredients, some of which were produced on their property’s 150-acre sustainable farm or at local partner farms. The James Beard Foundation retook notice and awarded him 1996 Country Inn Chef of the Year. That same year he and his wife and two daughters moved to Washington, CT for a chance to start Hidden Valley Eatery. He opened the Hidden Valley Eatery because of its proximity to the Hidden Valley Preserve and has created a favorite restaurant in the area. Natural Nutmeg Magazine readers voted Hidden Valley as one of the 10 BEST organic, farm-to-table, vegan restaurants in Connecticut for 2108.
Drew doesn’t want to be known as a health food restaurant. “I want to be known for the good, quality food.” he said, “Hidden Valley represents consistent quality fresh food, and we source as many of our ingredients that we can from local organic farmers mostly just up the road from here.” All is made from scratch (he is an Artisan Baker, and uses organic flours to make the English muffins & Artisan Pizza doughs) with care on site and presented artistically. They offer gluten free, allergy free and vegan options, which carries over into the glass pastry-dessert case out front, in the bakery area. Most of his family works with him adding a lovely dimension to Hidden Valley. His recommendations are his signature dishes. For breakfast try Hidden Valley Hash Breakfast Pizza or Crab Quiche. For lunch, he recommends his famous Vegetarian Burger which has 23 ingredients or a Vegetarian Burrito. And for dinner, his signature dishes are Wild Mushroom Soufflé, Organic Salmon or Lamb Shank Bordelaise.
Before or after a visit to the Hidden Valley Preserve, a meal at Hidden Valley Eatery is the obvious choice. You can rest assured that you will have a healthy, incredibly delicious, and creative meal. Say hello to Drew, I’m sure that he would appreciate that.
Submitted by Frances Wall Higgins. Hidden Valley Eatery, 88 Bee Brook Rd. Washington, CT, 860-619-0660. OPEN 7am-5pm, Sundays until 3pm, CLOSED TUESDAYS, serving DINNER Friday and Saturday 5pm-9pm, BYOB.