True Inventiveness at Artisan Restaurant in Southport
The words that come to mind when speaking to Executive Chef Frederic Kieffer of Artisan Restaurant, Tavern and Garden in Southport are: spontaneity, inventiveness, inspiration, and vision. He is not just another award winning chef, but a man who truly understands the complexity of food and the delicate balance of the farming process. When one of his farmers has an excess of a certain crop, Chef Kieffer’s mission is to buy as much as he can and use his ingenuity to create more menu items around that particular food. You can’t get more creative and empathic than that!
Sure, it’s easy for a restauranteur to refuse to buy more than they need from local farms, but Kieffer knows that if he had this mentality, the farmers would be the ones who would be hurt the most in the end. With our farming industry already in bad shape, the worst scenario is that we have no farms. Kieffer is on a mission to make sure that never happens – at least here in Connecticut!
Growing up in the countryside west of Paris, Frederic Kieffer spent his summers working in local restaurants where he discovered a true passion for cooking. Classically trained in French cuisine, a series of apprenticeships led him through the kitchens of such renowned restaurants as Taillevent, Le Chiberta, and the Lutetia Hotel.
As Chef Kieffer’s culinary reputation grew, he was given the opportunity to re-open Windows of the World, one of the most iconic venues in the world with famed restaurateur Joseph Baum, then owner of the Rainbow Room. Kieffer considers this to be one of the greatest honors of his career and will always have a special place in his heart especially after 9/11.
After working in New York City’s Water’s Edge and being the Opening Chef of the celebrity owned Man Ray Restaurant, Chef Kieffer opened l’escale at the Delamar Greenwich Harbor Hotel. “Through some introductions and living in Westchester, NY, the l’escale opportunity was an exciting project, big enough to rival those in New York City, with an exquisite hotel on the water and gave me the opportunity to return to my French roots,” Kieffer shared.
The well-established Chef opened Gaia also located in Greenwich, CT. Gaia means Goddess of Mother Earth and that was at the heart of the concept. It was there Kieffer’s dedication to farm-to-table was solidified and became his cooking philosophy. Valuing the source of products and quality before it became trendy has long since become a part of Kieffer’s legacy.
“Our mission is to use what our farmers bring to us on a weekly basis,” Kieffer says. With this, the specials on the menu change two to three times per week and truly reflect what’s happening at the farm. Kieffer likes to get everyone involved in the process of “farm-to-table” from the farmer to the chefs to the waitstaff and the customer dining. This means that sometimes a waiter will clean and peel the vegetables so he can feel the beauty of food that is less than a day old. This way, the waiter can truly describe the experience to the guest.
When I asked him how difficult it was to try and come up with new menus each week that utilize what the farms are producing, he told me that he loves the challenge. “It keeps me on my toes, to continually have to be creative and figure out how to use food in new ways that stays exciting for the guests,” Kieffer says.
Some of the local producers that supply to Artisan Restaurant are Sport Hill Farm in Easton which provide peppers, squash, eggplant, kale, spinach, chard and tomato all using sustainable agriculture techniques. Gilbertie’s provides most of their lettuce and greens and has one of the largest greenhouses in the area. Kieffer even has a local mushroom forager who shows up weekly to sell mushrooms he’s foraged daily – you can’t get more fresh than that!
One of the most interesting parts of our conversation was a discussion on sustainable fish. As everyone knows, farm-raising fish is a hot and controversial topic these days. Most people I know refuse to eat any fish that is farm-raised, but Kieffer gave me some interesting insight. In his opinion, there are some safe farm-raising practices that include no unnecessary additives or growth hormones and the fish are raised in a natural environment. “If we didn’t have farm-raised fish available, we would run out of the entire wild fish supply in quite a short time,” Kieffer says. Faroe Island Salmon is a good example of safe farm-raised fish.
The most exciting thing Chef Kieffer told me is that Artisan will be opening a 3rd restaurant in 2017 in the Delamar West Hartford Hotel, right around the corner from me! This hotel will have a 3000 square foot greenhouse on site to grow their own produce and compost. Currently Chef Kieffer is also involved in Four Columns Inn (Newfane VT) the first farm-to-table restaurant in the country which originally opened in 1965, and celebrated its grand reopening August 2015 with an Artisan Restaurant, Tavern and Garden and a complete renovation of the Inn.