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Unparalleled Pasture-to-Plate Pleasures at Glasbern

Executive Chef Jason Hook, who took over the kitchen less than three months ago, has the youthful energy and creative vision to put Glasbern on the national culinary map.

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By Lenora Dannelke; Photos by Christopher Elston

As a high-end country inn, fine dining has always been an integral part of the hospitality offered at Glasbern, located in the rolling hillsides of Fogelsville. And considering that Glasbern includes a sustainable, 130-acre working farm, their restaurant has long had all the ingredients for delivering an incomparable field-to-fork dining experience.

However, possibly due to the notoriously high turnover rate of talented executive chefs—which makes it difficult to achieve a consistent point of view—Glasbern never acquired the status of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Dan Barber’s celebrated bastion of hyperlocalism. However, judging from what I experienced at a recent (and remarkable) 14-course chef’s tasting, that’s about to change.

Executive Chef Jason Hook, who took over the kitchen less than three months ago, has the youthful energy and creative vision to put Glasbern on the national culinary map. His impressive background includes stints at Michelin-starred restaurants in France and New York, where he worked for such superstar chefs as Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The skills acquired under their tutelage have transplanted well to a Lehigh Valley country setting.

The meal that I shared with several other writers kicked off with the delivery of a broad wooden “piggie board,” which included premise-made pickles, grainy mustard and toasted brioche served around a centerpiece of  “face bacon.” The cured and sous vide-cooked hog jowls (with the somewhat startling name) were astonishingly rich and flavorful, and underscored the authenticity of the restaurant. Hogs, sheep and cattle are all raised in Glasbern’s pastures, along with turkeys and chickens.

Although the animals are taken to a commercial slaughterhouse in accordance with FDA regulations, the butchering is done on-site at Glasbern in a state-of-the-art $500,000 facility.  And Hook doesn’t hesitate to jump in and assist the professional butcher brought in for the primary cutting, either.

The chef reports that although finding ways to use all parts of an animal—and in whatever quantities are available—may be the greatest challenge of his job, it’s also the part he most enjoys.

Our second course of trotters further illustrated Hook’s snout-to-tail approach to cooking. Finessing a confit of  pigs feet into luscious little crispy fritters, sparked with a subtle kick of horseradish, proved that even humble ingredients have the potential for elegance.

We then proceeded through a heady array of dishes, from scallop boudin and black trumpet mushroom soup with duck confit to a salad of arugula and shaved fennel with compressed pineapple. Presentation was unfussy and clean, and the wines selected to pair with the courses were well chosen. The most playful beverage choice, though, was the whole milk that accompanied congee and chestnuts on a carrot puree. The intensely flavorful carrots, raised in Glasbern’s greenhouses, were a wonderful, fresh-tasting surprise in February.

Every course presented an exquisite and often unlikely marriage of flavors. Seriously, who could have guessed that a gorgeously seared chunk of foie gras could unite in bliss with a Nutella-spiked cider vinaigrette and apple miso? Or that lemon curd and pork belly, complemented by tamarind and golden beets, were sweet-and-salty soul mates? Filet mignon (from Glasbern’s own grass-fed Scottish Highland cattle), accompanied by fingerling potatoes, parsnip puree and black trumpet mushrooms, was brightened by an unexpected huckleberry sauce.

For me, however, the greatest revelation of the evening was beef tartare (again, premise-raised), topped with burnt toast ice cream. When the first forkful of that curious-sounding combination spread across my palate, my eyes slammed shut involuntarily—as if my body were making an autonomic attempt to eliminate distractions and focus all my sensory attention on the explosion of flavors in my mouth.  This is simply a brilliant, amazing dish that I hope remains on the menu forever.

After a long procession of thoughtfully arranged courses, being served creamy Stonyfield Farm yogurt in light and bubbly cava—teamed with the crisp, citrusy taste of yuzu—was a refreshing prelude to dessert.

A finale of almond financier cake, dense and moist, topped with spectacular Earl Grey ice cream and complemented by a raspberry reduction and a splash of Meyer lemon, got an extra-decadent boost with a drizzle of browned butter.

It was evident from the techniques employed that Hook is masterfully grounded in French cooking. However, he chooses to temper the heaviness of this cuisine with lighter Asian flavors, and the approach works beautifully with the abundant flavors that Glasbern is able to provide year round. Being able to confer regularly with an on-staff farmer and horticulturalist is a rare privilege for a chef, and Hook has the talent and ingenuity to put the abundance outside his kitchen door to its full potential.

Ramps, which grown wild on the farm, will put a pungent stamp on the menu in upcoming weeks, and Hooks plans on selling Glasbern ramps to other area restaurants. The chef is also developing culinary cocktails, such as a bloody bull—a bloody Mary made with beef bouillon-cooked tapioca (a la bubble tea)—garnished with shards of premise-made beef jerky.

An updated look for the interior of the main dining room of the fieldstone barn-turned-restaurant—the adjacent Harvest Rooms operates as a more casual gastro-pub—is in the works (and that will be a welcome change).

Looking toward summer, an expansive deck equipped with a $4,000 Argentinean grill, promises memorable al fresco dinners. Hook is considering the possibility of serving farmtable-style outdoor feasts on Sunday nights.

Somehow, amid all that cooking, butchering and planning, Hook has found time to self-publish Farm to Coffee Table, a book of photographs he’s taken during his short tenure at Glasbern, which includes a section of recipes. Currently available at blurb.com—where it can be previewed—the book will be sold in local bookstores later this spring. Additional summer cookout recipes from Hook will also be appearing in the upcoming issue of Pennsylvania’s Official Wine×Spirits Quarterly, the complementary magazine available in state stores.  And although I look forward to making Hook’s recipes at home, what I recommend first and foremost is making reservations for dinner.

Glasbern Country Inn, 2141 Pack House Road, Fogelsville. 610/285-4723. Hours: Fine dining, Sunday-Friday, 5:30pm-8:30pm; Saturdays are a prix-fixe menu, $55 per person. Chef’s tasting course: $59 per person (add $45 per person for wine pairings).

Lenora Dannelke is a food and travel writer who lives in Old Allentown and loves the ethnic grocers in her ‘hood.

Christopher Elston is a lifestyle, portrait & wedding photographer who grew up in Easton and currently lives in Emmaus with his family. His company is Christopher Elston Photography.

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12 Responses

03.18.11

Lenora, thanks for writing a gorgeous review of your evening there. We should probably add that the meal was provided courtesy of the Glasbern for the purposes of menu previewing and introducing Jason Hook to eaters.

This is an amazing place. I’ve shot weddings at the Glasbern, but never knew about the farm around it! Great information in this blog post!

03.18.11

The Glasbern is extremely over priced. The staff is very arrogant….and this article is disgusting. Animals taken to a slaughterhouse? are you kidding me? So much for treating them kindly before you put them on a plate. Don’t even try to defend the FDA regulated slaughterhouse. Go work in one for a day and see what you stance is then.

03.18.11

James- I personally, don’t support killing animals. That is why it is hard for me to respond to your comment. But I’m going to try.

First, I am a vegetarian. So yes, I do feel like a hypocrite having this posted on my site. But the reality is, most people, at least here, are not. They eat meat and a lot of it. So with that in mind, I think this is a very important story.

Most restaurants serve meat that is not only killed in slaughterhouses, but “raised on factory farms.” I’m sure you know what that means. The lives those animals have to live is beyond cruel.

On the flipside, here, at Glasbern, the animals at least have decent lives. They get to live outside, are not pumped full of hormones and antibiotics and food they were never meant to eat. Are they killed? Yes. But at least they were allowed to live decent lives.

The killing part is what is hard for me, too, though. If I met an animal, or saw its photo, like above in this post, I would never be able to kill it myself and eat it. Because of that, I don’t feel like I should be able to eat a slab of meat just because it shows up on my plate already cooked or in a supermarket nicely wrapped in plastic. It is a personal choice I have made for myself. It is not everyone’s choice. For those who eat meat, this article is for them. And I hope they would support a restaurant like Glasbern over one of the chains, who are most certainly serving factory farm-raised meat.

As for the prices, most food prices in our society are artificially deflated. You probably know this, too. For anyone who doesn’t, you can read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan and find out more. A restaurant like Glasbern is serving very high-quality food. I mean, they grow it right there! I’m sure not everyone can afford it, but for those who can, I’m sure the difference in taste is huge.

As for the attitude of the staff, I can’t comment on that first-hand, as I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t been there myself yet. I plan to go. I find arrogance in most situations in life unacceptable and in a restaurant server it is a big turn-off. I hope it’s not true. But I’ll have to find out for myself. I look forward to my first visit to Glasbern, where I hope to meet the cows and other animals, thank them for the sacrifice they will make, kiss their heads, and order some kind of vegetarian dinner.

03.18.11

As a vegetarian myself I can attest to the difficulties one encounters in living in a predominantly omnivorous culture. I commend you Laini for understanding the difference between having a life philosophy and being judgmental. It is a fence we must all learn to straddle. We have inherited the world we live in and each of us must deal with it in our own way. Nothing is gained by taking a morally superior stance. Live and lead by example. A good rule for all of us.

03.18.11

Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Joe.

03.18.11

There is a huge disconnect between the farm and the table, and thankfully people are starting to become aware of this problem. We all need to understand that our meat comes from living animals, our eggs from chickens, our milk from cows, our vegetables from farms. Why we place such a low value on how those animals are treated, and what those vegetables are sprayed with is a huge reflection of how shallow and purposely ignorant our society is. We need to be educated consumers. We need to understand and respect the cycle of life that we are a part of. Most people don’t or pretend not to care. Because it is too easy to be that way. Because at the grocery store all meat looks the same when it is wrapped in plastic and the vegetables are all stacked so nicely. The only difference in the grocery store shopper’s eye is the price. We almost need to make everyone see a PSA on how corporate farms and slaughterhouses are run – maybe then people would be less ambivalent.

03.18.11

Excellent points, Kara. Thank you. When I originally published this post, I had very strange feelings about posting the photos of the animals. I thought about why that was and realized it’s because we don’t like to think of our nice dinner at one time being a cute animal. But this is the reality. There’s no mystery here. So I posted the photos. I think one thing that happens when you read this and see the photos together is that some of the disconnect gets bridged. It’s not a really pleasant feeling.

I feel like Lenora Dannelke, the writer, did an excellent piece here. I had no intention of this turning into a debate about food and animal rights. Part of me wishes I had been able to go to the dinner myself and take photos of what I’m sure were gorgeous plates of food. This didn’t happen. Instead, we have beautiful photos of animals and the farm by Chris Elston. Together, they make a very different piece. It’s amazing how different photos create a dramatically different result.

03.18.11

there are people who eat meat and no matter how much we educate about meat being an animal, they will still love it and look forward to it being served. places like this will bring education and hopefully a reconnection to what we eat – which is VERY important.

kudos to you, laini, for that very well said comment.

03.18.11

These comments mean that people care about this topic, no matter whether we call ourselves vegetarians, flexitarians, pescatarians, omnivores or vegans. I think the important thing is to make sustainable choices. The Glasbern has been doing this for more than 15 years, long before people starting talking about agricultural sustainability to the extent that they are now; we can thanks folks like Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Marion Nestle, and more.

I will plug the Glasbern a bit more, and my husband, who made a documentary film in 2009 with professor Andy Smith at Lafayette College, called Dig the Earth–it’s about agricultural sustainability and a bit about what’s happening in the LV pertaining to this effort. It was inspired by a project that Smith and a couple other profs had to grow corn on the quad, to bring to life the lessons of the first-year reading, Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma.

If you want to see a trailer, here you go: http://sites.lafayette.edu/eng240-2009/2009/05/13/dig-the-earth-trailer/

03.18.11

too bad there isn’t a comment like button. thanks, carrie 🙂

03.18.11

My opinion I will admit will be HIGHLY biased. I am the PROUD grandson of a Pig Farmer. I eat Beef, Chicken, Pork, (Deer Jerky), Ducks, Hens etc. etc. etc. I respect the lifestyles of Vegans and Vegetarians alike. I just wish that many of them would respect mine as a Carnivorous American. With that being said, can’t wait to try Glasbern’s culinary feasts

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