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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.

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.

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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.