Christal Siewertsen and her husband, Raymond Chen, are the parents of a 3 1/2-year-old gourmet. Little Ray, as he is called, is German on his mother's side and Chinese on his father's, so it's not surprising that he has tried a variety of ethnic dishes. What is surprising, pleasantly so for his parents, is the boy's aversion to the prepared foods that other kids seem to love. This child prefers an unkidlike menu of things like shrimp and foie gras. Recently, he asked his amused parents for lobster. Luckily, as proprietors of the Inn at West View Farm and its acclaimed restaurant in Dorset, Vermont, Siewertsen and Chen can usually satisfy the boy's cravings. Most days, however, Little Ray is happy digging into a big bowl of food he helps his father make. They wear matching white jackets when they cook.
Everything seemed to happen at once. Four years ago, Siewertsen and Chen went to the Green Mountains from New York City. He was working as a chef, she had been a managing director of Bear, Stearns, and they were searching for a restaurant to buy. "But every place we looked at seemed to come with rooms," says Chen. They liked the property at West View, which has 10 guest rooms, even though they knew the dining room had a questionable reputation. (The former owner told Chen his secret to keeping food costs down: Meat could be frozen and defrosted seven times. Siewertsen says some of the locals have told her they swore they'd never come back.)
But Chen was confident. He was the lead line cook at The Mercer Kitchen, one of New York celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's establishments in Soho. Before that, Chen had worked at Vongerichten's JoJo bistro in New York. You only have to look at Chen's food to see how skilled he is. His plates are elegant and his food beautifully prepared; some dishes hint at Asian -- an almost undiscernible flavor -- but this isn't fusion cooking. It's more American with French notes, and some of the dining details, like the flatware placed upside down on the table, are touches the couple learned in France. Another practice -- allowing guests to stay at their tables the entire evening -- is also a European dining tradition.
So, in one year's time they found themselves giving birth to both a child and a business.
Now, with all the details the couple have to attend to, at least they never have to worry about stocking special foods for their son. "He's like an Atkins kid," says Chen. "He eats meat, and he loves vegetables and loves fruit." Chen makes the family his own version of chicken tenders coated with crunchy Japanese panko bread crumbs and accompanied by an Asian ketchup dipping sauce. Fried rice, made with leftover long-grain white rice -- the chef uses Carolina brand, because that's what his mother fed him -- has chunks of kielbasa in it. Little Ray's favorite dish is Chinese: a bowl of ground beef and rice that has lots of soy sauce and peas and a fried egg on top. He calls it "Campbell's soup," says his mother, adding, "We have no idea where he got it from."
The three sit down for a meal once a day, either in the restaurant, a restored 1870s farmhouse, which is closed midday, or on the other side of the driveway, in their own house. "We try to have lunch together as a family," says Siewertsen, and this is the moment when one of the chef's special Little Ray meals might be served.
Siewertsen says that what she knows about restaurant management she picked up in the two months the couple spent in France -- where, by the way, they ate plenty of foie gras -- before they opened West View.
The locals came at first just out of curiosity. "A lot of people we know who know food came back," says Chen. He and sous-chef Greg Rems are on their own in the kitchen, and the 60 seats are full on weekends. Everything on every plate is made from scratch, with endless detail in each component. Customers are coming for the Niman Ranch beef from California, pheasant from nearby Someday Farm in Dorset, and air-chilled chickens from Canada, which Chen likes as much as the famous Bresse chickens raised in France.
Little Ray, who helps out at breakfast by whisking the eggs, sometimes makes unexpected dining requests. One day this past summer, he saw an ad on television for ready-made macaroni and cheese and asked his mother for some. "I went to the store and bought a package," says Siewertsen. "I made it up. He put one piece in his mouth and spit it out." But then he did the same thing to a batch of sugar snap peas she served. They were fresh from the garden, she says, but just a little overgrown and stringy. "He wouldn't eat them." After all, he has his standards.
Ask the Cooks: Tin Pan Alley
While going through boxes of my grandmother's kitchen stuff, I found a bunch of old copper pots and pans. The tin linings have mostly worn off. The pans are beautiful, but is it safe to cook with them? —ELIZABETH EDWARDSEN, South Portland, Maine
Old copper pots are certainly treasures, but if you cook in worn-out pans, the acids in foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, and vinegar will react with the exposed copper. This may result in not just an unpleasant flavor but possible copper poisoning. We recommend new tin linings to restore your peace of mind.
Tin is applied as a lining to copper pots for several reasons; foremost is the conductive qualities of the two metals. Copper and tin, apart from their famous metallurgical marriage in bronze, are efficient conductors of even heat. This means pans won't develop hot spots. Some stainless-steel-lined pans, though more durable, do not heat evenly and can cause food to scorch or stick. However, tin is soft and can be worn away by hard use. A busy restaurant's tin-lined copper pots might need attention every six months. With some care, grandma's relined pans will still be usable when passed on to the next generation.
CHINESE BOWL OF GROUND BEEF, PEAS, AND FRIED EGG (Serves 6)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 thin slices fresh ginger root, finely chopped
1/2 Spanish onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1/3 cup cold water
2 cups long-grain white rice, cooked until tender
Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, and when it is hot, add the ginger. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the onion and cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Turn the heat to high, add the garlic and beef, and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes or until the beef is browned. Tip the pan and discard the fat.
Add the peas and soy sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes or until the peas are hot.
Stir in the cornstarch mixture. Cook it over high heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Set it aside.
In another large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Break the eggs into the hot oil, one by one, and fry them, sunny side up, just until the whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
Spoon some rice into deep bowls. Add the beef mixture to each and top each bowl with an egg. Serve at once.
KIELBASA FRIED RICE (Serves 4)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten to mix
1 thin slice fresh ginger root, finely chopped
1/2 Spanish onion, finely chopped
1/2 pound kielbasa, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup long-grain white rice, cooked until tender and cooled
1 cup frozen peas or mixed vegetables
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon bottled oyster sauce
2 scallions, finely chopped
In a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. When it is hot, add the eggs and cook them, stirring constantly, until they are scrambled but not dry. Remove them from the pan and set them aside.
Heat the pan again over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. When it is hot, cook the ginger until it begins to sizzle. Add the onion, cover the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until it softens.
Add the kielbasa and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until the sausage browns lightly at the edges.
Break up the rice with your hands. Add it to the wok and stir thoroughly. Stir in the peas or mixed vegetables, scrambled eggs, and the soy and oyster sauces. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 2 minutes or until the peas or mixed vegetables are hot.
Stir in the scallions, taste for seasoning, and add more soy or oyster sauce if you like. Spoon the fried rice into bowls and serve at once.
The Inn at West View Farm is located at 2928 Route 30 in Dorset, Vermont, 800-769-4903, www.innatwestviewfarm.com.