2015 LOCAL HEROES

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By Emily Teel & Joy Manning
Photography by Danya Henninger

It’s that time of year again. We asked you to name the brightest stars in Philly’s local-food firmament, and you voted for your favorites online. Here are your new local heroes. These creative folks, along with many other chefs, farmers, artisans and food purveyors, have helped make the region one of the best places to visit—and eat, and drink—in America.

BEST CHEF
Andrew Kochan
Marigold Kitchen

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Experiments in Flavor

At the tender age of 27, Andrew Kochan has found himself the chef-owner at one of Philadelphia’s most lauded restaurants, Marigold Kitchen. Together with his co-chef and partner Tim Lanza, Kochan cooks some of the most innovative food in the city.

The chef, a recent culinary school grad, draws inspiration from the science of molecular gastronomy and combines it with the best ingredients and traditional techniques. “It’s not like we’re serving you a frothy puff of pure flavor and that’s a course. We know this is Philadelphia and people want to eat,” says Kochan, who cooked for several months at Marigold Kitchen under its previous chef-owner, Rob Halpern.

While it’s only been six months since he took the reins, Kochan already has a big vision for the restaurant’s future. He wants to make the place his own.

The playful, tasting-menu-only format for which the restaurant has become known will stay in place, though it’s now limited to 14 courses, down from the former 16-plus-course extravaganza. The Southeast Asian flavors to which Kochan is especially drawn are subtly shaping the flavor profile of his dishes. “I recently did a Parisian gnocchi with Thai chilies, passion fruit and orchid petals,” says Kochan.

It’s an example of his outside-the-box thinking and creative approach to food. And while his dishes tend toward the experimental, they aren’t overwrought. “You don’t need 17 things on a plate for a dish to be good,” he says.

While he does draw inspiration from across the globe, local food has a place of pride on his menu. Mushrooms—particularly the flawless maitakes a forager brings Kochan in a backpack—are frequently showcased on Marigold menus. This will be his first growing season as chef-owner, and he already has plans to work with foragers who will bring him ramps, fiddleheads, morels and chanterelles from as nearby as the Wissahickon.

He also has his eye on local lamb, and is in talks to have a heritage breed of French chickens specially raised for his upcoming seasonal menu. “We’ll call it ‘spring chicken’ and serve it with spring onions, favas and turnips,” says the chef.

Unlike many chefs, he doesn’t obsess over each ingredient’s provenance. Some of his favorite ingredients are, after all, imported, and many aren’t even remotely available in Pennsylvania. But in pursuit of spectacular food, he does place a premium on local items. “The freshness is key, especially in the spring. Local is part of putting out the best food you can put out. Nobody wants old fava beans. We don’t do peas in winter. That’s a waste of everybody’s time.”

Just don’t expect the same old market-driven plates that have become cliché. Kochan reinterprets the classic tomato-and-mozzarella salad by turning the tomatoes into an intensely flavored gel, shot through the center with freshly made cheese. The usual basil is served as an herbaceous soda alongside. “We just want to keep pushing the envelope,” he says.

501 S. 45th St., 215.222.3699, marigoldkitchenbyob.com

BEST FOOD ARTISAN
Sue Miller
Birchrun Hills Farm

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Cheese Cave Dweller

Tippy Butterscotch, Gertrude Holstein, Juniper Moo and Mikey Geno might sound like the names of cartoons, but they’re characters of a different kind. These are the calves in the milking herd at Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. Cheesemaker Sue Miller let a few lucky donors who contributed to her recent “Raise a Cave” Kickstarter campaign name the baby animals.

A decade ago, Birchrun Hills produced only milk, but in the face of ballooning farming costs, Miller began making cheese to increase farm revenue. “Cheese gives us an opportunity to take this fantastic-quality milk that we’re producing and express the quality of it in a special way,” she says.

Though her cheeses have been favorites at area farmers’ markets and restaurants since she debuted them eight years ago with Birchrun Blue, Miller has been limited in the types and quantity of cheeses she can produce in her current workshop. When she finishes building the cheese cave, she’ll be able to double and someday even triple current production.

“We just ordered our new vat,” she says. “It’s being built in Holland.” When this key piece of equipment arrives, the 132-gallon stainless steel vat will be housed in a cheesemaking and aging facility—a modern cheese cave—that will be built on the farm itself. When the project is completed, it will be the first time the whole cheesemaking process, one that begins with growing alfalfa and hay to feed the cows and ends with cheese aging, will be completed on the farm.

Since the new vat will allow for the pasteurization of large batches of milk, this also means that new varieties of Birchrun Hills cheeses will be on their way to local cheese lovers—maybe as soon as the end of the year. One new cheese in the works is Little Chardy, a bloomy-rind Camembert-style cheese.

Though the on-farm cave was always an aspiration of Miller’s, it took a push from friend and cheese blogger Tenaya Darlington (aka Madame Fromage) to try the crowd-funding model instead of waiting for a bank to finance the farm’s growth. Last winter, the pair promoted Darlington’s annual Cheese Ball event as a “cave-raiser” for Miller. Tickets sold out, and they raised $5,000 for the farm. The Kickstarter campaign was also a resounding success, exceeding their $25,000 goal by more than $8,000 and boasting the support of more than 200 backers.

“The Philadelphia food community was so generous with their support, it just broke my heart open,” says Miller. “I haven’t stopped smiling.”

2573 Horseshoe Trail, Chester Springs, 610.827.1603, birchrunhillsfarm.com

BEST NONPROFIT
Broad Street Ministry

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Pastor Bill Golderer

A Better City, Better Fed

“Radical hospitality” is Bill Golderer’s motto. As the founding pastor of Broad Street Ministry, he uses the phrase to describe the church’s community outreach. Located in the cathedral space of the Chambers- Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church, across from the Kimmel Center, Broad Street Ministry hosts Sunday services—but during the rest of the week the organization provides many other vital community services, including meals.

These free suppers have little in common with the usual soup kitchen. Broad Street Ministry serves respect and dignity to those who eat there, along with a square meal. “Ours is a vision for what community should be, a blurring of the lines between those who have everything and those who don’t,” says Golderer.

Broad Street Ministry began with a single meal each week, and it’s steadily added more. Now serving five meals weekly, the nonprofit served 6,000 guests in 2014. Though there are many other agencies serving meals in Philadelphia, Broad Street is special.

Guests to Broad Street are greeted by a maitre d’ and then seated at cloth-covered tables that are set, served and bused by a brigade of volunteers, many of them veterans of the hospitality industry. The food is prepared by chef Steven Seibel (photo on page 15), who came to Broad Street following a stint as the chef for Comcast’s corporate offices. Those who eat here have an experience that is much more restaurant than soup kitchen.

Broad Street Ministry operates the way it does because Golderer believes that the dining table is one of the best places to begin dismantling the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. He and the rest of the team at Broad Street Ministry believe that the pleasures of the table, the respect shown by gracious service and true hospitality, should be available not just to those who can afford restaurants, but to everyone.

315 S. Broad St., 215.735.4847, broadstreetministry.org

BEST FARM
Heather & Norman Fetter
Woodland Jewel Mushrooms

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Fabulous Fungi

“I never had romantic ideals of owning a farm and driving a tractor,” says mushroom grower Norman Fetter. His obsession with growing the fungi began almost by chance: Someone gave him and his wife Heather a mushroom-growing kit for a wedding gift. They had fun with it and soon bought more kits. Growing mushrooms started as a hobby. But all that changed when the couple moved out of the city. “The space we have really gave us the impetus to take the leap.”

Now the pair produces flawless mushrooms on their farm, Woodland Jewel, in Spring City, Pennsylvania. They’re not far from Kennett Square, touted as the mushroom- growing capital of the world, but Woodland Jewel’s spectacular specimens hardly belong in the same category as the button mushrooms and portobellos destined for supermarket shelves.

Woodland Jewel produces shaggy lion’s mane mushrooms, sturdy shiitakes, and pioppino mushrooms with long, pale stalks and neat brown caps, as well as ruffled oyster mushrooms in shades ranging from pale ivory to golden yellow, fawn, and gray. It’s easy to see why the couple has had success in selling their showstopping products to chefs like Chris Kearse at Will and Andrew Wood at Russet.

One reason that their products look so flawless is that they handle every aspect of production and distribution themselves; their mushrooms never sit in a distributor’s warehouse, drying out. The mushrooms grow on a matrix of wood chips or straw, as the varietal requires, in a highly regulated set of growing conditions. Norm can adjust temperature, humidity and even carbon dioxide levels from his phone, if necessary. The pair take pride in the fact that the only time that they touch the mushrooms is to harvest them. The next person to handle them will be the person cooking them.

Woodland Jewel’s expertise extends to foraging for mushrooms as well. When the weather allows, they forage for maitake, chicken of the woods, chanterelles and morels to sell, and they’re always experimenting with ways to bring these varieties into their production. In fact, they discovered their variety of ivory oyster mushrooms growing wild on their farm. “Nothing was happening in our grow rooms,” Norm recalls, and there on a stump next to their driveway “was this majestic clump of oyster mushrooms, completely perfect.” Eventually, they’d like to create a wild mushroom forest right on their property, where visitors could see mushrooms in their natural habitat.

Now, Norm and Heather are kept busy balancing the needs of the farm and those of their two young children. Though most of their mushrooms go to their restaurant clients, they occasionally send extra to Kimberton Whole Foods or the Fair Food Farmstand, and they hope, at some point, to be able to sell more through a farmers’ market. For now, eager eaters will just have to keep an eye out for them. After all, mushrooms this good are worth searching for.

Spring City, 215.531.1223, woodlandjewel.com

BEST FOOD SHOP
Green Aisle Grocery

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Andrew Erace

The Green Grocers

The original Green Aisle Grocery, a 206-square-foot shop, gets crowded the minute more than two people step in off East Passyunk Avenue. The vibe is more cozy than cramped, thanks to neighborly chitchat about local news and the store’s current selection of locally roasted coffee beans. The business’s landlady, Angela, regularly bursts onto the scene with a snack for shopkeepers Adam and Andrew Erace, a question about a utility bill, or both.

The space is stacked floor to ceiling with treats: jars of preserves; baskets of potatoes and apples; a cooler stuffed with local bacon, beverages, meat, dairy, and ice cream as well as pasture-raised beef and chicken. The second Green Aisle location, on Grays Ferry Avenue in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood, opened last year and is similarly well stocked.

Five years ago the brothers opened the Passyunk store with more than one goal in mind. “We knew that we wanted to be a store that specialized in local, organic goods, but we also wanted to be a grocery for staples and a specialty store as well for great gift items,” says Adam. Meeting this range of needs has made Green Aisle a regular stop for residents in need of cocktail bitters, canned tomatoes or a few seasonal vegetables.

One twist on the original business plan: becoming food artisans themselves. The brothers weren’t satisfied with available options for local preserves, so they started making jam, borrowing kitchen time at Paradiso, a restaurant across the street. Customers loved combinations like blueberry cardamom, raspberry apple rose, and Cara Cara clove marmalade. Soon they were selling jams, and shortly thereafter nut butters and pickles, both at the shop and farmers’ markets.

Just as production on their house-made line of products was ramping up, they found their larger space on Grays Ferry, complete with a prep kitchen and plenty of storage. And now the brothers are looking for a space for shop number three on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown.

1618 E. Passyunk Ave., 215.465.1411, greenaislegrocery.com
2241 Grays Ferry Ave., 267.687.2398

BEST BEVERAGE ARTISAN
Gino Razzi & Davide Creato
Penns Woods Winery

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Winemakers Davide Creato and Gino Razzi, with Gino’s
daughter and Penns Woods marketing manager Carley Razzi Mack

Where There’s a Wine There’s a Way

An Italian with a degree in enology has no shortage of opportunities to make wine close to home, but Davide Creato, now the assistant winemaker and vineyard manager at Penns Woods Winery, moved from Abruzzo to Pennsylvania and puts his degree to work in the fields of Chadds Ford. “When I first moved here I thought, oh, I know how to make wine,” says Creato, but acknowledges now that it was Gino Razzi, founder of Penns Woods, who taught him the art of winemaking.

Razzi, also from Abruzzo, started a wine import business in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, in 1962. Traveling frequently to Italy to meet with suppliers, he tried his hand at making a bottle of his own there in 1997. Though well received—Wine Spectator magazine scored it at 95 out of 100 points—Razzi knew that he couldn’t sustain the several trips to Italy per year that expanding production there would require.

Instead, he turned his focus home to the Brandywine Valley. He built a winemaking facility, bought grapes from area vintners and began experimenting. Then, in 2004, Razzi bought the Smithbridge Winery. For the first time in his wine career, he had 12 acres of vines of his very own.

Though the 25-year-old vines were well established, they were also overgrown. He pruned them aggressively, risking killing them in the process. Fortunately, his vision yielded fruit, and Penns Woods Winery is now a family business that releases about 3,000 cases of their wines each year, products of two vineyard sites to which they’ve recently added a third.

The wines themselves are made entirely of Pennsylvania- grown grapes, and some who may once have turned up their noses at Pennsylvania wines have taken a second look at the award-winning offerings from Penns Woods. The winery’s varietals now grace the wine lists of area restaurants such as White Dog Cafe, Panorama and The Capital Grille.

“Let’s face it, the growing conditions in Pennsylvania are not the best, especially for a wine of this caliber. It takes a guy like Gino to cultivate the grapes and get the best out of the juice,” says Anthony Masapollo, who manages the wine program at Center City’s Le Castagne restaurant.

Creato credits Razzi’s experience with keeping their ambitions lofty. “Gino has been in the wine business for 40- plus years, so he’s tried everything around the world, and he knows how wine should taste,” he says.

Though he was once the apprentice, Creato functions more and more as a partner to Razzi as time goes by. At 71, Razzi is trying to step back, so Creato does the work of moving, filtering, and bottling the wine, but when it’s time to taste, the pair still makes decisions together.

“When I began, nobody believed that you could make wine in Pennsylvania. Now, people are starting to believe,” says Razzi.

124 Beaver Valley Rd., Chadds Ford
610.459.0808, pennswoodswinery.com

 

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