StarChefs 2011: Woodberry Kitchen – Sustaining Relationships: A Chesapeake Ecosystem of Purveyors

Woodberry Kitchen Chef Spike Gjerde

(ed. note: In the 6 years that I have been attending Culinary Congresses, this was quite possibly the most thorough and most well organized workshop presentation that I have seen. It was also one of the tastiest, with a number of different freshly prepared products provided for sampling. Look for upcoming posts on my recent visits to the restaurant itself)

In 2007, Co-owners Spike and Amy Gjerde opened Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, Maryland to nourish and delight their guests with cooking grounded in the traditions and ingredients of the Chesapeake. The seasonal menu features dishes from growers throughout the mid-Atlantic region with the emphasis on pastured meats, fresh, local sustainable fish and shellfish, and community sourced produce. This ICC workshop offered a glimpse of the processes that take place everyday at Woodberry Kitchen.

The demonstration room was outfitted with different stations, each showcasing an aspect of production at the restaurant. One of Woodberry Kitchen’s main goals and culinary philosophies is to generate many products from one ingredient so that there is as little waste as possible. Tomatoes are used fresh, preserved, made into paste, jam, and Bloody Mary mix. Jars of locally foraged ramps, pickled fish peppers, pickled cherries, pickled yummy peppers, and plum tomatoes sat on display as a tribute to the extensive canning and preserving program at WK.

Next to those, mixologist Corey Polyokas shook a cocktail (at 9am, good start to the day!) with rum made in house. The drink was a Quince Sour, a Woodberry twist on a classic, with aged rum, quince syrup, whey, Whitmore egg white, and cinnamon tincture. Corey added that he also incorporates byproducts from the canning they do at the restaurant into his drinks.

Across the room George Marsh, Woodberry’s chef de cuisine and resident nose-to-tail butchery expert, began breaking down half a pig that two men had carried in slung over their shoulders and placed on the table. At Woodberry, 95% of the animals they work with come in whole. As George skillfully began to take his knife to the meat, he explained that he was removing a portion that’s a cross between a hanger and skirt steak, but on a pig—a cut that most restaurants don’t work with. This cut was turned into a tasty dish of “Griddled Gloucester Old Spot Pork Steak with 5 Seeds Farm turnips & greens, and a Whitmore egg,” which we were able to sample that morning.

Next our attention was turned to Denzel Mitchell, an urban farmer from whom Chef Gjerde sources many of the products they use at Woodberry Kitchen. Denzel owns Five Seeds Farm (named for his five children), a small family farm in Baltimore. Chef encourages Denzel to grow produce such as the Fish Peppers, a Chesapeake Bay heirloom crop, because of their importance to the local ecosystem. At Woodberry, these Fish Peppers lend a distinct flavor to the restaurant’s homemade hot sauce. The peppers are put into a grinder with salt and aged for several months in a container whose lid is made from ash taken from WK’s wood-burning oven (seriously, no waste). The result is a unique product celebrating mid-Atlantic agriculture, bottles of which ICC guests were lucky enough to leave with.

These peppers were also showcased in a dish prepared during the demo that guests were able to sample; “Roasted Chesapeake Oysters with a Fish Pepper Glaze.” The oysters were Lynnhaven Oysters pulled from the synonymous river that’s located in the northern part of Virginia Beach, VA. Woodberry Kitchen participates in an oyster recovery partnership; the oyster shells used in the restaurant are placed back into the bay to restore the population in the Chesapeake.

Another program at Woodberry which demonstrates the level of care taken with products is the pasta; each day, several different kinds are made from scratch at the restaurant. It was explained that there is a great deal of wheat grown in Maryland, but that they weren’t inspired to use the restaurant’s pasta machine until they found the perfect flour—another example of how the cuisine is dictated by the ingredients. Chef finally settled on flour from Small Valley Milling; WK uses whole spelt flour with little or no AP flour to make their dough. At the demo, the extruder was used to make “Small Valley Spelt Noodles with Black Ham, Squash, and Cream.”

After this, the group was led back to George’s station for a demonstration of the kitchen’s in-house charcuterie program. George cut the pig “knuckle” out of the leg to make a black ham. He then walked us through the steps that restaurant goes through including curing the meat, tying it, and allowing it to age at various temperatures. The result is a salty, porky, mouthful of some of the most delicious charcuterie I’ve ever tasted.

The workshop concluded with Isaiah Billington, Woodberry Kitchen’s pastry chef, pasta maker, and head of the preserving program. For this demo, Isaiah prepared “Coeur a la Crème with Highlandtown quince, spelt streusel, and goat milk caramel.” The goat milk they use was initially brought to the kitchen by a purveyor looking to sell their product. At Woodberry, Isaiah stated that it’s common for a product to come in in this fashion and it they like it, it will be on their menu that night.

Chef Gjerde came to the ICC with more members of his kitchen team in attendance than any of the other demos I witnessed during the conference. When I asked about this, he commented that the idea was to showcase the team effort needed to run the restaurant. With the meticulous attention paid to the sourcing of their products, dedication to making as much as possible in-house, effort to reduce waste, and level of the food coming out of the kitchen, it’s clear that it takes the focus and energy of such a strong team.

All photos by John M. Sconzo, M.D. Copyright 2011 Docsconz LLC – All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Bistronomic, Cocktails & Libations, Cooking, Culinary Personalities, Food and Drink, New York City, Pastry, Regional, Sara Gardener, Slow Food, Southern Food & Cooking, Starchefs, Travel, Washington, D.C. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to StarChefs 2011: Woodberry Kitchen – Sustaining Relationships: A Chesapeake Ecosystem of Purveyors

  1. Thanks, Doc for the posting. Woodberry Kitchen is one of the 10 places I am planning to stage or visit. I in fact, put them on my next road map if I move or travel down south to spend time with chefs/BBQ trail again. Stuffs they do…incredibly admirable and inspiring. I will have to ask more advice from you later on.

    Cheers to you,


    • docsconz says:

      Thanks, Jitti. good choice. I will be posting much more about Woodberry Kitchen in the near future including a report on a dinner I had there later this week. They do it right!

  2. Pingback: Woodberry Kitchen – Wonder of the Chesapeake Part 1 – Dinner | Docsconz

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