A Chef’s Journey
A day in the life of Artisan's chef Frederic Kieffer
Frederic Kieffer wakes up in his Fairfield home at 5 am and heads to his stationary bike. “It is the only time I can find to exercise,” says the Paris native and celebrated chef of Artisan Restaurant Tavern and Garden at the Delamar in Southport, as well as executive chef of l’escale restaurant bar in Greenwich, the newly opened Artisan Restaurant in West Hartford, and the Four Columns in Newfane, Vermont. On his feet for 17 hours most days, Kieffer is a driven man. He’s also a chef on a mission—to bring the freshest, locally sourced food to his kitchen and the tables of his restaurants.
After his workout, and a little breakfast for him and his kids (usually poached eggs or an omelet), Kieffer brings them to school. It is a special ritual for them—especially since they might not see their dad until late evening. While every day is a little different, this morning brings us to Gilberties Herb Gardens in Easton where third-generation farmer Sal Gilbertie has created an oasis of 37 acres of organically sourced and grown micro greens and produce cultivated for local chefs, markets, and Whole Foods. While they often deliver to Kieffer, like a Frenchman making the rounds of specialty markets, Kieffer likes to get to know the growers and the people he buys from. He also enjoys sampling the latest mesclun, baby lettuces, and micro greens Gilberties grows weekly.
Just after 10 am we visit one of Kieffer’s favorite people—a farmer who has many local fans—Patti Popp of Sport Hill Farm. Thirty acres of produce, heritage pigs (yes, to be eaten, no, Popp doesn’t do the slaughtering), and chickens galore, this is a one-stop shop for meat, eggs, and terrifically fresh lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, corn, and more. Today Kieffer is attracted to her broccoli flowers. “People usually throw these away,” explains Kieffer. “But they are delicate and delicious when sautéed.” Kieffer—you can see—is planning a dish in his head, and I for one am excited to see how it all comes together. Popp gives him a little tour of some of her latest beds and crops, and then they pick out some eggs together. Popp also makes her own tomato sauce from her heirloom tomatoes. “It is one of the best sauces I have ever tasted,” says Kieffer. Popp blushes at the compliment.
Next stop, around 11 am, is Red Bee Honey in Weston, where “accidental” beekeeper, author, and designer of all things honey Marina Marchese has carved out a special niche for herself, making honey with 30 hives as well as procuring honey from all over the world, in turn attracting visitors from near and far—some famous. “Susan Sarandon and her daughter were here last week,” says Marchese. “People are crazy about honey!” That includes Kieffer, who waits as Marchese creates a tasting sample of her latest honey for him. “Honey flavors and consistency are as complicated as wine,” says Marchese. She explains some differences to us about wildflower, clover, and a new one—made from the nectar that aphids create on a tulip tree. “Honpairs perfectly with cheese and greens,” Chef explains. After a visit to the buzzing hives (nothing like a little danger on a food tour), Kieffer says it is time to find the right cheese to pair with his greens and honey.
About 45 minutes later, we visit Fairfield Cheese Company. Owned and operated by longtime friends Laura Downey and Chris Palumbo, Fairfield Cheese Company is a magical place for cheese lovers and gourmands. You might think a Frenchman would go in and demand some raw milk imported French Camembert. Not Kieffer. As knowledgeable as he is, he defers politely to the experts that we visit—especially Downey. The veteran-cheese monger greets him warmly and gets right to work slicing samples. Kieffer chooses a few—one is Humboldt Fog, a goat milk cheese made by Cypress Grove, of Arcata, California. Also a sheep’s milk cheese from Connecticut, and a cow’s milk variety from Vermont.
Back at Artisan, Kieffer lightly sautés the micro greens, herbs, and broccoli flowers in olive oil then finishes the plate with cheese slivers and a drizzle of tulip tree honey. A simple, delicious dish—redolent of all the farms and places we visited. Kieffer has a full day ahead, including a private dinner for ten to prepare and serve in the 1,600-square-foot Presidential Suite at the Delamar Hotel—yours for $1,800 per night. What's on the menu? “Goat. I absolutely love goat—and we work with the Big Picture Farm in Vermont to get the most tender and flavorful meat.” Later in the afternoon, he goes over the menu with the staff. Kieffer insists that his team understands the dishes, can offer recommendations, and connects with the diner. “We are sharing our food with people. We want them to love the cuisine as much as we do,” says Kieffer.
Kieffer hears about the week's crop of baby lettuces and microgreens from farmer Sal Gilbertie at Gilberties Herb Gardens, and chooses a few for Artisan's menu.
Next stop: Sport Hill Farm where Kieffer chats with Patti Popp, views her gardens (and chickens), and chooses broccolil flowers and greens for lunch that day.
Connosissuer of all things apidae, Marina Marchese shows Kieffer the hives.
A stop at Red Bee Honey elevates the tasting of this nectar to new levels.
Laura Downey at Fairfield Cheese Company offers Kieffer tastes of her latest fromage. Back at the Delamar's Presidential Suite, Kieffer prepares lunch with the day's ingredients.