Lunch at Luna Farm with Chef Jose Garces

The top 17 things I ate, or discovered, at Garces' farm
What's chef Garces secret to the perfect gazpacho? Really good olive oil.

Have you ever wondered how an Iron Chef lives? I got the chance to find out recently, when I was invited to travel down to Pennsylvania to have lunch and tour Luna Farm, chef Garces’ 40-acre spread. Here, in no particular order, are my discoveries from that lunch:

1.      Having a car and driver is a great way to start off. This was especially true as Luna Farm is well off the beaten path and would be hard to find without the help of a good GPS.

2.      Equipment envy is a dangerous thing! Besides the incredible Blue Star ranges being demonstrated that afternoon, out on the deck, Jose Garces has a huge "plancha," his flattop grill, alongside a wood-burning pizza oven and we hadn’t even hit the kitchen yet!

3.      While the kitchen itself wasn’t huge (OK, mine’s bigger), the appliances were all professional grade. It was a warm and inviting space, which anyone would be happy to play around in.

4.      Like his kitchen, chef Garces was also warm and inviting, happy to take us on a farm tour after lunch and answer all our questions.

5.      Oh, and did I mention, he can cook?

6.      Time to rethink prosecco? The cava served with the passed appetizers was a gorgeous color, cool and crisp with good fruit. Just the beginning of a series of thoughtful wine pairings.

7.      Lamb and bacon? Sure, why not? Chef Garces skewered lamb and some Luna Farms eggplant, wrapped it in bacon, and seared it on the plancha (or griddle for you gringos) then paired it with a basil chimichurri. Terrific way to start our lunch!

8.      Pork belly so 2013? There’s a cut of pork that you’re going to want, but you can’t have it. It’s called Ibérico secreto and it’s the pork version of a skirt steak. We had it marinated in thyme, garlic, and olive oil and grilled. Trust me, you want this!

9.      Gazpacho leave you cold? In the hands of an Iron Chef (with a Vitamix) it’s a thing of silky smooth luxury. Chef Garces says the secret is really good olive oil and a lot of time in the blender. The surprise lump of crabmeat at the bottom of the cup just made it unbelievably great!

10.  Pepper roulette is not an (sub)urban myth. My farmer told me years ago that when you eat padron peppers, most of them will be very mild and flavorful, but every once and a while you’ll get a hot one. That was at least three years ago and I always thought he was kidding. Not anymore! One of the peppers I had with the grilled eggplant from the farm was very hot! Yum!

11.  Never overlook the goodness of creamed corn. My friend Zhu Zhu made a great version the night before with lime and snipped chives. Chef Garces did his with smoked onions (great idea!) bacon, and some frying peppers from the farm. Start cutting up those ears!

12.  Olive oil makes fabulous cake! Or maybe I should say, Jose Garces makes amazing cakes from olive oil. Our dessert was an olive oil cake in a jar topped with plums and pistachios. Something else to add to the must-try list and a lovely way to end a remarkable lunch!

13.  And Blue Star makes fabulous ranges, nearby in Pennsylvania. The new platinum line they were debuting is just amazing! If picking a color (there are 750) wasn’t hard enough, then you can customize almost everything from the size to the number and types of burners. Chef Garces cooked everything we had for lunch on a 48-inch beauty, utilizing the grill, griddle, simmer burner, wok burner, and convection oven.

14.  One of the things that most resonated with me, when we were touring Luna Farms (it’s organic, by the way) and admiring the chickens and beehives, was what farmer Garces said about his commitment to the farm. They have worked extremely hard to control the drainage there and he said that while they would never recoup the money spent on the project, "at least the ground will be growing food for a long time." Have to love that!

15.  Who knew parsley was the hardest thing to grow?

16.  If the farm and 15 restaurants weren’t enough, chef Garces and his wife have started a foundation, the Garces Family Foundation. "Our goal is to see that Philadelphia’s vibrant and growing immigrant community has access to the care and education they need so that they may actively contribute their talents to making this city truly world-class," he says.

17.  Nothing beats a good goodie bag and I can’t wait to try the Garces’ Trading Company olive oil. Maybe my next batch of gazpacho will be as good as an Iron Chef’s…

For more information about Luna Farm and Garces' other venues, check out the webpage.

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