"I get asked that all the time, you know?” says Mitch Prensky, chef-owner of Supper and partner (along with the Franklin Mortgage crew) at the new Lemon Hill in Fairmount. “People come up to me in the restaurant and ask, ‘What do you serve during the winter? How can you grow things during the winter?’ And I tell them, we do just fine. … ”
To see firsthand, I rode out to Blue Elephant Farm, the 75-acre spread in Newtown Square where, in one small corner of the farm’s rolling acreage, Prensky grows nearly everything on the menu at Supper. On a day long after the region’s first snow, I stood with him, talking about everything from chickens to heavy metal, and eating some of the greatest arugula I’d ever tasted.
Prensky had pulled it from the plant for me, smudging off dirt with his thumb.
“Taste this,” he said. It was amazing—bright and sharp and peppery, almost delicate on the teeth but massively flavorful.
“It’s the land,” he’d insisted. “It’s this place. It’s everything they do here.” He loves this farm. He tells me, over and over again, that there’s no place in the world that he’s happier than standing on this earth, among these green and growing things. He’s a big guy—brash and opinionated about food, about chefs, about the path he’s taken to get where he is. He hates cooking shows, chefs who behave more like professional wrestlers than cooks, and the commercialization of the term “farm-to-table.” So why, then, does Mitch Prensky cook farm-to-table?
Not because it’s cool and not entirely because it’s right, but because there is no arugula in the world better than the arugula he takes from the earth right here. In high season, 95 percent of everything green on the plates at Supper comes from these two or so acres: the vegetables, the herbs, the roots and tubers, even the flowers.
In winter, though, things get a bit tighter. The percentages drop, though not as low as you might think. Last year, Prensky was able to get some winter supplies out of the farm (mostly root vegetables and hardy greens). This year, he says he’ll harvest even more. Next year, he hopes to be at nearly 95 percent year-round.
To do it, he’s doing as our grandmothers did—taking the bounty of summer and canning and pickling it. He has some cold frames in which he grows spinach, beets, carrots and mache. But the real secret is his greenhouse at the farm.
“This is what a true farm-to-table restaurant in the Northeast of this country has to do,” he told me, ushering me into a lush run of banana and kaffir lime trees; of chard and kale that will get him through the lean months; of lettuces in wild profusion and boxes and boxes of starts, sitting on tables, growing slowly and just waiting for the first heat of spring to go into the dirt. In the winter, this one long room is the center of Mitch Prensky’s universe: the place from which all good things come.
And there is nowhere else he’d rather be.