Washingtonians started to take notice of Tarver King when word of mouth tipped off local food aficionados to his work at Ashby Inn, which sits amid gorgeous rolling hills about an hour west of the city. During his nearly five years there, it became a destination dining spot, landing the restaurant started on food-critics’ lists.
Plus, a passion for cooking runs in his family: his Russian grandmother was the food editor for Vogue magazine and numerous cookbooks in the 1960s. When asked if they used to cook together, he laments that she passed away when he was very young. “I’ve heard stories about her foraging in the forest for nuts,” he says. “We would have been best friends.”
So despite Ashby Inn’s distance from DC, it was big news when King left in August to take the executive chef spot at the nearby Restaurant at Patowmack Farm. There, he continues to share his love of locally sourced ingredients, farming and foraging while enjoying having a bit more time for experimentation (42461 Lovettsville Road, Lovettsville, VA; 540-822-9017).
He chatted with us recently about the job change, the farm and a few of his favorite things.
What was the biggest change for you with the move to The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm?
It’s a different pace, for sure. I wanted to have more time to focus on what we were doing. The Ashby was seven days a week, breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were many times I wanted to try new things and experiment, but nothing works out the first time and I have ideas all the time. I’m always on the internet geeking out about food, and I wanted to try new stuff. That was the biggest reason for making the change.
[At Patowmack Farm,] we’re open for dinner three nights a week and brunch Saturday and Sunday. It’s on 40 acres, and we have our own garden. We’re much more self-sustained than we were at Ashby. There’s more time for us to go in the woods and find things, more time for us to really get in touch with the ingredients we’re using and experiment and play with that sort of thing.
How many courses do you prepare?
Thursday is an a la carte thing. On the weekends, there are six courses you know about and many other things that come along with it that are surprises. We use all local and organic stuff showcasing what the farmers do in the area.
Tell me about the farm:
We grow a lot of things here. We’re doing jerusalem artichokes, ginger, really cool asparagus beans, Swiss chard. We’re still getting a lot of flowers like marigold and chamomile. We have a greenhouse, too, and will build another one next year.
How often does your menu change?
We change a few things every day. For the most part, we keep it the same for our own logistical reasons. It’s just kind of easier for everyone to follow along. But it basically just depends on what we can get. We try to keep things lively and moving around.
Do you make desserts, as well?
Yes. It’s me and my sous chef, Nathan Shapiro, and we’ve been cooking together for almost six years. We bounce around a lot of ideas with each other. Right now, Nathan’s doing more of the sweet stuff and I’m doing more of the savory stuff.
Which ingredient do you most like to cook with in fall?
Right now, it’s chestnuts. There’s a farm in Purcellville called Cornucopia, and they have a few trees there. We’re doing a chestnut soup with bacon, smoked salt, apple cider and mascarpone marshmallows. We put leaves under the bowl and light them on fire so they’re smoldering while you’re eating the soup. For me, it makes me feel like a little kid when my neighbors were burning leaves.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu this season?
I’ve got my sweet tooth going right now. Have you ever heard of chocolate namelaka? It’s basically Japanese for “smooth” or “silk,” and it’s somewhere between chocolate ganache and chocolate mousse. It’s extremely rich but it melts in your mouth. We serve it with a caraway sponge candy, toasted rye and ganache made out of cinderella pumpkins. That’s my favorite on the menu, for sure.
What, if anything, does the restaurant do for Thanksgiving?
We’re doing some traditional stuff, three courses with a choice of things for each course. Obviously, turkey will be there; chestnuts will be there. We’re actually still pulling figs of the trees, so we might be playing with figs a little bit. Cabbage, cardoons, a risotto, I think.
What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?
I’ve always been a big stuffing nerd. I love stuffing a lot. And I love leftovers the next day.