Beverly Morton Billand is the Capital foodshed’s ultimate, farm-to-table pioneer,
and chef Christopher Edwards brings what she grows to the plate.
By Walter Nicholls • Photographs by Molly McDonald Peterson
In the late 1990s, organic farmer Beverly Morton Billand had what she calls “my crazy idea.” She took the otherwise farmers market–bound vegetables and herbs, grown on her 25-year-old, 40-acre farm in Lovettsville, Virginia, and launched the quintessential farm-to-table experience. “At the time, I knew of no one in this country doing such a thing,” says Billand. “We were a first.”
A Setting Like No Other
In a tent outside her kitchen door, on a gorgeous, fertile bluff over the Potomac River in western Loudoun County, Billand opened The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm. She served not only the bounty from her own fields, but also foods sourced from regional farmers who shared her vision for sustainable agriculture. This eco-pioneer didn’t stop there.
Along the way, and in order to bring as many people as possible to Patowmack, Billand started an on-farm retail market for value-added products, such as dilly beans, salsas, and pesto. Farm tours, cooking classes, and wine dinner partnerships with local vineyards brought more and more people up the steep drive, where visitors can see the vistas of three states—West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia—in the distance even as the farm that produces the ingredients in their dinner is at their feet.
Guests continue to come in every season to what is now a permanent, 110-seat glass conservatory for a sensory nirvana. Eagles soar overhead, trains whistle in the distance, and modern American cuisine bursts with just-picked flavor and aroma.
A Few Steps from Farm to Fork
Just rewards for more than a decade of hard work came on January 22, when the Patowmack crew, including executive chef Christopher Edwards, traveled to the James Beard Foundation in New York City for a farm-to-table dinner executed by Edwards. On the five-course menu were two of his signature dishes: a delicate cannelloni of Cherry Glen goat cheese with roasted beets and aged balsamic vinegar as well as an earthy, hay-smoked potato gnocchi with potato-skin consommé. Edwards took Virginia wines to the New York dinner, including Fabbioli Cellars 2007 Chambourcin, Corcoran Vineyards 2008 Viognier, and Sunset Hills Vineyard 2007 Reserve Cabernet Franc.
“For me, after all this time—this recognizes our passion for organic and seasonal cuisine,” says Billand. “For Chris, it’s an opportunity to be recognized as a top chef.”
Edwards’s credentials come from a rarified rung of restaurants here and abroad. Edwards, who came to Patowmack in early 2009, trained as an apprentice at the acclaimed and cutting-edge molecular gastronomy temple Restaurant El Bulli in Roses, Spain. From there, he joined noted chef Fabio Trabocchi at the now-shuttered Maestro in McLean, Virginia, and later went with Trabocchi to Fiamma in New York. “From El Bulli, I took away a love of woodland foraging for select ingredients, like the discovery of a wealth of Patowmack’s wild purple nettle, which has a sweet, minty flavor,” says Edwards. Come late April, he will take to the hills in search of morel mushrooms.
Seasonally at Patowmack, nine cultivated acres produce dozens of kinds of herbs and vegetables, including 30 kinds of tomatoes, 20 kinds of peppers, basketfuls of asparagus, assorted berries, and eggs from a flock of free-range chickens. Successive plantings, where crops mature at staggered dates, provide a steady flow of string beans, eggplant, and melons. With a new hoop house in place for winter crops, delicate salad greens are available all year. Garden predators are a problem, but this food show must go on. “We plant enough for everybody—the deer, rabbits, and groundhogs,” jokes Billand.
For grass-fed Angus beef, the chef relies on Hedgeapple Farm, based in Buckeystown, Maryland. The pork, veal, and chickens are heritage breeds, coming from Ayrshire Farm in Virginia’s Upperville. “For meats, that covers my bases,” he says.
Well Worth the Effort
This year’s plans call for the May opening of an on-site bakery specializing in gluten- and dairy-free cakes, pies, and breads. Says Billand, “We want to draw even more people to the farm.” With outreach in mind and with a nod to first lady Michelle Obama, Patowmack wants to work with local schools on a garden-to-lunchroom project. Billand says students will learn the how-to of the hoe and also gain cooking and proper diet knowledge.
The push for more activity at Patowmack is not only a move to guarantee the farm’s sustainability, but also a response to recessionary spending cutbacks on the part of guests. A luxury for many, Edwards’s five-course prix fixe dinner is $85 per person, without wine, tax, and tip. Recently, an à la carte menu was added, and on Thursdays diners can choose from an assortment of small plates and classic cocktails.
Still, Billand says she is “having a great time” growing Patowmack, all the while supporting local small businesses, farmers, and community organizations. Her challenge is to continually alert the world that her farm-based restaurant is unique and that guests will find the travel effort and expense well worth it. “Could we have more people? Yes,” she says. “But we’re a destination restaurant. People have to think about coming here.”
42461 Lovettsville Rd., Lovettsville, VA
Dinner: Thurs.–Sat., 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.\ Walter Nicholls is a former staff reporter for the Washington Post. A native Washingtonian, he has written about farms, food markets, and restaurants for 21 years. He resides in both the Georgetown section of Washington and on an historic homestead in Rappahannock County, Virginia.