Farm to Fine Dining: The Farm at Pleasantdale

by Melody Kettle


 Michael Conti with Highlawn Pavilion Executive Chef, Mitchell Altholz

Michael Conti with Highlawn Pavilion Executive Chef, Mitchell Altholz

Executive chef Mitchell Altholz took a leek - in fact, he took several - as he left The Farm at Pleasantdale.  The leeks will return with Chef Altholz to Highlawn Pavilion, a sister property of the The Pleasantdale Chateau, where the oniony sheaths will be braised and plated with Japanese Wagyu.

The Farm at Pleasantdale occupies three sunny acres of the thirty-three acre Pleasantdale Chateau estate. Originally a series of contiguous tracts of Dutch farmland dating back to 1835, well-established fruit trees, heavy with peaches, plums, pears, and apples dot the farm. Knowles Restaurants, which also operate The Manor, Highlawn Pavilion, and The Ram's Head Inn, acquired the property in 1994, and maintained the farm throughout their ownership. 

While agriculture is nothing new to this tract of land, according to Altholz, “the garden is better than it’s ever been.”  In February, Michael Conti, a former landscape designer,  joined Knowles Restaurants as Farm & Grounds Manager, to reorganize and further develop The Farm at Pleasantdale, as well as oversee and direct the care and maintenance of the landscaping of the  grounds at the Knowles properties. Under his direction, along with a new, well-water-fed sprinkler system installed this year, the produce has flourished, as well as the rapport between kitchen and farm. 

Chef Altholz visits The Farm twice a day - once early in the morning, then again, later in the day, to pick up his vegetables and talk with Conti.  In addition to the leeks - which Conti plans to increase ten fold next year - Chef Altholz has been showcasing Farm product like heirloom carrots, tomatoes, and is serving six varieties of pickles from cucumbers grown at the Farm.  At The Manor, the a la carte dining room is featuring chef's special tomato tastings and Farm Fresh signature menus.

 Inspiration for The Farm at Pleasantdale's logo 

Inspiration for The Farm at Pleasantdale's logo 

Conti has planted over forty-one varieties of tomatoes.  The yield?  “We get tons.” Literally?  “Easily.”  Next year Conti will pair down the varieties, and focus on more of his favorites, like Sun Gold, and SuperSteaks that are weighing in at over a pound individually.  There are also twenty-five varieties of peppers, and about five or six types of eggplant.  

 The one hundred year old apple tree

The one hundred year old apple tree

While Conti developed the vegetation program, he also decided to improve upon the bee keeping.  A bit of an autodidactic, he looked to YouTube® to learn more, and soon built two bee boxes.  This year, he expects sixty-five pounds of honey. Next year, Conti anticipates four hundred pounds because his hives will begin with one hundred and fifty thousand bees rather than twelve thousand. Chef Altholz will take that honey and use it in pastry, vinaigrettes, and ice cream. 

 Hops

Hops

What’s on the horizon?  Lots. Conti  wants “to go for weird.  I want those unique varieties of produce. Maybe mushrooms will be next.”  Another good clue of what may be in store are the hops growing up the fences at The Farm.  And yes, he is experimenting with home brewing. While Conti is continuing the forward progress of The Farm and mindful  of the needs of the kitchen, he's a thoughtful steward, and respectful of the property's past.  Conti strategically buttressed a strained limb of a one hundred year old apple tree with a two by four. He recently found an old corn husker on the property, relocated it and made it centerpiece of the Farm, "in case we get visitors." 

*Note: The Farm at Pleasantdale is open to the public by appointment only. To inquire about visiting the farm or arranging for a tour, please contact us at 973-731-5600.