Two Beloved Chefs Chart a New Path for Farm-to-Table Dining

One White Street’s Austin Johnson and Frenchie’s Gregory Marchand make the case for bringing the table—or a six-course tasting menu, as it were—to the farms that supply their lauded restaurants.

Credit (all images): One White Street

Chefs Austin Johnson of New York City’s One White Street and Gregory Marchand of Paris’s Frenchie share more than a few passing similarities. The friends and former colleagues both helm beloved restaurants in culinary capitals, and are co-founders of companion farms (Rigor Hill Farm and La Ferme de L’Env) which supply their respective Michelin-starred establishments with produce used in their tasting menus. They each operate more casual sister concepts to their flagship locations: a wine bar companion to Frenchie, and Johnson’s Rigor Hill market and cafe. Crucially, they both take pride in helming, as Johnson puts it, “world-class neighborhood restaurants” driven by community.

To hear it from almost anyone else, “community” might land as little more than a buzzword. But hang around Johnson’s corner of White Street and West Broadway in Tribeca and you’ll see locals’ passion for everything he and his team have created. For instance, Rigor Hill’s remarkable produce never goes unnoticed. For two weeks in May, Catskill ramps from the farm flew off shelves, and so too did a fleeting harvest of white asparagus. Nearly every day of the week, Johnson buzzes between the restaurant, café, and admin offices, and is flagged down by regulars eager to chat about how he is and how things are going. And in the summer, heatwave or no, its sidewalk tables are a favorite destination for local office workers to settle in for a decidedly not-sad desk lunch. In short, the tasting menu, stars, and “best-of” lists are only part of a much larger vision.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise given the years he spent working alongside Marchand as Frenchie’s executive chef. In Paris, Marchand lives down the block from his own restaurant, around which Rue du Nil has transformed from a holdover of the second arrondissement’s dying garment district to a corridor teeming with some of the city’s finest épiceries and culinary purveyors. Both chefs beam, reflecting on their relationships to the regulars, the dogs, and the fellow business owners along Rue du Nil, whose intimacy and camaraderie Marchand describes as akin to “a village within the city.”

And so, on a recent Saturday, around forty One White Street and Frenchie regulars trekked to the Hudson Valley for a peek at the inner workings of Rigor Hill Farm through a tour and a single-seating tasting menu by Johnson and Marchand. Over the course of the seven-hour day, which included a farm tour, cocktail hour, small bites, and a six-course dinner, guests got a sense for the kind of hyper-seasonality that drives both chefs to change their menus up to twice per week. In the U.S., where supermarket shelves are stuffed with bland strawberries and middling cherry tomatoes all year, plucking your own at peak ripeness from the farm that supplies one of New York’s most intentional restaurants is a transcendent experience.

The dinner, which was the duo’s first service together since Johnson departed Rue de Nil for White and West Broadway, offered a study of the demarcations between “great” and “exceptional.” Marchand recalls his years working with Johnson, during which Frenchie earned its Michelin star, as an “intensive” and “inspiring” period. “We were pushing each other to be the best,” he says. That drive was reflected in several standouts from the menu, including a silky foie gras whose decadence was superbly tempered by the mild sweetness of flame beets and succulently ripe strawberries. Though ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms border on cliché in New York City, the chefs’ decision to instead pack theirs with langoustine, plate them atop a lemon verbena bisque, and garnish them with mustard blossoms felt like a revelation. For the dessert course’s red berry pavlova, strawberries again stole the show, in the company of raspberries so ripe that the slightest nudge caused them to drop from their stems earlier in the day.

Tickets for the sold out pop-up cost between $600 and $750 per person. But can you really put a price on a day spent behind the scenes with your favorite chef-neighbor, and a starlit nightcap of cognac and French cigarettes? If Marchand’s musings are anything to go off of, we can stay tuned for a possible reprise. “I’m actually thinking of getting Austin over to Paris…at the farm there” he says.

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