Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell would be fantastic dinner party guests. They ditched Manhattan to buy a farm in upstate New York, where they grow vegetables and raise goats; they've penned three cookbooks; and they won The Amazing Race (yes, the TV show); so they're likely to have a few good stories to share, and be willing to lend a hand in the kitchen.
In their latest book, The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook, Brent and Josh have turned to their garden and recorded a year's worth of vegetable dishes, starting with the first days of spring -- abundant with ramps and radishes -- and ending with winter's roots and gratins. The recipes feel at once home-grown and slightly unexpected, the sorts of ideas you'd pick up when dining at a very hospitable friend's home. And as it turns out, when Brent and Josh have you over for dinner, you'll be foraging for your own salad, and likely eating a meal cooked from a very nice stove. Good company is a given.
Have you always been home cooks? Yes. We both grew up in very rural areas (Josh in Wisconsin and Brent in North Carolina), which is where we each learned to garden and cook. We refined our taste buds a little living a decade in NYC and eating at some of the best restaurants in the world, but we like to focus on what we call "heirloom recipes." These are recipes that you make so many times that they have their own stories, narratives, and memories built into the dish. While there are many fantastic and elaborate recipes to try, very few actually become "heirlooms." We think that to reach this status, a recipe has to be easy to make, call for readily accessible ingredients, and, of course, be delicious. These are the recipes we try to create for our books.
What are you doing with spring vegetables at the moment? We grow or raise over 80% of the food that we personally consume. Our farm is pretty far north in upstate NY, so our growing season has not really started. But right now we are harvesting wild ramps (which have been abundant this year), and we eat something with ramps almost daily: ramps with eggs, sautéed ramps, ramp pesto...
What’s the best piece of entertaining advice you’ve ever gotten? The best advice we can give is something we've learned from entertaining large and small groups over many years: Always give your guests something to do. No one feels comfortable just standing around while someone else is working away.
Our vegetable gardens are organic, and when we have dinner parties in the summer, they start out in the garden. We set up plates on the harvest table and give each guest a pair of garden scissors and a bowl. They walk around the garden and harvest their own salads. It gets them engaged with the food and gives people who may not know one another a natural way to strike up a conversation. Even if your "garden" is several pots sitting on your windowsill, it's still a fun thing for guests to do.
You live in an old mansion, which you’ve admitted is a “bitch to maintain.” What’s your favorite part of your kitchen? The favorite part of our kitchen is our Cornue Fe stove! It's where all of our recipes get their start. It's the most expensive thing we own, and worth every penny.
What advice do you have for city-dwellers who dream of moving to a farm? Either have a trust fund, or do as we did: Lose everything and start over. Desperation really is the best motivator.
We're giving away five copies of the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook! To enter, tell us in the comments: What's the best piece of entertaining advice you've ever gotten? We'll choose five winners at random this Friday, May 16th!
Pasta photo by James Ransom; arugula photo by Merrill Stubbs; book photo + author photo courtesy of Beekman 1802.