Chefs who care are using locally sourced, humanely raised, nutritionally dense and organic ingredients. Few are taking matters to the extreme that Ezra Duker is at the newly reborn Mainland Inn (17 Mainland Rd, Harleysville, 484-704-2600), now open after a nearly five-year layoff.
Since he was hired in the middle of last year to set up the kitchen, Duker evaluated everything. Many of the available proteins and vegetables would easily pass muster, since the inn's new owners run the nearby Quarry Hill Farm, whose specialty is heritage breed pasture-raised meats and heirloom crops.
But Duker had a heck of a time finding other quality ingredients. Try finding salt without added chemicals, for example. He sourced unrefined sea salt - much more expensive, but it jibes with his mission of considering food's impact.
Duker also had a tough time finding good kitchen workers, which partly explains the delay in the property's reopening after the owners took a year and a half to gut and rebuild it. The Mainland is less than five minutes from the Lansdale exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike - a beautiful outing for a couple seeking an elegant date night, but a tad far for a line cook commuting from the city.
Duker, 32, grew up in Bala Cynwyd - a Mohawk-wearing vegan who was asked to leave Akiba Hebrew Academy before he ended up at Lower Merion High. He went to college in Vermont and caught the cooking bug while washing dishes at a restaurant. He worked in Philadelphia at Rx, Twenty Manning and Brasserie Perrier before heading to London, where he staged at the Orrery.
From there, he applied for and landed a jobs in Napa with the French Laundry with Thomas Keller. "I was always in over my head," he said, quite proudly.
His executive chef's job was at a resort in Steamboat Springs, Colo. That didn't suit him, and he returned to Napa, where he became executive sous chef for Masaharu Morimoto at Nobu. But the pace and the volume did not interest him. He wanted to cook tasty, responsibly produced food.
He learned about the Mainland job through Walter Abrams, the French Laundry alum who was chef at the reincarnated Le Bec Fin. Another Abrams associate had been hired as the Mainland's chef two years ago, but it didn't work out.
Duker's menus include "relishes" (small dishes that are fermented and/or pickled, such as kohlrabi kimchi and pastrami eggs), appetizers (lamb tartare with saffron rice crisps and white anchovy; grilled chicken livers with burnt onion chutney and freekeh; garganelli with braised rabbit and fennel); entrées (an interpretation of cottage pie with grilled ribeye from Bucks County's Tussock Sedge Farm as well as a monkfish cassoulet with a shellfish boudin, heirloom beans and tarragon); and "roasts" set up for two or three people. There's also a $75 tasting menu.
Entrees are in the high $20s to high $30s; the roasts are less per-person.
Evan Oxenfeldt, a vet of R2L and Cooper's, is general manager, overseeing a beverage program featuring sustainable, biodynamic wines, organic beers and artisan spirits.
Sandy Tran, also a Morimoto Napa alum and a Culinary Institute of America grad, is pastry chef, creating glucose from scratch for the ice cream as well as a serious baking program.
Elegant dining rooms accommodate 100 and a downstairs bar seats 40. A outdoor patio will handle 30 people in the spring.
In the early days, it's open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday.
Dinner (large PDF file)