2015-12-01 / Dishing

Back in the Valley Again

The Hummingbird Room’s Founders Return Home
story and photos by anne quinn corr

Eric Sarnow stands in the doorway of his 1847 barn and nods toward the inside. “It’s all her,” he says, toss­ing his head toward his wife, Claudia, who is behind a broad table covered with fleurs-de-lis burlap. On top of the table are wooden wine crates and large round cheese boxes filled with a multitude of jars and bottles — bitter­sweet chocolate caramel, sea salt caramel, white truffle infused oil, raspberry vinai­grette, apricot syrup, sweet corn chow chow and peach barbecue sauce. “She’s the one behind all this,” Eric says. “She wanted to make use of the barn.”

The dim interior of the barn is illuminated with twinkle lights, with streaks of daylight coming in through the aged boards. The effect is romantic, vintage and evocative of bygone days. “We had fixed up the barn for two weddings last summer but I don’t know how long we can be out here in Decem­ber, even with two wood stoves fired up,” says Eric.If we have to, we will move the products into the house and take over the foyer and hallway. We’ll adapt.”

The Sarnows are particularly good at adapting. The couple moved to the area in 1993 from Philadelphia, where Eric worked for six years at the famed Le Bec Fin with Georges Perrier. Prior to that he worked in France, first at Chateau d’Artigny in Mont­bazon and later the Domaine de Beauvois in Luynes. Growing up in northern New York near the Quebec border, he spoke French thanks to his mother (who came to the U.S. from France) but more importantly, Eric internalized the engines that drive French cuisine — farm to table, local sourcing, seasonal menus, traditional meth­ods of preserving the fruit of the field and forest and an apprecia­tion and respect for every bit of an animal.

Claudia, who “moved all over” growing up with a dad in the aero­space industry, attended Penn State on the “six-year plan,” floating through a number of the creative arts — theater, painting, sculpture and ceramics — and supporting herself by working in local restau­rants including The Coffee Grind­er, The Port Lounge and the Holi­day Inn. Working the night shift at Ye Old College Diner when it was owned by Daniel Barbet and staffed by chefs Roger Fisher and Remy Du Pasquier funded her first trip to Paris to visit a friend. She stayed for two years, getting “into food and fashion in a big way.” When she returned to Philly, she enrolled at the Fashion Insti­tute of Technology and commuted to New York City every week, studying Italian in order to repeat her France experience in another country. While in H.A. Winston’s at 15th and Locust with a friend, Claudia recalled “Eric showed up for a beer after work with his friends from Le Bec Fin and heard us speak­ing French so he cozied up to impress me. That was the end. Everyone went home, and we stayed up all night speaking French and talking about France,” says Claudia.I finished my design degree, never went to Italy and mar­ried the chef. Wedding, baby and a new restaurant in one year. I might not recommend that to everyone!”

But the Sarnows adapted. They moved to Woodward, Pa., when their son, Evan, was born in 1993, leasing The Inn at Woodward for a couple of years before opening their own restau­rant, The Hummingbird Room (, on Route 45 near Spring Mills in 1995. They adapted to life “in the Valley,” using local produce and meats as much as possible, mak­ing all their own breads, pastas, preserves and charcuterie. For 20 years, their restaurant was a desti­nation for area gourmands.

But the day-to-day running of a restaurant is a tall and relentless or­der for a couple with a young son.

2005, Claudia saw a program about yachting and suggested that Eric get a job on a yacht in order to try a new lifestyle. Off went Eric for 10 years, traveling around the world and chef-ing on luxury yachts, crossing the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, hugging the coast of South America, all the while expanding his palate and his rep­ertoire. Claudia and Evan joined Eric at exotic ports of call from their new home in Florida when they could, but every summer she came back to their home base in Penns Valley, where she spent her summers with Evan and found herself often in The Hummingbird Room’s large commercial kitchen putting up peaches and tomatoes, making jams, jellies, salsas and pickles. “It’s what I do,” says Clau­dia, eyeing a bottle of vinaigrette and giving it a shake. “I can’t help myself. I see all this fabulous fruit and I just want to save it.”

In 2014, Eric visited in the summer and realized that no mat­ter how glamorous yachting life might be, there’s no place like home. He decided to come back and take advantage of all the local farms and farmers’ markets that had proliferated in his absence. He and Claudia, now ably assisted by Evan, who has grown up watching his parents make food magic for countless enthusiastic customers, now cater private events at The Hummingbird Room or off site as well as putting on monthly din­ners at “Miss Ruby’s Supper Club” at The Hummingbird Room loca­tion. Invitations go out via a list­serv and reservations are made on­line. Special dinners are planned for each month, with a “Christmas Dinner in Paris” scheduled for Dec. 12 and 13 and a New Year’s Eve bash to ring in 2016. Prices range from $65 to $100 per person, and guests supply their own alcoholic beverages if they so desire.

Beyond “Miss Ruby’s Sup­per Club,” the Sarnows will hold holiday open houses on Saturdays and Sundays throughout Decem­ber, selling their gourmet foods and food gifts. In addition to the large line of sauces and preserves, oversize macaroons and delicate meringues will satisfy the gluten- free crowd; biscotti, Buche de Noel and Christmas cookies will appeal to those with classic taste; and Eric’s packaged specialties like house-cured salmon, boudin blanc and mushroom ravioli are hugely popular with everyone.

The weather will determine whether the weekend holiday open houses will be at the charm­ing barn or in the warm house at 4188 Penns Valley Road in Spring Mills. The Sarnows will adapt. •SCM

The Hummingbird Room’s Caramel Pear Upside-Down Cake

8 Tbsp. unsalted butter softened,
plus more to butter the pan
¾ c. sugar
¾ c. + 3 Tbsp. unbleached
all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. yellow cornmeal or polenta
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs
½ c. whole milk
2 medium pears (about one pound)
¾ c. Hummingbird Room Sea Salt
aramel, warmed

Line a 9” x 2” round cake pan with parchment paper, then butter it. Peel, quarter and core pears. Cut each quarter into thin slices. Arrange slices of pears in overlapping rings to fill bottom of pan, gently pour caramel over pears. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, approx. three minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating between addi­tions and scraping bowl. Beat in flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla; mix just to com­bine. Gently dollop batter over pears and smooth with a spatula, being careful not to disturb pears. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven until cake is golden brown and tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Allow to cool 30 minutes. Run a knife along the inside of pan to release cake; gently invert onto serving platter. Remove parchment. Serve warm or room temperature. Delicious with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Can be made one day ahead and stored at room temperature.

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