2018-10-01 / Dishing

Double Duty

Chef tends to RE Farm gardens and uses its produce on My My Chicken’s menu
Michele Marchetti | Photos by Matt Fern

On an August day made for a bowl of gazpacho, workers at Windswept Farm endured the sun so the rest of us would have access to the ingredients.

Amid the clatter of the timber frame installation at RE Farm Café, Bill McPartland scanned a whiteboard listing the day’s chores. The cherry tomatoes, summer squash, eggplant, basil and White Wing onion were ready to be harvested. The celery, leek, melon, sweet potato, okra, carrot and beet fields needed to be freed from the weeds. The pigs, chickens and ducks were hungry and thirsty. The animal fences needed to be tested, and the greenhouse and nursery needed to be watered.

The next morning, McPartland would trade his T-shirt and hat for bandanna and apron, along with a different set of duties. As executive chef at My My Chicken, he would turn a portion of the Windswept harvest into stir-fry and stuffed pepper specials.

“I want to learn this end of the food industry,” says McPartland, passing a litter of adorable piglets wrestling like a bunch of over-sugared toddlers. “It’s eye-opening to say the least. A lot goes into it, especially with organics. I want to know the product we’re using better, which allows me to use it in [more inventive] ways.”

The relationship between My My Chicken and RE Farm Café goes back to 2002, when McPartland and My My owner Paul Madrid worked for Duke Gastiger at Spats Café. Madrid was sous-chef and McPartland, lead cook, was his apprentice. “[Madrid] was good at teaching us something new every day,” McPartland recalls.

Last fall, after working as a chef at a restaurant in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, McPartland returned to State College to work for RE Farm, splitting his time between Spats and Windswept. When Spats closed and RE Farm took longer than expected, Madrid called. In February, McPartland took over as the new executive chef at My My, maintaining a once-a-week stint at Windswept Farm.

It’s all part of a casual, mutually beneficial relationship between the two businesses. RE Farm is making use of the certified kitchen at My My, preserving as much of the harvest as it can. Currently, money isn’t exchanged; instead, the My My team will assist with the canning and share in items made — think housemade ketchup, pumpkin ginger chutney and hot pepper relish that will show up on fall and winter specials.

The businesses are hoping to collaborate on special events, and the My My folks are just as excited as the rest of the community for the opening of RE Farm Café. “I can’t wait until Duke calls and says, ‘Want to play in the kitchen with me?’” Madrid says. “A new kitchen? Always.”

For My My, the relationship signals an operation that’s more sophisticated than a fried chicken joint. Customers have asked the My My chefs if they’re worried about the rumored arrival of Kentucky Fried Chicken. (They aren’t.) Someone who was at RE Farm recently remarked that she thought My My was a chain restaurant (it isn’t) and asked what McPartland was doing selling produce to “those people.” He politely gave her an education. “Now she’s a customer,” he says.

The inspiration for My My, which added a dining room in February 2017, is a Korean fried chicken spot Madrid used to frequent in Washington, D.C. At My My, you’ll find traditional fried chicken, sandwiches, sauces that are made from scratch daily and wings made with rice flour. The sauce is brushed on the wings, a labor-intensive step that allows you to get a little bit of flavor with each bite. The accompanying pickled vegetables are made with produce from Windswept.

But it’s the menu items you don’t expect that won me over. Fresh greens, herbs and a tomato cucumber salad that stands up to French fries as a satisfying side dish, along with the ability to bring your own six-pack of beer, turned me into a My My fan.

Like several other loyal customers, I favor the specials that are nods to the farm 7 miles away. Dishes like mid-summer beet salad, roasted garlic and eggplant soup, and Windswept lamb Shepherd’s Pie make My My Chicken one of the best places to indulge in the fruit, meat and vegetables produced in our backyard.

For a chef who appreciates the opportunity to get closer to the ingredients in his kitchen, My My Chicken also provides a playground for local food. “A couple of weeks ago I took some garlic scapes, pickled them, made some pesto and added a chicken sandwich with garlic scape pesto [to the menu],” McPartland says.

The bunches of garlic hanging like creepy chandeliers from the beams inside one of the RE Farm buildings will likely inspire another dish. When it’s time to store that garlic, McPartland will be on hand, taking some of the best bulbs for his kitchen. •SCM

My My Cucumber & Tomato Salad

We use cucumbers, tomatoes and onions from Windswept Farm. When making it at home, substitute larger tomatoes, cut into cubes, if that’s what’s on hand. Run a fork down the sides of the cucumbers before slicing for a pretty presentation.

1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 cucumbers, halved and sliced to 1⁄8-inch
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
½ c. your favorite vinaigrette (we use our honey ginger vinaigrette)
¼ c. oil
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. vinegar (rice wine or white balsamic)
2 tsp. gochugaru (Korean chili powder)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, stirring to coat. The dressed salad will last up to three days in the fridge.

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