Farmhouse Restaurant’s Owners Leading a Revolution on Lake George
By Anthony F. Hall
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Kim Feeney and Kevin London, co-owners and operators of the Farmhouse Restaurant at Top of the World, share a passionate conviction that people have a right to good, healthy food.
They’re quiet revolutionaries. And the revolution, which may have begun as a protest against globalization and now addresses issues like biodiversity and climate change, is a quiet one.
But it’s changing the way we think, taste and talk about food.
The banner may have been raised first, in this country at least, in restaurants like Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse. But the revolt has spread to community-supported farms in places like Essex County and even to public school yards, where students raise their own fruits and vegetables.
It came to Lake George in 2005, when Jim Feeney, the owner of the Top of the World golf course, invited his daughter Kim and her boyfriend (now husband) Kevin to open a restaurant at the resort.
Last year, the two helped establish a local chapter of
Slow Food, the movement dedicated to preserving and supporting traditional ways of growing and producing food. It began in 1986 as a reaction against a plan to open a McDonalds near the Spanish steps in Rome. It’s now an international organization with 100,000 members and 1,000 local chapters.
Last fall, Feeney and London were named delegates to the movement’s biennial international conference in Italy.
Both can discourse eloquently about the politics and economics of sustainable agriculture, (Feeney has a degree in agricultural economics, London was a protégé of David Barber, a founder of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture on the Rockefeller estate in Westchester County), but they realize that if they’re to win converts, it will not be though pamphlets and posters, but through the food they serve at their restaurant.
“If the food weren’t good, or if the service were poor, people wouldn’t return,” they say.
The Farmhouse, (which once was a farm house when Top of the World was one of the largest farms in the area) is, “seasonally inspired; we grow our own produce, and the menu changes every day,” says Feeney.
The couple maintains a one-acre garden and, to compensate for the short growing season here, two greenhouses. What they can’t produce themselves, they buy locally.
The restaurant features artisan breads from local bakers, cheeses from places like Thurman’s Nettle Meadow Goat Farm in Thurman, organic fish and meat from nearby farms, New York wines and locally-crafted beers.
“The label ‘organic’ means nothing to me if I don’t know where the food comes from,” says London, the restaurant’s chef. “We’re proud of our producers, and we list them on the menu.”
He finds his suppliers, he says, through the recommendations of other producers, at farmers’ markets and Slow Food conferences. “I base my menu not only on our produce but what’s available from my sources,” says London.
The distance between the producer and the table can be a long one. His goal, London says, is to narrow that distance, “to shorten the food chain as much as possible.”
He wants to be involved not only with the farmers who supply him with beef and chicken but with fishermen and coffee growers. The results of the couple’s efforts have been a region-wide reputation and the loyal following of regular customers.
But Feeney and London acknowledge that their’s is not the usual Lake George fare. “We’re not just out of the box, we’re a hundred miles out of the box,” says London.
Because they knew that the kind of restaurant they wanted to create was not necessarily one that could succeed in Lake George, and was unlike any to be found at a traditional golf resort, they initially resisted Jim Feeney’s request that they come to Lake George.
The couple were living in New York; Kevin was working as a chef, Kim as an investment banker. They met at Cornell.
By 2005, though, they were ready to leave the city. Jim Feeney was willing to allow them to plow under an acre of meadow for use as a garden and agreed to give them free rein in the restaurant.
They became partners with Kim’s family. If, after five years, the restaurant was not a success, they would move on and the Farmhouse would become a more conventional clubhouse dining room.
“My parents were excited that family-members would be running the restaurant, but it was a leap of faith for everyone,” says Kim. But it is in such leaps of faith that revolutions begin, even quiet ones.