After the Lobster, the Beans

As fun as it is to ring in the New Year with fancy luxury foods, the thing I get most excited about this time of year is working with the hidden gems of Western PA.

January and February are the months these gems shine the brightest, beginning with cassoulet, which features home-grown tarbais beans by Sam and Nettie and brought to Pittsburgh by Bryan Greenawalt, who we visit every Saturday at the East Liberty Farmers market, the one next to Home Depot which is open year-round.

Bryan also brings us black walnuts from the Amish in Somerset, which the pastry team will be using in black walnut cake.  If you’ve ever tried to open a black walnut, then you know that this task is not an easy one. The job of opening black walnuts (and hickory nuts) is done by the elders of this particular Amish community, and the sales of these nuts go to a collective fund for the community’s health care. The nuts also quite interesting–fruity, weird, and delicious. Unlike anything else.

Also from Sam and Nettie via Bryan is the Shaker dried corn. There isn’t much left–we couldn’t help breaking into it in October, instead of waiting until winter. Shaker dried corn is sweet corn that is taken off the cob and left to dehydrate on open dehydrators set upon wooden stoves for about 24 hours.  The result is a caramelized, nutty dried corn which we rehydrate in hot water and cook with cream and butter to make the best-tasting creamed corn you’ve ever tried. Before meeting Sam and Nettie, we tried drying our own Shaker corn in our electric dehydrator, but it wasn’t the same. What Bryan brings us from Sam and Nettie is truly something special.

It was a hard year operationally-speaking in the kitchen with a lot of transition. I almost didn’t preserve tomatoes this year, but Jess insisted. I’m glad she did, because it gives me great comfort to know there is a chest-freezer full of peeled and seeded tomatoes ready to go. In the past, we canned all our tomatoes. This year we froze them. It cut the labor in half. And while frozen bags of tomatoes aren’t quite as lovely an image of mason jars of tomatoes on the shelves, I actually think the flavor of the frozen ones are much more fresh-tasting, probably because they don’t have to spend all that time processing in a water bath. These tomatoes are one of the reasons our cassoulet is so good. Most of what we preserved comes from the same farm as the tarbais beans.

Last but not least is the mincemeat pie. Like the cherry pie we make in June, this one has a cult following here at Legume. Normally we make mince meat in time for Christmas, but this year we fell behind. Our mincemeat is made with our own candied citrus, dried fruit, sugar and chopped beef tongue which is then soaked in brandy and sherry for a month before being baked into a lard-based pie shell. It’s a love it or hate it kind of thing and a clear example why some people really, really love Legume, and some people just don’t get what the fuss is about.

Happy Winter, Trevett

First Cassoulet: Tuesday, January 7th
What makes our cassoulet special? I think it’s the coming together of tomatoes preserved last September, Sam and Nettie’s new-crop Tarbais beans, and our own duck-confit, all stewed together with rich chicken stock, aromatics, and white wine, and topped with Five Points bread crumbs.  It’s a dish that reflects the many relationships Legume has with farmers and artisans here in Wester PA, and we only make it a few weeks of the year.

The first batch will be served on Tuesday, January 7th. Keep your fingers crossed for cold weather.

What’s on the Fall Menu and Why It’s There

One day last year, I was standing in front of the restaurant and struck up a conversation with a guy walking by. “Your menu never changes,” he said. At first I thought that was ridiculous, because we print a new menu every day. But when I really thought about it, I realized the guy was right. The menu really hadn’t changed much from day to day, at least not significantly. With the exception of a few details–the vegetables, sauces, condiments, etc. that change all the time and create the illusion of a changing menu–the menu had actually been revolving around the same animal proteins for years: rib steak, fish, a vegetarian thing, lamb, chicken, pork, and a seasonal dish or two such as cassoulet that come and go.

The reason for this is because of how we’ve been sourcing animal proteins for most of the past seven years, which come mostly from farms here in Western PA. I almost said: “I know the menu doesn’t change much and the choices are limited, but that’s because we source meat that is really good, raised by people we know, and from animals fed healthy diets.” But such explanations for this quirky aspect of Legume had long fell flat, so I bit my tongue, thanked him for his feedback, and went inside.

Though it wasn’t pleasant to hear, it got me to thinking about some things. The menu was stagnant, and even I was becoming bored. I had for a long time felt like a part of my training had been lying dormant and had a desire to focus on cooking again, doing the things I loved like preparing sweetbreads, as I first did twenty years ago when I was learning to cook from the best chef I ever worked for. But local veal sweetbreads aren’t something that can be had in any significant quantities in these parts, and so it was off the list of things I allowed Legume to make even though there is a part of me that doesn’t really fret too much how far they travel, or how the animal they came from was raised.

Over the past twelve years of running Legume, I have found that the pendulum of what I value in cooking swings back and forth between two very different priorities. I read an article about global warming, and I start planning on ways to never serve beef in my restaurant again. Then I cozy up with a Simon Hopkinson cookbook, and I just want to be a practitioner of good cooking for good cooking’s sake, leaving the moralizing about food ethics for others to work out.

The reason I wouldn’t cook sweetbreads for so long is because so many people have told me over the years that they come to Legume because they trust how we source things. I appreciate this a lot, and it is something I take very seriously. But this responsibility to be true was also a straight jacket; a thing that kept Legume from growing. I’ve come to realize that how people think Legume supposedly sources its food is, for some, like a Rorschach test of their own personal food values. People who really think deeply about food and care about how it comes to them really want a place where they can get what they want that aligns with their values, and I think Legume is that place for many folks. But the need to live up to this amorphous and undefined set of values which only a tiny fraction of our guests actually care about has been cause for my staff and I to put a ton of energy into things I don’t necessarily care about the way I used to. For example, five years ago my ultimate goal for Legume was to cook food that was as untethered as possible from the commodity food grid. Today, paying better wages to my staff and not losing my mind are much bigger priorities.

Yet, Legume wouldn’t be Legume if sourcing weren’t important. It’s the connections we have with people like Chris and Aeros, Bryan, Tim, Neal, Neil, Brad, and other local farmers/craftspeople I talk to every week that make Legume what it is. A lot of what gives our food character is that it is very connected to place, this place, in a real and genuine way. Thus, it would be impossible for Legume to ever be a “normal” restaurant that avoids such interconnectedness with the local food system.  It’s much more prudent to revolve one’s menu around reliable commodity ingredients, as is evidenced by most restaurant menus, even ones peppered with farm names and adjectives like “local”, “sustainable” and “organic.” I think my problem has been that in seeing how beautiful a real connection with a local producer can be, I have been prone to seek out connections that aren’t very practical or good for the restaurant in order to go deeper. I sometimes make connections for connections sake, even when it doesn’t yield a better tasting meal for our guests. Getting peppers from Chris and Aeros, kale from Tim, Shaker dried corn from Bryan, and lamb from John and Sukey are no-brainers, because they’re amazing foods. Continuing to use a local product that is routinely inconsistent is a waste of time, money, and energy. It’s been clear for quite some time that prioritizing connection over what is practical or good has meant hamstringing our creative process.

If this all seems kind of obvious, I suppose it’s because I’m a slow learner. Or maybe just stubborn. Still, I don’t have regrets about all those years we sourced this way, and all the dumb mistakes we made. It’s pushed my cooks and I to creative territories we would not have otherwised traveled. Beginning at the root of the root of the ingredients you work with teaches you a lot about cooking, and I feel like I’ve grown as a cook on a visceral level in a way that I wouldn’t have had I ran my kitchen any other way. Those years sourcing all of our pork and beef from whole animals, making thousands of pounds of fermented foods every year in an attempt to use local produce all year round will always inform everything we do here. It was kind of like spending four years at an artsy fartsy college that doesn’t teach you much that is specifically practical, but shapes the way you think about everything.

This fall, the pendulum has been swinging towards the craft of cooking for cooking’s sake side of things, ethical concerns be damned (for now). We’ve been getting corn-fed beef chuck tail flaps and braising them in Duck Rabbit Milk Stout and it’s been quite wonderful. (The tail flap is one of the more marbled parts of the chuck–like the best part of Mom’s Sunday pot roast.) This is a dish we did back in 2012 which everyone seemed to love. The other day I braised some Duroc pork bellies in homemade sauerkraut, chicken stock, white wine, caraway and some “paprika” made with carmen peppers from Chris and Aeros we dried last month, in order to make an updated Legume classic: Pork and Sauerkraut Goulash. We put veal cheeks on the menu one day a couple weeks ago–something I don’t remember making since the Regent Square days–and we received a call from Mrs. Wasserman, who eats at Legume far more regularly than just about anyone else, to tell us that it was the best thing she’s ever had here, so we got some more in. (I just hope I remember what I did. I think I just braised the cheeks with white wine, garlic, mirpoix, bay, rosemary, and chicken stock, then reduced it all down and added some preserved Amish paste tomatoes Bryan Greenawalt got for us last summer, and served it all over Whetherbery Farms Polenta, from Avella PA.) These are dishes we wouldn’t have offered on the menu a year ago because of self-imposed rules, but they are effing great, and it’s kind of nice to have them back in the fold, like reconnecting with old childhood friends one drifts apart from and discovering that they never really left your heart.

These are some of the dishes that will be rotating on and off the Legume menu in the next few weeks. Come and get em’ quick–before I read another article about global warming and turn this place into a vegetarian joint.

Speaking of vegetarian food, we’ve been quietly keeping a three-course vegetarian menu going daily since Vegetarian Month last July. This means we have a three-course vegetarian tasting every day, along with an additional vegetarian entree on the regular menu. It’s a little daunting to think about how we’ll continue this into winter, but not being so tethered to an ambitious whole animal meat program frees up time and energy to focus on more vegetarian things.

Thanks for reading and supporting our restaurant. Every visit you make to Legume and other independently owned, chef-led restaurants helps keep creative, soulful cooking alive and well in Pittsburgh.

Sincerely, Trevett

Legume’s First Dozen Years: an Interview

We were delighted to be included in the most recent issue of Table Magazine! Here is the extended version of the interview between Thommy Conroy and Legume’s Chef/Co-Owner, Trevett.

After a dozen years of running Legume, the chef discusses digestion and the idea of “Rustbelt Farm to Table”

Things are changing at Legume. June first will mark the twelfth year of the multifaceted businesses, which grew from a shoebox bistro to a three tiered enterprise, with offerings that range from old world favorites, to some of the most delicious eggs I’ve ever encountered. A dozen years of service marks the perfect time to incorporate new ideas and celebrate what have become classics.

Throughout the summer, changes will appear both to the physical appearance of the beloved restaurant as well as new developments to the time-tested menu. As part of the process, I have been commissioned to create new interiors that reflect the progress and future of the restaurant. The process has involved a dive into the nature of what makes Legume special, from the approach to food all the way to the care for service.  All of this has been fuelled by discussion and investigation. Here we discuss what the chef envisions for the future of the restaurant, a better approach to eating and redefining farm with a rust belt sensibility.

Thommy: What do you see for the next twelve years of Legume?

Trevett: It’s really hard to be specific about what I see for Legume for the next twelve years. We’ve gone through so many changes–first when we moved from our tiny Regent Square location to our current location, re-branding the Legume bar as Butterjoint, and, in this past year, opening Pie For Breakfast next door. Now, I’m transitioning out of the kitchen to make room for Csilla to take over the menu. All of this has happened rather organically, from the gut, and without a whole lot of long-term strategic planning.

One thing that is for certain is that I really want to bring Legume back to its bistro roots, where we started twelve years ago. By that, I mean orienting Legume back to being more of a neighborhood place than a destination place. We’ve received a lot of national press and accolades over the years, but it’s really gotten me wound up, and stressed out trying to maintain standards and trying to outdo myself from one year to the next. I actually think this ambitious striving has taken us away from our true mission, which has always been to take care of the people who come to eat with us week after week, year after year.

I’ve also been thinking more holistically about what it means to eat a meal here, and design plays a big part in that.  Our priorities have always been heavily focused on the food and service, and I’m happy to be putting more effort into the dining space. We now have this beautiful wallpaper in the front room, and it’s another reason to come to Legume.  I’m really excited to see how working with you unfolds.

Thommy: Are there changes that guests can expect to see in the menu and their dining experience?

Trevett: Yes. The big thing I’m excited about is having Csilla Thackery here, who joined us as Chef de Cuisine in February.  It’s been a slow training process, as we have three restaurants here in this one building, and it’s a lot to learn. However, I’m really excited for her to spread her wings this summer and take more control of the menu.

Csilla and I have been talking about offering a menu that is a little less formal and more familiar to people. We’ve been viewing our menu through the lens of the “picky uncle,” making sure there are options on the menu every day that anyone can enjoy.

Our challenge has always been that Legume’s niche is as a destination restaurant, and I’ve always been really worried about watering that down.  But more and more, I think satisfying “Picky Uncle” makes Legume a better restaurant, because we all have a Picky Uncle in us. Even though I consider myself an open minded eater who likes trying new things, what I really want 95% of the time when I go out to eat is something comforting and familiar.  I have very little interest in indulging another chef’s self-centered, chefy vision, which has really made me take a hard look at what I am asking of my guests. I’m 44 now, and I know what I like, and I’m kind of inspired to give people what they like. I’ve had most of the past twelve years to indulge my chef ego. That’s enough.

Thommy: How has your work over the past 12 years lead you to re-define the nature of Farm to table- can you define your term “rust belt farm to table”, and where you think it will lead?

Trevett: The “farm to table” ideal in America, or at least the ideal that Legume aspired to for a long time, was really cast by Alice Waters and Chez Panisse in the 1970’s. It’s this idea that everything on the plate should be pure and clean, sourced from the best farms, and served at the peak of freshness.

In my heart, I really do think this is the best way to cook, and it goes really deep for me.  My whole style of cooking is based in childhood memories of eating from my parent’s garden, and foraging in the woods and fields behind my house. So when I learned about Chez Panisse in the early 90’s, it made me want to do this for a living. However, the food system in this country is so out of whack, that to really cook and eat that way requires great expense, ideal conditions, and Herculean-like effort for most folks, because it means going against the grain. It’s just not possible for every American to eat this way all the time. So what we really need, I think, are models of cooking and eating that help resolve this conflict between what we should be eating (which is high-quality food that is nourishing to the body, mind and spirit, which will mean different things to different people) and the fact that the conditions of our food system do not really support this, yet.

I think there is this idea that places like Chez Panisse and Blue Hill at Stone Barns epitomize a kind of all-or-nothing “purity” that all farm-to-table restaurants should be aspiring to.  A lot of folks, then, project that kind of thing onto a place like Legume, and I’ve felt a certain kind of pressure to live up to that ideal in order to be a supposedly “genuine” farm to table restaurant.

But what I really want to do these days is help change the narrative of what a genuine farm to table restaurant can be, to include more diverse models than the all-or-nothing purity model. Chez Panisse and Blue Hill might be great restaurants, but they exist in highly artificial conditions. They are kind of like supermodel restaurants: they represent an ideal standard, but they don’t necessarily serve as practical guides for how a restaurant in the regular world might engage their local foodshed a genuine and real way.  Supposedly, a place like Blue Hill at Stone Barns is doing important work that will “trickle down” to others in the farm to table movement, but that smacks of top-down Regan-era thinking to me.

I think a more genuine farm-to-table movement has to come from the ground up. What this means, exactly, is a little harder to define, because it’s a little more complicated than the all-or-nothing purity approach which, in my opinion, is kind of formulaic and simplistic when you really think about it. When you have access to nothing but perfect, “ethically raised” ingredients all the time, you don’t really have to come up against the rough edges of compromise. The Rust Belt, however,  doesn’t afford us the luxury of looking away. We’re forced to come up against questions like: what does it mean to be committed to one’s local food system knowing that you’ll be forever tethered to commodity foodways, at least to some extent? How far do you push, and where is the line where healthy compromise veers into watering down one’s values to the point where they become meaningless? And the most important question: how do we eat well as possible with what we are given? To me, this is rich, fertile soil to be working in.

Thommy: You have described the way you present food as “maternal” rather than “sexy”- can you define those ideas and how they affect the customer’s experience.

Trevett: I think this means valuing the physical act of eating itself over how it looks or it’s fashion appeal.  When I eat something, I want it to taste good, of course, but I also want it to sit well in my stomach and derive good energy from it so I can be happy and productive in my life. I think cooking from scratch with healthy ingredients achieves this.

A lot of folks who go out to eat are looking for something fashionable to remind them of what they ate on their last trip to a more cosmopolitan city, or something with a stunning visual appeal that they can post on instagram. That’s fine, but it’s not our priority at Legume. We’re about satisfying physical needs first. Occasionally, our food is instagram worthy and fashionable too, but that’s more of an accident than a priority.

Thommy: We’ve also talked before about a consideration for how food treats the consumer- about digestion.

Trevett: We don’t think of digestion as Americans. I believe we are one of the only countries where the government is telling us what to eat – from ur basic food groups. We’ve been given a food pyramid and are expected to eat these set portions from within. Most cultures have a culture of eating but  we don’t- we have to fend for ourselves. We have to figure out what we eat and make it up as we go.

We don’t think about digestion about a culture as much as we should. Rather then considering what it’s going to do to us, our food is just supposed to taste good. Maybe we worry about if it is going to make us fat- but we should worry about how it makes us feel. Legume is about that, it is a long term investment. When regular customers leave to try new restaurants, they return to us and say it is like coming home. They say it makes them feel good.

Thommy: Can you share about one thing your are particularly proud of that you make at the restaurant?

Trevett: Of all the things we do, I’m most proud of the pierogies we make, because it touches every part of the kitchen.  Jess, Legume’s head chef, makes the filling in the morning. That evening, the Butterjoint cook scoops the filling into little balls that firm up overnight, making it easier for the pastry chefs to hand form into the dough the next day.  Once the pierogies are made, the afternoon cook blanches them in salted water and cools them down. Finally, each pierogie is pan-fried to order in a mixture of clarified butter and olive oil.

None of these things are particularly difficult, but there are so many places where it can go wrong: the seasoning in the filling, the seasoning in the blanching water, the consistency of the dough, mis-rotation, being rushed on the pickup during service, etc.  That’s why the pierogie is the barometer of the Legume kitchen. If we’re making good pierogies every day, I can trust that most things are running well.

Thommy: What is the greatest lesson that the past twelve years of Legume has shared?

Trevett: Like most young, ambitious chefs, I had an agenda when I opened Legume. I had a lot of ideas about what the food scene in Pittsburgh needed, and how I was going to fix it.  But running Legume has taught me that Legume needs Pittsburgh more than Pittsburgh needs Legume. While I do think Legume brings something important to the restaurant community here, we’ve had to bend a lot to survive here. For a while, we were like a plant, separate in our own little pot, and it was easy to weed and keep pristine. Now we’re in the garden, and our roots are all tangled with a community. I like it this way.

Lobster Week 2019

Lobster Week

Lobster week is just around the corner from June 24th to 29th.  We’ll have lobster ravioli on the menu every day, except for Friday the 28th, when we’ll be offering our Maine Shore Dinner.

Ravioli Details
We make our lobster ravioli each day from live Maine lobsters and hand-made pasta dough, so we only make what we think we’re going to need for the day. When you make your reservation, please let us know how many orders of ravioli your table would like so we can make sure we have them set aside for you. Price will be $34 per order of ravioli.

Maine Shore Dinner Details: Friday, June 28th
For those of you who really want to dive in and get your hands dirty, the Maine shore dinner on Friday the 28th is for you. Reservations are available from 5 – 9:30 p.m. Here is the menu:

Boiled lobster (you crack ’em)
1# steamer clams
Corn on the cob
Roll
Coleslaw
Pie

***Please note that this is the only menu available on this day, so everyone in the party will get this menu.***

The price for the Maine Shore Dinner is $58 per person plus tax and gratuity. Since it is a special event, reservations for the Maine Shore Dinner must be made in person or by calling 412-621-2700. A credit card is required for a reservation. Credit cards will be charged the day we place the lobster order, which is Tuesday, June 25th.

Pie for Breakfast in the News

Thanks to Pittsburgh Quarterly for a great article!

So What’s Up with Tropical Foods Month Anyway?

It occured to me recently that the underlying values that have driven most of our decision-making at Legume over the past decade are rooted in the thinking of my twenty-something self. After graduating from college, and with the writings of Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon, Wes Jackson, and other philosophers/thinkers who write about industrial agriculture and its effects on our culture, the environment, and our democracy fresh in my mind, I entered my professional cooking career with a head full of ideals. Sarah and I spent most of our twenties in San Diego, where we bought most of our food at farmers markets and the organic food co-op. Most of what we ate at home was from scratch and either local or organic. When we moved back to Pittsburgh and opened Legume, part of our stated goal was to cook for the guests of our restaurant the same way we cook for guests in our home. In 2007, the farm-to-table thing, though not at all a new idea in certain parts of the country, was finding mainstream popularity. Legume’s ethos fit perfectly with the kind of things food writers wanted to write about then, and we easily and quickly got a buzz going about our restaurant.

As the years went on, we burrowed down deeper into this ethos. I envisioned Legume moving towards a point in the future where 100% of what we were putting on the plate was from Western PA,  and giving up things like citrus, white sugar, and all purpose flour. Even though I knew that 100% was not truly attainable, moving towards this end was a powerful creation myth that energized my staff and myself, and took us down creative paths we wouldn’t have otherwise traveled.

For the first seven years or so, it really felt like we were making progress towards this end. Each year, we were able to preserve more produce than the previous year, which meant more local produce in the winter, and less reliance on produce shipped in from away. For a while, we were hand-grinding our own polenta from local corn, and whole wheat for pasta. We had a full-time butcher, and for several years purchased all of our pork, beef, and goat as whole animals from local farms. Each year, the percentage of local foods used was more than the year before, which fueled the belief that the abstract goals we had made for ourselves were attainable. Cooking like this took many, many hands in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, the trajectory of how Sarah and I ate at home was moving in a very different direction. As our family at home grew in size, so did our business. I was putting so much time and effort into making Legume a bubble of farm-to-table purity, while our fridge at home was stocked with foods I wouldn’t serve at Legume. Instead of reflecting the earnest, fun-loving way we had cooked at home in our carefree twenties, Legume was something different. It had become ambitious, a little bit rigid, and became (and continues to be), draining.

Around 2016, things started to plateau in terms of sourcing locally. I also began to notice a few things. While we’d developed the capacity to preserve enough produce in the summer and fall to get well into spring, this dreamy accomplishment was not met with the enthusiasm I had hoped for. While a steaming bowl of well-made Shchi (Russian soured cabbage and beef soup) is very much appreciated on a cold January day, it doesn’t exactly hold the same appeal on the first spring-like days of March. Since things don’t really get going produce-wise here until May (and even then, it’s mostly just greens, rhubarb, and asparagus until the middle of June), hyper-localism means sauerkraut and root veggies for way longer than people really want it.

Also around this time, we were beginning to feel the first effects of what has now become a full-blown kitchen labor crisis here in Pittsburgh. It has become increasingly difficult finding people to do kitchen work. Scratch fine dining restaurants like Legume have, for decades, relied on an unofficial apprenticeship model in which cooks worked for less pay than what they would have made at a corporate box restaurant where the cooking is more like manufacturing, in exchange for the opportunity to hone techniques that are only found in a kitchen environment skewed more towards craftsmanship.

It has becoming clear, however, that this apprenticeship model isn’t going to work as well as it used to. I think for chefs of my generation, who came up in the business before 9/11, before the recession, and before the country was saturated with boutiquey chef-owned restaurants, there was a great sense of optimism among us that if we worked hard enough and gained enough skill as apprentices, we’d be successful chefs making a good living doing our own thing. It made sense for us to work for free, and/or for low wages. The most I ever made after working a decade in food service for other people was $10 an hour, without any benefits. That was okay, though, because it was my education, (and an education that did not involve any debt, either.) I also think that young people today have more expenses than my generation did. Rent is higher here in Pittsburgh than it was when I was cooking here in the late 90’s, and now everyone has a monthly cellphone bill. It’s clear that the apprentice system, which I paid into for a decade as a young cook in the 90’s and early 00’s, can’t depend on a dangled carrot of future chef-hood. We need to find a way as an industry to pay our kitchen work better now. This means working leaner, smarter, and giving up certain things.

Now in my 40’s, I’m as much as an idealist as I have ever been, though, perhaps, a slightly more sober one. I still want Legume to be a force for good in the world, but what that means, exactly, is much different than it used to be. It used to be that the most important thing was Legume moving towards a point in the future where our cooking would be completely untethered from the industrial food system. Now it is more important to me that Legume be a healthy business that provides stable, good-paying jobs for its kitchen workers. In this way, I think we make more of a positive impact in our community than being a bubble of farm-to-table purity.

How we source is still important–Legume will still lead the way in terms of sourcing local foods from Western PA, and we have every intention of maintaining the relationships with farmers we’ve built over the past twelve years. Our winter repertoire is thoroughly tethered to house-canned tomatoes, sauerkraut, kimchi, sour cherries, and rhubarb chutney we make in the growing season. It’s just that instead of making enough of these things to get us through next June, we scale back and do enough to get us through March–right around the time people get sick of it anyway. I might also be a little less likely to do some of the fringe stuff, like making dandelion wine or 200 pound batches of pickled garlic scapes.

We’ve also found ways to outsource things without really diminishing quality–such as letting Suzanne from Kistaco Farm make the applesauce we use at Pie For Breakfast, instead of buying apples from them and making it ourselves. Another big shift has been letting Brad Thoma grind our beef for Butterjoint burgers at his meat shop in Saxonburg, instead of buying sides of beef each week and butchering and grinding it ourselves. They’ve been doing it there for four generations; who am I to think Legume could do it better?

A lot of our ambitious endeavours over the years were driven by curiosity, and I don’t regret the years of whole animal cooking and grinding our own grains for what they taught us about our craft. The lessons learned during those inspired years will live on in the collective memory of our kitchen. But so do the bad. The effects of the chef rage I visited upon my staff–which is inevitably cooked up when a young chef has such an ambitious agenda, is immersed in a “yes chef” culture, has a list of nice accolades and articles written about them, and has the financial pressures of this godforsaken business constantly on the mind–is still felt along with the good. It’s certainly a mixed bag. Though the freakouts these days are more rare, much shorter, and less intense than they used to be, it will take a long time to heal these wounds completely. The best thing I can do is learn from my mistakes and work to make this place less of a pressure cooker.

It’s time to shed old ways and move on. The economic realities of our time no longer support such a heavy, labor-intensive approach to cooking, just as today’s restaurant work environments won’t stand for chefs raging like two year olds anymore. This may be good, though I can’t help but wonder if I would be the kind of chef I am today if I hadn’t experienced the kinds of pressure-soaked environments I did as a young cook.  Regardless, it’s not the kind of environment I want to work in these days. The nice thing about cooking is that there is so much to be curious about, so many ways to approach things…

Tropical Foods Month, which is happening next month at Legume, is our way to shake up everything we’ve thought about what it means to be thoughtful, considerate consumers here in Western PA and investigate it in a new light, and perhaps liberate ourselves, if only a little,  from our addiction to the “shoulds” of hyperlocalism. During Tropical Foods Month, we put our attention into the many ways we might actually make a positive impact by reaching beyond the borders of Western PA, like working with more fair trade ingredients, instead of following what has become the predictable farm-to-table formula of our time, which is to “just say no” to what isn’t local as the crow flies.

It’s no coincidence that we’re doing this in March, a time of year when the doldrums of winter really hit hard here, and when a lot of tropical ingredients are at their peak. We kick things off with a tropical foods buffet on March 3rd, exploring the Caribbean roots of some of our staff members: Oliver, Erica, and Duane. Former Legume chefs Jamilka and Raf will return on two different nights: Raf for a menu of authentic and modern Filipino dishes revolving around fish and fruit, and Jamilka cooking up the memories of her childhood in Puerto Rico. In addition to these events, we’ll be featuring tropical and fair trade ingredients at Legume, Butterjoint, and Pie For Breakfast on our daily menus all month long.

Thanks for reading this and for supporting our restaurant. Trevett

Chef Csilla Joins the Team; Cassoulet

We’re happy to announce that Chef Csilla Thackray will be joining the Good Faith Restaurant team as Legume’s chef de cuisine starting this February. Csilla has been the executive chef of the Vandal (one of our personal favorites in Pittsburgh) since it opened.

We’ve been without a CDC since this past January.  In announcing this happy news, I feel the need to acknowledge the chefs behind the scenes who have kept things going at Legume this past year, especially Jessica George and Chris Shuplock who sacrificed a lot. I’m really proud of the way they’ve been able to keep quality high, and customers happy during this transitional year without a CDC and with Pie For Breakfast opening.

Keeping the creative spark alive and well in a professional kitchen is its own job, and I’m happy to make room in the fold here for Csilla to do just that. It’s always been very important to Sarah and I that Legume remain a place that is continually growing and evolving, and have a lot of confidence that Csilla’s abilities and talents will help us to this end.

It’s Legume Season
This is really the time of year where we do our best cooking. In the summer, everything is new and fresh and the menu is changing all the time. In the winter, things tend to change less, and we settle into a more established repertoire. We visit the same dishes over and over, year after year–Cassoulet, Beef and Kimchi Soup, Shaker Corn, Blood Orange Salad and others.

These dishes are like old friends, and like old friends, these dishes change from year to year. The same, but a little different. It never ceases to amaze me how much a dish that we’ve been making for ten years can still be evolving. For example, this year we noticed the tarbais are more creamy and easier to cook when they’re a year old. The past four years, we’d been using beans dried only a few months earlier. We continue to make other tweaks too: we discovered we like super-fresh bread crumbs instead of dried, to give the crust a chewy-crunchy texture; we tweaked the Toulouse sausage recipe; the duck confit cure is better than in years past. A lot of thought has gone into the cassoulet over the years.

Cassoulet should reliably be on the menu at least through Valentine’s Day. After that, we sometimes get tired of making it and usually take it off the menu.  It’s sometimes hard to remember that the dishes we feel like retiring for the season have not yet been had be all who want it. For this reason, we’ll keep it going until March, when it will be time to start thinking about Zurek and tropical foods.

Alex, Trevett and Jess tasting Maple Springs Wines and planning the menu

Wine Dinner at Legume:
Thursday, January 31st, 2019

Join winemaker Jef Stebben and the culinary team at Legume as we celebrate Pennsylvania wine! Maple Springs Vineyards in Bechtelsville, PA was founded in 2008 and produced their first vintage from estate grown fruit in 2012. Jef, a graduate of UC Davis, brings years of winemaking experience from working in wineries and consulting in the Pacific Northwest and California. Focused on sustainable farming and winemaking, Maple Springs is setting the bar for Pennsylvania wine and expressing the unique terroir of their vineyard sites. We currently carry their Chardonnay and Pinor Noir by the bottle and we’re excited to share some of their other offerings with you by way of a six course tasting menu. Jef will be on hand to explain his wines and answer your questions.

The price for this six course meal with wine pairings is $125 per person plus tax and gratuity. Please call 412-621-2700 to make a reservation. We look forward to sharing this remarkable PA wine with you!

Jess, Jade, Jason and Devalle being dorks, uh I mean, um cool. 

We’re Still Cool 
Thrillist says Legume is still one of the “Best of the Best” in Pittsburgh, and named Pie For Breakfast one of the best new openings in 2018–quite an honor considering a record-breaking sixty seven thousand restaurants opened in Pittsburgh in 2018.

We are also honored to be considered one of Pittsburgh Quarterly’s “Ten great places to come in from the cold.”  We couldn’t agree more.

Cheap Date Night Returns!

Next Tuesday, January 22nd is the return of Cheap Date Night at Legume! $50 gets you three courses for two people. Since this is a special event, reservations are available by phone or in person only. Please call the restaurant at 412-621-2700 to make reservations. Hope to see you there!

Chef de Cuisine

Chef de Cuisine
Legume is looking for a chef de cuisine (CDC). We have not had one since July. We’ve been piecing it together with a team of dedicated chefs and cooks who have been around here for a long time and are more than capable of maintaining the repertoire that has developed here over the years.

We could certainly carry on like this in perpetuity, and that might not necessarily be a problem. Despite not having a chef de cuisine this fall, I’m happy to report we’ve been hearing a whole lot of “that was one of our best Legume experiences in a long time” kinds of thing lately. Part of this, I think, is because we’ve been pulling out all of the old favorites recently, doing something of a “greatest hits” menu. Another part of it is the strength of the team we have right now and the momentum of eleven and a half years of doing this.

But I’m also keenly aware of the fact that this very momentum is a function of the many years of working proactively to keep things alive and fresh. Even at age eleven and a half–old for a restaurant– it feels too soon to be leaning on our greatest hits. I feel like the energy exists here to explore new avenues of cooking and serving food. I’m not ready for Legume to fall into maintenance mode; I genuinely believe that Legume’s best meals have yet to be served. It is for these reasons that I want to fill the CDC position.

The happiest years of my adult life were the years in which I was functioning as Legume’s chef de cuisine. That was before Legume grew into three restaurants and 50+ employees, and before Sarah and I had 5 kids. It’s hard to explain why those times were so happy, but I think it’s because most of my responsibilities in life had been paired down to one objective: making beautiful food. I don’t think I could do it again, but I’m very grateful to have done it for as long as I did.

I’m still in the kitchen a lot–happily. However, my responsibilities spread me too thin to do the job of the CDC correctly, which is to be fully immersed in the minutia of the day-to-day functioning of the kitchen, to be hyper-aware of everything that is happening in seemingly disparate parts of the kitchen, and distill it all into something that is inspired, ephemeral, beautiful. This can’t be done without total, full-hearted immersion in the kitchen.

Here is what we’re looking for:

First and foremost, the CDC is a leader. They lead with positivity and are skilled at communicating clearly. They are a team builder.

Second, the CDC is a technically proficient culinarian with a minimum of seven (preferably ten) years of professional cooking experience, mostly in fine dining restaurants. Strong classical technique is a must. Generalists like myself  (cooks who spend a few years baking, a few years doing pastry, a few years cutting meat, or other food things not directly related to fine dining) are encouraged, but possession of strong fine dining line skills are imperative.

Third, the CDC must genuinely believe in the mission of Legume, which is, in a nutshell, to make inspired food every single day, while also fostering a work environment that is, as much as we can know, life-affirming and beneficial for all of our workers and our community at large.

Fourth, the CDC is a disciplined cook. I define “disciplined” as having that unteachable inner-drive to attempt to do everything as well as possible every single day.

Fifth, the CDC must be able to merge and collaborate with the amazing team that is already here–and it is an amazing one including a chef who has been here for six years, and two sous chefs who have been here 5+ years, and a kitchen manager coming up on 2 years. In addition to the on-the-ground support of these committed professionals, the CDC will also have the support of a chef/owner (me) who understands well the challenges of the position, and who cares about artistic success as much as the financial. I forgot to mention: the FOH team is amazing too.

Finally, the CDC is a hands-on cook who leads from the guts of the kitchen, not the office. The CDC works side-by-side with their cooks, mentoring and directly  transmitting the skills of professional cooking to the next generation through modeling, nurturing, and teaching.

If interested, email me at trevett@legumebistro.com. If you know someone who might be interested, please forward this email along.

Attention Mincemeat Pie Cult 
This twelfth batch of mincemeat pie, an annual tradition around this time of the year, looks to be a good one. Mincemeat pie will ready starting on Boxing Day, Wednesday, December 26th. To make a reservation, please give us a call at 412-621-2700 or click here. Please let us know when you make your reservation that you are coming for mincemeat pie so we can be sure to set one aside. 

First Cassoulet: January 8th
It should be good and cold by the beginning of January, so join us as we bring our cassoulet back. The first cassoulet of the year will be served on Tuesday, January 8th. To make a reservation, please give us a call at 412-621-2700 or click here.

Thanksgiving Vinegar Pie

Order Your Thanksgiving Vinegar Pie
Purchase a Whole Vinegar Pie ~ Support the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

We don’t normally sell whole pies at Pie For Breakfast. Our tiny little pastry kitchen, which makes all of the desserts for Legume, the brioche buns for Butterjoint burgers, and all the pies, salt-rising bread etc. for Pie For Breakfast just isn’t (yet) set up for us to meet the demand of whole pies to go.

This week is an exception. Our pastry team, Emily, Robin and Erica, are making whole vinegar pies this week for Thanksgiving. Pies can be picked up at PIe For Breakfast on Wednesday anytime before 3 p.m., or next door at Legume until 9 p.m. Each pie is $50, and 100% of sales ($50 for each pie sold) will go to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Our vinegar pie is our most popular item at Pie For Breakfast. You can read about vinegar pie here. The pies are not vegetarian, as they contain rendered lard from beautiful, pastured pork from Burn’s Heritage Farm.

Quantities are limited. We’re capping it at 50 pies. To order, please click this link and order online.

Thank you and have a safe and joyous holiday.

Sincerely,
Sarah and Trevett Hooper

Lobster Week at Legume; Pie for Breakfast is Open!

Lobster Week at Legume is right around the corner. From Monday, June 25 to Friday, June 29, we’ll have fresh lobster ravioli (featuring Maine lobster and our own hand-rolled pasta) on the menu every day.

The grand finale of Lobster Week is the Maine Shore Dinner on June 30th. It’s exactly like eating lobster on the coast of Maine, except overlooking North Craig Street instead of the ocean. The menu for the Maine Shore dinner is lobster, clams, corn on the cob, fresh made roll, and pie! The price for this ticketed event is $58 per person, plus tax and gratuity. You can purchase tickets in person at the restaurant or by calling 412-621-2700.

Pie for Breakfast Is Now Open
It’s official: After a few days of testing the waters with some soft open services, Pie for Breakfast officially opened for good on June 12.

It’s been a long journey getting this place open, and we’re so excited to finally bring you our new cafe. From now through the end of the summer, Pie for Breakfast will be open from 7am-9pm Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9am-9pm on Saturdays, and 9am-2pm on Sundays. We’re closed Mondays and Tuesdays for now, but plan to be open seven days a week by the end of the summer.

And thanks so much to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Magazine and NextPittsburgh for talking to us about the opening, and our grand plans for Pie for Breakfast.

We’re so happy to be open, and can’t wait to see you all soon at Pie For Breakfast.

Sincerely,
Trevett and Sarah

Coming Soon: Pie for Breakfast

The opening of Pie for Breakfast is in sight. We don’t have an exact opening day to announce yet, but suffice to say, it’s coming soon, and you should be able to join us at the restaurant sometime in May, barring anything too crazy from happening. We’re incredibly excited to share what we’ve been working on with you, and are happy to introduce Pie for Breakfast to the neighborhood.

A lot of folks ask me what the menu is going to look like. Breakfast will look familiar—pancakes, eggs, chicken fried steak, and baked goods. Some of the savory things we’re working on for lunch and dinner include meatloaf, stuffed cabbage, vegetarian tempeh smothered in onions, and pork chops. Nothing too revolutionary. Our plan is to be open six days a week from 7am until 9pm, and from 9am to 2pm on Sunday.

I’m excited about the drinks too: espresso, an extensive bottled beer selection, Prosecco on tap, and mules made with Amanda’s homemade ginger beer. I’ve been fiddling around with water kefir at home and hope to introduce that too, though it might be more of a secret menu thing for a while until we get a handle on it.

If you’re still curious about the restaurant, Michael Machosky wrote a great piece for NextPittsburgh that previews our menu, our sourcing, and our team.

Thank you so much for your patience, your well wishes, and for reading this newsletter. We’ll be announcing the official opening date in this newsletter first – so keep an eye on this space in the next couple of weeks for a big announcement!

And if the anticipation of waiting until mid-May for Pie For Breakfast to open is too much, come visit us at the collaboration dinner we’re doing with chef Beth Zozula at the Ace Hotel on May 2. The Whitfield and Pie for Breakfast teams will be uniting forces to make breakfast for dinner, and you can drop by anytime between 5-8. There will be a clown. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for kids. You can find out more by clicking on the link below.

Sincerely,

Trevett