Let’s make one thing very clear: Lautrec, the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant at Farmington, Pennsylvania’s Nemacolin Woodlands Resort — Chateau Lafayette, doesn’t need gimmicks to fill its dining room. With brilliant executive chef Kristin Butterworth anchoring the kitchen, its expertly executed dishes and exquisite service sell themselves.
Still, what chef Butterworth is doing with the unique Leap of Faith menu is elevating an evening out to unprecedented heights in her beloved Keystone State. A whimsical take on a tasting menu, the Leap of Faith calls for you to open a sealed red envelope, grab a quill pen and circle 10 items you’d like for the team to prepare for you. Options can range from things like pasta and truffles to black angus beef.
You’re taking a “leap of faith” that they’ll all be prepared to your liking. Spoiler alert: they most certainly will.
The 35-year-old Butterworth, one of the youngest Five-Star chefs in the world, is all smiles when she talks about the seasonal dining experience. But as you’ll read below, the gifted toque is equally passionate about securing Nemacolin’s overall place among the top culinary destinations in the country.
What are a few things guests can expect when they come to Lautrec or one of Nemacolin’s other culinary offerings?
I think we have variety. Resort-wide, there are tons of different food outlets — from casual to a Five-Star restaurant. One day you can have a hamburger and the next you can have foie gras.
The coolest part about Lautrec is that we’re utilizing the best product that we can find. And if that means going 15 minutes up the road to Footprints Farm, that’s what we do. If we have to import it from Paris, we do that too.
I think that’s the really cool part about what Nemacolin has to offer: they have everything for everyone. You can bring your kids. You can dine at Lautrec with your kids. Or you can just come and get a romantic getaway. You can come with your buddies and play golf. There’s something for everybody.
You mention Footprints Farm. On the whole, how difficult has it been finding good local purveyors with which to partner?
Look around. We’re in the middle of nowhere. We’re surrounded by farms. It just took a little looking and making those connections. Seeing something that kind of caught your eye. Word of mouth [really helped].
A lot of people that work at Nemacolin were born and raised here. They have those connections with those people. It just took a little bit of time.
I think the first year I was here — I started six years ago — we started working with Footprints Farm. It was just a matter of kind of looking around and seeing what this area had to offer and utilizing that to its full potential.
Of course, the flip side to being out in farm country is being far from most people. What are some challenges of being in rural Pennsylvania?
When we get things in from Paris, we’re probably paying a little bit more because we have to get it flown in and then flown in again to [the property]. There are drawbacks.
And obviously, getting people out here [is a challenge]. We want people to know that we’re here. I always say that we’re one of the underdogs of Five-Star restaurants because we’re not in Manhattan and we’re not in Chicago.
You have to put a little bit more thought into how you’re ordering. You have to put a little more planning into how you’re going to do certain things in order to make sure you have the product on hand. But the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
Are there items on upcoming menus that you’re excited to show the world?
We’re constantly changing. Constantly. We let the product dictate what we’re doing, and I think that’s the fun part of our job. It makes things more challenging, but at the same time, it keeps everybody excited and on their toes.
What you can experience this week at Lautrec could be gone next week, and we’ll be on to something new. If the farmers drop off a hundred pounds of watermelon, guess what? There’s watermelon going on the menu.
But then we have some staples on there, too. We have a pasta course that was my grandmother’s pasta recipe. We just put truffles on it. But a lot of things change from week to week just because we got in some amazing product.
Like the strawberries for the lemonade [today]. Those were strawberries that the farmers just dropped off. I didn’t even know they were coming. But we utilized them for this.
Tell me how the Leap of Faith menu came about.
I think it’s the coolest thing ever, though I may be a little partial. You look around at a lot of restaurants in Chicago and Manhattan and they’re “tasting menu only.” Realistically, that’s not something we can do here at Nemacolin because we want to cater to the families, the couples, the anniversaries and birthdays. We want to make sure that we have something for everybody.
So, the answer to that was to do the Leap of Faith menu and allow people to do a tasting menu but still on their terms. They come in, circle what they’re interested in having and then we prepare it without them knowing what it’s actually going to come out as. It’s a lot of fun. We have a big feather pen and a paper with the pictures of the ingredients on there. You circle 10 of the 14 items that you really want to have. And then, ultimately, it’s on the fly. But whatever you circled is what we’ll send out.
It’s a lot of fun and it’s been really warmly received. I think it’s been a pretty big hit. If we’re known for one thing at Lautrec, I want it to be that Leap of Faith menu.