The farm-to-table dining movement is flourishing in Manhattan, with many chefs sourcing their ingredients from organic growers and local farmers markets. However, not many of these restaurants can say they have a farm of their own. Blenheim can.
When I met with Morten Sohlberg, the proprietor of Blenheim, he told me about his dissatisfaction with “factory agriculture” and the fact that many eateries acquire food from unknown producers. To combat this issue, Morten decided to start from the ground up, literally.
In 2010, Morten and his wife Min Ye purchased the centuries-old Blenheim Farm in the hills of the Catskills with the intention of founding a “grow to order” restaurant that would source from the farm’s plots. I asked Morten if he was at all nervous about running a farm with zero experience in agriculture – other than foraging for chanterelles in the forests of Norway during his childhood. Morten replied that he was not afraid because his commitment to the project was so strong. He then recounted a time during his early days on the Blenheim Farm when he had to carry out an emergency surgery on a pig, which he taught himself to perform by watching a YouTube video.
While Morten’s other restaurants – Smörgås Chef and Crêpes du Nord – also source from the Blenheim Farm in order to create crepes and Scandinavian delights, the Blenheim Restaurant’s menu exists primarily to showcase fare grown on the farm. With seasonal change and the general unpredictability of nature, the menu is always in flux. For example, Morten noted that often they do not list cuts of meat, since they may only have one cow at the farm to offer the restaurant. In fact, ten minutes before my arrival at the restaurant, Morten received a call from the farm announcing that a sow had just given birth to a litter of ten piglets. The rhythms of nature never rest.
Amongst the faded hues of the chairs, the warm wooden beams overhead, and the glistening copper tables designed and built by Morten, I sat at the bar next to Min Ye, the restaurant’s Director of Operations. She told me about her favorite plates on the menu, two of which Chef Mustafa prepared for the Manhattan Sideways team – the tender braised lamb shoulder with celery root and celery-apple gremolata, and a delightful chilled Maine lobster. For dessert, we sampled the chocolate cremeux with liquorice ice cream, star anise, and Satsuma oranges bursting with fragrance. The fresh ingredients amplified the flavors of the dishes, giving an unparalleled richness to each bite. To top it off, the bartender Amber mixed her award-winning cocktail, “A Walk in the Woods.” True to its name, the drink captured the fragrances of a summer storm in a pine grove, all within a single glass of whiskey.
I was happy to hear that Blenheim has made a lasting commitment to the West Village. Having signed a long-term lease, Morten talked about how he wants Blenheim to be a casual, yet sophisticated neighborhood restaurant, as opposed to a destination. As a new establishment growing steadily from its seedling phase, Blenheim has anchored its roots firmly in its Manhattan plot.