Seeing Chef Ray in Action: A Memorable Meal at Bradley Farm

On Sunday I experienced one of those ‘live on in your memory for some time to come’ kind of meals. My farmer, and friend, Ray Bradley hosted his second-ever farm-to-table dinner in his barn in New Paltz and Brad and I were fortunate to be among the guests at the enormous communal table.

The long communal table in the Bradley Farm barn (photo: E. Frossard)

I’ve been eating the food Ray grows for as long as we’ve lived in Park Slope and shopped at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket – going on 6 years now, and I’ve been lucky to count him among my friends for more than a few of those years. Back in the day, I used to refer to him and his sidekick, Hardeep, as the bearded farmers – as in: Brad: “Oh my God, these pork chops are amazing.” Me: “I know, I got them from the bearded farmers!” Eventually I learned that Ray was the farmer and Hardeep (who calls me ‘Sunshine’ and always compliments my dresses) is his long time friend who has helped run the market stands since he was hawking garlic by the bulb back in something like 1995. I also learned that Ray used to be an accomplished chef, and that one day, in the words of Hardeep, he “quit chefing and started farming”.

Of course, the chef-turned-farmer raises the most incredible pork and some of best produce at our market. It also explains how talking about food was the start of getting to knowing one another. One day, amidst verbal recipe swapping, Ray asked me what I did for a living. When I told him, he said he’d like to have labels designed for his pickles and some new products he was thinking about canning (like his heirloom tomatoes – hello delicious!), and maybe this was something I could help him with. And so began one of many projects Bad Feather and Bradley Farm would work on together, trading our services for his food. I wrote about creating the newsletter and website on the Bad Feather blog a while back.

Not just your average Grilled Chicken (photos: E. Frossard)

Now here we are several years later. Ray and the marvelous ‘lady he’s with’ – who prefers to remain as ‘the woman behind the man’ – were able to leverage the newsletters, website and online store, to promote and sell out a 3 dinner, farm-to-table series this summer. The dinners are being hosted in the barn on the farm, which Ray and his crew of friends known as ‘the gourmet guys’ were finally able to finish out this past Fall after a wildly successful fund-raiser in which the prize was a 5 course dinner and wine pairings for 4, cooked by Ray.

I’ve been to Bradley Farm many times, and have watched as the barn has been renovated to its current state over the last few years, but the transformation from barn to restaurant was unbelievable. The setting was absolutely beautiful. And the food… I’ve experienced Ray’s cooking before, it is amazing and straightforward, always showcasing the food he grows in the most simple, yet mouthwatering, ways – but on Sunday Ray was truly a chef again. He turned out a menu of seasonal, inspired dishes – perfectly prepared and elegantly plated to the entire table, course after course:

  • Passed Hors d’œuvres (pâté!)
  • New England Clam Chowder with Long Island clams
 Solitary Oak 2009
  • Lobster Bouquet with seasonal greens and beurre blanc sauce
 Vidal Blanc 2010
  • Wood-charcoal Grilled Chicken with mashed potatoes & roasted allium selection (onions, garlic & shallots), 
Mountain Red 2009
  • Herb Salad with baby head lettuces, citrus and wildflower honey vinaigrette, roasted beets, sprinkled with cheese and chopped pecans
  • Blueberry cake with peach sauce and vanilla ice cream Kir Peach Dessert Wine
So THAT'S a Lobster Bouquet! (photos: E. Frossard, lower left B. Thomason)

Ray had some help from his friends, many of whom rallied to set up and help run the show. Chef Jean Luc of PicNic Market made 2 pork liver pâtés (one a peppery mousse, and the other, country-style with habañeros, pistachios, mint and hyssop) that threatened to end me before we even got started, they were so decadently delicious. Several of the courses featured fish from Blue Moon (from which official and unofficial family members were in attendance) – including the infamous lobster bouquet. Ray has mentioned this dish to me many times before as something he makes for dinner parties, always with different sides, but I never really understood the wonder that it is. Perfectly cooked (of course), sweet lobster surrounded by a “bouquet” of whatever is in season – in this instance, a colorful arrangement everything from shredded beets with beet greens and mint, to fava beans and a husk tomato. Ray told me he adds the lobster roe to the beurre blanc, which he finishes the dish with. Heaven in my mouth.

I could go on and on… oh, that clam chowder, who cares if it was hot! And a bite of sweet, roasted garlic with perfectly grilled chicken… but then I’d never finish writing this post. Each of the courses was paired with wines by Adair Vineyards, local New Paltz winemakers who turned up with some beautiful wines. Hard to choose, but my favorite might have been the white they paired with dessert (a blueberry cake with peach sauce), the Vidal Blanc blended with 10% of their peach dessert wine. I just wanted to keep my nose in my glass and breathe the perfume for the rest of the day.

Making magic out of Blueberry Cake (photos: E. Frossard)

But all good things must come to an end and so I returned home with a full belly, a bag of apricots and some of that blueberry cake. Ettiene Frossard, our friend and Ray’s, documented the day with photos that look as good as my memories taste (thanks Etienne for letting me post them here!). Next month Brad and I are moving from the table to help in the back of the house where I’m ready to sweat and hoping to pick up a few tricks from the pro.

Bonus Material:

There is a wonderful article by Regina Schrambling about Ray and Bradley Farm in the Summer issues of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. There’s even mention of Brad and I, and how we got the man who doesn’t own watch, let alone have an email account, to let us make him a website – where you can learn more about Ray and the farm, and see more of Etienne’s gorgeous photos, like this one:

Big sky over the barn at Bradley Farm (photo: E. Frossard)

6 Responses to “Seeing Chef Ray in Action: A Memorable Meal at Bradley Farm”

  1. #

    amanda says:

    awesome!

    • #

      Heather says:

      Ha! These are the best comments ever.

  2. #

    Kimberley says:

    This makes me want to get to farms (and farm dinners) way more often. We have plenty out here but I’m still casting a longing eye eastward. Call me crazy!

    • #

      Heather says:

      Either we’re both crazy or the grass is is really greener on the other side, because my heart and stomach are feeling the tug west!

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