What happens when a meat market hires an acclaimed fine-dining chef? Timbercreek Market is about to find out.
When Timbercreek Farm owners Sara and Zach Miller opened the market in July 2015, their aim was to bring directly to consumers the same produce from their farm that had long been served at top restaurants around town. In addition to their own farm’s produce, the market offers products from other local farms and purveyors, and a cheese counter run by Flora Artisanal Cheese’s Nadjeeb Chouaf, recently named best cheesemonger in America. Now they have landed Tucker Yoder, the former Clifton Inn executive chef once named one of Charlottesville’s rising stars.
Yoder’s arrival coincides with the introduction of the market’s dinner service, launched shortly before former chef Allie Redshaw left to pursue other opportunities. Served Thursday through Saturday at tables in the market, with a full selection of beer and wine, dinner allows Yoder to apply his talent to local, seasonal produce.
There is recent precedent in other cities for a partnership between a butcher and a chef with Yoder’s chops. But, will it work in Charlottesville?
No one should know better than Ben Thompson, who boasts a background in both fine dining and butchery. The ace student of the Culinary Institute of America went on to work at two of the nation’s best fine-dining restaurants before returning to Virginia to open The Rock Barn, a pork butchery that became an instant hit among area chefs. Thompson knows cooking and he knows meat, and he was a perfect dinner guest at Timbercreek.
In a pleasant twist, though, several of our meal’s standouts were meatless. For a vegetarian riff on Bolognese, Yoder replaces meat with local pumpkin, but otherwise follows the traditional method of gradually layering flavors. First, he caramelizes onions, garlic and pumpkin. Next, he adds tomato and caramelizes some more. Finally, he adds pumpkin stock to collect the pan’s flavors, and reduces the liquid. Atop housemade garganelli, the sauce delivers a deep flavor, rich in umami from the patient caramelization and reduction. Sara Miller, a devout carnivore, admits it’s her favorite dish on the menu. Thompson also called it a “highlight,” praising Yoder’s “mastery of simple technique without all the frills.”
With a chef as devoted to technique as Yoder, even the bread course warrants a pause from conversation. The fresh sourdough with housemade cultured butter could be a meal in itself, particularly alongside the grilled local radishes that Yoder delivered to our table.
But, this is a meat market after all. And there was plenty of meat. Thompson’s single favorite bite of the night was a cube of mole-spiced headcheese, served on a platter of housemade charcuterie. Yoder brines the meat of the head of a Timbercreek pig and then boils it in stock flavored with spices common to a Mexican mole sauce. Next, he dices it, adds more mole-style seasonings, and molds it in a terrine with stock. “Tender, chunky, porky, balanced,” said Thompson.
Thompson’s favorite entrée, meanwhile, was pork belly braised in broth spiked with black garlic, served with spicy greens and charred tomato pozole. “Perfectly seasoned, tender, rich,” said Thompson.
My favorite dish was the one Yoder himself likes best, too—a tart of chicken liver mousse with a crust of crushed Ritz crackers. Served in a thin sliver with pickled onions and malt vinegar, it had the harmonious combination of flavors that is the mark of a great chef. The dish is so delicious, in fact, that it has even generated a following of sorts on social media.
In addition to a menu of starters and entrées, there is a weekly changing selection of simply prepared butcher’s cuts of beef and pork, each served with a choice of sauce and two sides. While our rib-eye was great, the sides were just as notable, especially the Yorkshire pudding. With British heritage, I have eaten this all of my life, and Yoder’s version rivaled any I have ever had. And it didn’t hurt that I spread on the bone marrow butter that came with our steak.
Yoder’s aim for Timbercreek’s dinner is to create “something that represents the place and the seasons and of course the products raised on the farm,” he says. At Clifton Inn, he used to prepare intricate 10-course tasting menus with wine pairings, at more than $100 per head. Now, he cooks at a market, with a menu that even includes a burger. Some might think it an odd home for a chef with Yoder’s résumé. But our dinner was excellent. And, to Thompson, it makes perfect sense to task Yoder with the challenge of showcasing excellent local ingredients that change at Mother Nature’s whim.
“Tucker’s creativity and ability to be nimble with seasonal offerings,” Thompson said after our meal, “will be a great fit for the market.”
Contact Simon Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org.