Gastronomical Gettysburg

Festival includes culinary treats

Festival includes culinary treats

June 10, 2009|BY CHRIS COPLEY

GETTYSBURG, Pa. - Everyone knows Gettysburg, Pa. -- site of a climactic Civil War three-day battle, namesake of Lincoln's powerful address dedicating a military cemetery, and a center of culinary arts.

Huh? Gettysburg is a center of culinary arts?

Organizers of the Gettysburg Festival want to put Gettysburg on the map for fine food. To that end, they brought in Walter Scheib, former chef to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, to organize a list of high-profile dining events during the festival.

Scheib said he's happy to be working in central Pennsylvania.

"Pennsylvania really is a hotbed of fresh foods," he said by phone this week. "Actually, If you ran a line from the Hudson River to the Susquehanna (River), through Maryland and Virginia and down to the (Chesapeake) Bay - from Albany (N.Y.) down to Norfolk, Va. - you'll find undiscovered areas that produce a variety of good foods - wines, fish, produce, meats, poultry, cheeses. It is as good as any place outside of the Central Valley in California."


Cooking on the edge

Some of the festival's culinary arts events highlight the phenomenon of chef-as-performer. Several festival meals pair celebrity chefs and unusual settings.

Richard Blais, executive chef at Home restaurant in Atlanta and a competitor in "Top Chef," will prepare dishes for Bravo at the Battlefield. The dinner is set at the Lutheran Theological Seminary on Seminary Ridge, one of the contested sites during the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg.

Blais said he worked on a farm market-themed TV show in Pennsylvania a few months ago, and was captivated by the quality of the foods.

"I feel in love with some of the products," he said by phone from Los Angeles. "My flaw is, I tend to take a long time to create things. I wait for ingredients to talk to me. That's what happened at the farm show in Pennsylvania - I was walking around and seeing the ingredients. It was love at first sight."

When asked to be a part of the Gettysburg Festival, Blais said he jumped at the chance. He plans to prepare bison tartare with smoked mayonnaise, bison short ribs, Nutella sponge cake and banana guacamole.

Blais is known as a chef who pushes the envelope, but he said his basic approach is grounded in tradition: Find good ingredients and make tasty dishes with them.

"Go to the (farmers) market and walk around," he said. "Whatever looks great, whatever smells great, pick it up. Then go home and look in cookbooks for something that uses it."

Or not. Blais's contrary advice: Improv cooking. Ignore recipes, and prepare good ingredients creatively using your existing kitchen skills.

"That's the easiest way to not fall in a rut," he said.

Traditional food prepared well

Scheib is a bit skeptical of celebrity chef competitions. He has promoted a simple style of cooking that uses few ingredients, purchased close to home as often as possible.

"Some of the cooking shows have a legitimate influence. (Food Network's) Alton Brown has an educational bent," Scheib said. "Others, like 'Iron Chef,' are interesting to watch, but there's more pop culture value than actual food value."

Scheib says his basic approach to cooking is easy, whether a cook is highly trained or not.

"Cooking is cool. Cooking is fun. There's more to food than buying food in boxes," he said. "I say great dining isn't about difficult or complicated techniques. It's about big flavors. This strawberry you picked at the beginning of June, the fresh peach you eat, freshly made bread. That's the core of great cuisine."

Scheib is preparing a dinner to be served at Hauser Estate Winery in Biglerville, Pa. His menu includes local cheeses and breads, smoked salmon and basil-grilled summer vegetables.

The complete schedule of culinary arts demonstrations and dinners events is available at

If you go ...

WHAT: The second annual Gettysburg Festival, a celebration of visual arts, dance, theater, music and culinary arts

WHEN: Thursday, June 18, to Sunday, June 28

WHERE: Various locations, Gettysburg, Pa.

COST: Events are ticketed individually; tickets cost $20 to $125.

CONTACT: Go to www.gettysburgfestival.orgor call Karen Hendricks at 717-334-0853.

Rhubarb and strawberry crisp


1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed, light brown sugar
Generous pinch of salt
1 stick chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes


2 cups halved strawberries
5 cups 1/2-inch thick slices of fresh rhubarb (from about 2 pounds of rhubarb stalks)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour


1 cup whipping cream, creamed
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

Mix first rolled oats, 1/2 cup flour, light brown sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture forms small clumps

Combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, orange juice and 2 tablespoons flour in a large bowl; stir to blend. Let stand until juices form, about 15 minutes

Add rhubarb and strawberry mixture to the baking dish. Spread topping evenly over mixture.

Bake until juices bubble and the topping browns, about 40 to 45 minutes.

While crisp bakes, whip the cream. Fold in 1 tablespoon sugar.

Let set up for 10 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Serves 6.

--Courtesy of Walter Scheib

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