Restaurant Gwendolyn

Local • Seasonal • Handmade

Step back to a time when local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients were a way of life.  At Restaurant Gwendolyn, Victorian charm and historic recipes, combine with modern culinary standards.  Chef and owner Michael Sohocki presents pristine ingredients with skill and passion to create a dining experience like no other.

 

The Concept

The concept of the restaurant is entirely old school, using what they had and doing as they did before the break of the industrial revolution: approximately 1850. This was the last time that food was honest.There are no blenders, mixers, choppers, ice cream machines, deepfryers, burr sticks, nor anything else with a motor--nothing with a plug. Food machines with motors made possible an imbalance of diet that had never occurred before: we could suddenly fry enough food to make ourselves sick, we could preserve food longer than its last dangling vitamin. Refusing food-enabling machines is another way to keep the food honest, and in reasonable balance. No perishable ingredient may travel further than a good, strong horse. The menu will move absolutely in lockstep with the seasons, as okra and eggplant taper off and leafy greens move in, we must change ourselves to suit the product--not the other way around. What is outside is inside.

History

Before 1850 the food supply that maintained a people was sustainable, regional, and organic by default. The transport vehicle was a horse and carriage at best--which established a perishable radius from a farm or a ranch within which you could sell. After this date, the union of the Pacific and Atlantic railroad systems produced the first international distribution network. This groundbreaking moment was quickly met by the refrigerated railcar invented by Andrew Chase, commissioned by Gustavus Swift of the Swift meat packing plants of Chicago. The carcass could now outpace the horse. Competitors followed suit, opened the plants and contracted ranchers along the rail line, and the food industry was born.

The simple, old-world life cycle of a food animal was immediately dismantled: a pig could now be raised in Iowa, killed and cut in Chicago, and sold to Houston. The farmer never met the butcher who never met the customer, and the supply line became a nameless, faceless entity, to the benefit of all involved.

The rancher could now raise in concentrations that a neighbor would never agree to, and feed the animals ingredients that a neighbor would never agree to. The butcher could now cut more animals, at greater speed, underworse conditions than a neighbor would ever agree to...the end result being a country of customers buying meats for pennies to the pound, in quantities their grandparents never thought possible. It was then that Upton Sinclair stepped in with his attack on Chicago's meat packing industry in The Jungle, but by then the damage had been done--and the coming tide could not be undone.

Separating origin from food was the crucial step in making the food industry the profit-gushing machine it has become. Once the face of the producer had been pushed into obscurity then hormones, antibiotics, artificial flavorings, revolutionary new preservatives, unnatural fats and the replacement of natural substances began to overtake our food supply. The development of fractioned corn products, for instance, is carefully veiled. Call it what you like, but it's awful hard to object to what you cannot see.

Today, we are surrounded by white trucks: the horses of the industrial revolution. Sysco, US Foodservice, Ben E. Keith, McDonald's, Wal Mart. They bring us our Christmas presents, our chocolate bars, our gasoline, our allergy medication, our steak. The tires we drive on. Where it all comes from is a matter largely beyond our emotional vision. Industry depends on that. As much as our minds have adapted to the space-age network of global trade, our hearts have remained lodged in the simple horse and carriage ideal: the white truck escapes into a conveniently foggy corridor. Where did the stuff come from?  From the store.

The Concept

So this restaurant is built around a rejection of the greatest part of that industrial world, and those white trucks. Every perishable ingredient we serve here comes from within 150 miles of this place, was raised in the old way, and has been handled in the old way. We know the rancher, and we know the farmer. We buy from them directly to keep the supply chain small and visible.

We buy whole animals, cut and dry-age them ourselves, and preserve them in the old, tried-and-true ways of the Victorian age, and the traditions that came before them. We smoke our own bacon, grind our own sausage, make our own orange marmalade, and can strawberries in the springtime. All fats used here we either rendered ourselves, or have been naturally crushed from a seed.

Any traditional ingredient that traveled long distances in wooden wagons in 1850--wine from Bordeaux, pepper from Malabar, coffee and sugar from the West Indies--is okay by me. They didn't kill people then, and they don't now. When possible we will favor Texan products in this also, because money spent in your community stays in your community.