Though the farm-to-table revolution has spread nationwide, and terms like “foraged” and “sustainable” have become household words, diners rarely get the chance enjoy consciously crafted cuisine so local that it’s prepared mere feet from where the ingredients were harvested only some hours beforehand.
Chef Sonya Coté, of Hillside Farmacy, opened Eden East in April, her latest culinary project at Springdale Farm, located on almost five acres in east Austin, Texas. While most chefs pick up the phone to place an order for produce, Coté walks the fields with Paula and Glenn Foore, the urban farmers who own Springdale.
Coté met the Foores five years ago, when she was the first chef in town to show up at their 1920s farmhouse to buy produce. Soon afterward, she began hosting a roving dinner series called Homegrown Revival (which Springdale has hosted a few times over the past few years) and paid homage to a variety of local producers and the fruits of their labor. When she approached the Foores about doing a plated, prix fixe dinner at their farm with a new menu each weekend, they were all ears.
“We’re real fortunate in Austin to have these kinds of chefs, but to have Sonya here is just ideal,” Paula says. “She’s such a purist, and she’s one of the chefs who really wants to work with local ingredients and understands it. There was never, ever any doubt in our minds that she could make this happen.”
Coté is excited to bring diners to the source of their food in hopes of showing the work that goes into growing each tomato and harvesting every eggplant. “All of the people that grow food have such passion, and it’s so important for the consumer to see that,” she says. “Plus, we should be buying food from our local farmers because it helps our economy. It’s such a no-brainer, but a lot of people just don’t think about it.”
While Coté has taken conceptual inspiration from restaurants such as Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The French Laundry and Four-Star Blue Hill at Stone Barns, she is the first to point out Eden East’s more rustic appeal.
“I just want to bring people into an environment that’s real,” she explains. “This is a real working farm, and it’s really 105 [degrees] out in Texas. I don’t know, we’re so comfortable in our living, I just want it to be a real experience but also a different and magical experience.”
And it certainly is: Guests dine alfresco under a sprawling 40-foot elm, which plays as a canvas to a “living chandelier” strung with lights, glass pieces and handcrafted chimes. The dancing flames of tiki torches and circulating air from fans hung inconspicuously in the boughs make you forget it’s summer in Texas. And while diners have the option to bring a cooler of their favorite wine or beer along with them, each dinner also comes with craft cocktails (such as a muddled sweet corn, lime and vodka concoction) designed to match the meal.
She composes artfully plated dishes from her 38-foot mobile kitchen, and each one showcases the freshest seasonal bounty. With each changing menu, she gives a nod to the past by utilizing preserved elements, such as pickles and jams, and shows a glimpse of the future by including flowers or a green, unripe fruit. A recent menu included hemp-seed rolls; deep-fried salty shrimp served with sugar cane, carrots and a basil aioli; chocolate mousse with candied peach; and more.
“Honestly, what I’m really passionate about is just the fact that I’m serving my clientele the freshest thing I can find,” Coté says. “It happens to be local, it happens to be a political statement but, fundamentally, it is the best that I can find.”
Eden East is open by reservation only for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday brunch will resume this fall.
Photos Courtesy of Veronica Meewes