Potato blini with lox. Braised short ribs with parsnip strips. Cod cakes with remoulade sauce. Roasted baby squash, cauliflower and peppers.
“Fork-end” fans and local farmers gathered Friday at the Fort Worden State Park Commons to give chef Jay Payne an appropriate sendoff: gourmet food from local farms.
The reception was held to say farewell to Payne, the former executive chef for Bon Appetit, the park’s food service provider, and welcome Dusty Cope, the new chef.
Steve Shively, state park conference manager, praised Payne, calling him a rock-star chef whose passion for local food promoted the development of agri-tourism in the county and the creation of the Olympic Peninsula Culinary Loop. As a restaurant owner and executive chef at the state park, Payne was an early and ardent advocate of using local food in commercial kitchens.
“Jay’s always been the most adaptable working with seasonal produce,” said Zack Wailand of Dharma Ridge Farm. “He’s always excited about what’s available, as opposed to wanting to order the same thing.”
Cope, who was hired as the new executive chef after a nationwide search, is also a loco-vore, Shively said.
His skills were showcased in the “farm fare” appetizers served at the reception, which Cope created using fish, meat and produce grown and donated by local producers.
Marko Colby and Hanako Myers of Midori Farm contributed potatoes, which were turned into silver-dollar-sized potato blinis topped with strips of lox from Cape Cleare Salmon.
Roger Short and Kevin Short of Short’s Family Farm in Chimacum contributed beef short ribs, which were braised, the meat cut off the bone and served in bite-sized pieces on a thin slice of vegetable with a side of shoestring parsnips from Nash’s Organic Produce in Sequim.
The chef’s most unusual creation: beet and sunchoke panna cotta, the small island of white custard rising from a purple sauce.
In addition to the lox, Cape Cleare donated a whole king salmon, which was served with vegetables, and line-caught ling cod, which Cope made into miniature fish cakes topped with spicy remoulade.
Cope and his staff also made the centerpiece of the dessert table, a round of baked brie covered with curried fruit.
Other desserts — dark chocolate tarts, lemon tarts and crunchy biscotti — were provided by Annika.
Sue Ohlson at Sunrise Coffee provided the coffee and Bon Appetit provided other beverages.
Before moving to Port Townsend, Cope was executive chef at a four-diamond restaurant in western North Carolina, Madison’s, known for its farm-to-table, sustainable cuisine, and at the Inn at Millstone.
Cope’s spouse, Claire, has family in the Northwest, and the couple has made annual cross-country visits, Cope said.
Payne and his family moved to Port Townsend 11 years ago from Seattle, where he had cooked at French restaurants, the Four Seasons’ Olympic Hotel and Tulio’s.
In Port Townsend, he and spouse Christine opened The Wild Coho, which was named one of the top 10 organic restaurants in the country.
Bon Appetit hired Payne three years ago to be executive chef and general manager for Bon Appetit Management Co., the second largest buyer of locally produced food in the region, after the Food Co-op, Shively said.
“That’s lots of beets and lots of parsnips,” Shively said.
Payne is moving back to Seattle to be executive chef at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s new 12-acre campus across from Seattle Center.
In his new job, also with Bon Appetit, Payne will be responsible for feeding the foundation’s 1,100 employees, Shively said, so he’ll still be in the market for local food.
“We’ll need a pipeline,” Payne said.
The reception also honored Rochelle Prather, who has been promoted to general manager of Bon Appetit at Fort Worden State Park.
The job keeps her hopping: In addition to the reception Friday night, Bon Appetit served breakfast that morning for 60 people from the Olympic Educational Service District, lunch for 267 from the same group and a valentine dinner in the adjoining dining room for 70 people attending a couple’s retreat.
Prather lives in Port Ludlow.
Originally from Massachusetts, she grew up in Baltimore and lived in Washington, D.C.
A chief petty officer in the Navy, she served as assistant food service coordinator at the White House Mess executive dining rooms during the Reagan and George H. Bush administrations, providing gourmet meals and catering dinners for heads of state.
She also was the pastry chef at Blair House, the president’s guest house.
Before being hired by Bon Appetite in 2009, Prather was the regional conference and catering sales manager for Navy Region Northwest, based in Keyport.
Working for Bon Appetit, with its commitment to local foods, gives her a common ground of conversation with her two sons, who are vegans, and a relationship with the farmers, many of whom attended Friday’s reception.
“It’s nice to see them in a social situation, not just unloading trucks,” Prather said.
For the farmers, it was an opportunity to thank Payne for what he had done to put local farms on the map.
Or, as one person called out, “Jay Rules.”
“We always loved him as a person and as purchaser of organic produce,” said Colby of Midori Farm. “He was a tremendous supporter of local farms.”
Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.