What's the Special?
In 2005, when Leslie Hotaling and Patti Miller bought a former steak house with the idea of creating a farm-centric restaurant, there was little interest in local foods and no models for what they wanted to do.
Miller, previously a real estate agent in the Washington, DC, area, had been informally researching human health and discovering how intimately it is tied to our food supply.
“As I read the literature, I found that many diseases could be traced to nutrient and micronutrient deficiencies in today’s commercially-produced foods. I remember being stunned to read that it would take our eating four to eight oranges to get the same nutrient value of iron or vitamin C that our grandmother got with one orange!” Miller said.
Panorama at the Peak proprietors Leslie Hotaling and
Patti Miller, along with Executive Chef Scott Collinash
Miller’s growing interest in local foods coincided with Hotaling’s retirement. They invested in a second home in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle and what started as “a weekend place” gradually became “the place we want to be.” Soon after, the Panorama property came up for sale. Miller thought it would be the perfect place to try out the concept for gourmet natural foods.
Miller and Hotaling reached out to local farms to supply them. “We got to know our farms and our farmers. We carved out a niche for supporting people’s knowledge of and access to good, local organic and humanely-raised foods.” And in pursuing a small business based on a passion, Panorama at the Peak found growing success as the public’s appreciation for local food evolved, most recently helped by First Lady’s Michelle Obama’s advocacy of kitchen gardens and the popularity of the Food Channel.
What’s the Special? What’s in Season!
Panorama’s menu changes every week depending on what’s in season.
Miller keeps a journal of when the first cherries arrived or when the first blueberries were available last year. She plans Panorama’s marketing around when they can get certain produce items.
There’s a lot of creative interplay between the players. The grower may have extra of something that’s in season and the chef figures out how to make something delicious out of it. Then the kitchen staff has to be up to the challenge of processing and storing it -- making preserves and freezing fruits and veggies for year-round use. After all, there’s nothing like having fresh local blueberries in January!
Calling Executive Chef Scott Collinash, the “chef of our dreams,” Miller explained that Collinash has been canning since he was a kid. If one day she turns up with a bushel of ripe plums from the farmer’s market, he can improvise and invent a great plum sauce to delight the guests that night.
Miller described one of the “most fun things” happened earlier this year when Paul Mock of Mock’s Greenhouse and Landscaping, http://www.mocksgreenhouse.com a hydroponic greenhouse in Berkeley Springs, harvested the tomato vines to prepare for the next season. There were still green tomatoes on the vines. So, Panorama bought 480 pounds of green tomatoes and promoted an event called the Great Green Tomato Harvest of January 2011. Panorama’s had green tomatoes in every item on the menu: green tomato entrees, green tomato chocolate cake and even a green tomato martini.
“We turned Paul’s 400-pound-what-am-I-going-to-do-with-it into a real celebration. Our guests were tickled.” Miller said.
Another signature ingredient in Panorama’s menus was contributed by Jaanine Glascock of Quail Hollow Farm. http://www.qhfherbs.com/ Glascock helped Miller plant an herb garden for the restaurant and returns to check on it a few times a year. During one visit, she mentioned growing lovage, a celery-type culinary herb. Now, lovage takes up one third of Panorama’s kitchen garden and has become the basis of a spring and summer ravioli and soups. “We usually combine it with leeks. It’s a beautiful, clean spring flavor,” said Miller.
Green tomato martini
“It’s fun when a gardener cares about something enough to promote it. When our guests ask about lovage, I tell them about Jaanine’s booth down at the farmer’s market. Often people buy the lovage plants from her to bring something home with them. The local connections make for a nice experience for everyone.”
Preserving the View
National Geographic magazine has called the view from Panorama at the Peak one of 10 best views on the East Coast. The expansive view overlooks the Potomac River Valley, the mountains of three states and beautiful sunsets.
“Some of the earliest agrarian societies are believed to have settled in this valley that we overlook, some 12,000 years ago.” Miller said.
Miller and Hotaling own 60 acres, surrounding the restaurant on the ridge and stretching almost to the north entrance of Cacapon State Park. To preserve the view for future generations, they’re working with the Eastern Panhandle Trailblazer’s Club established by Region 9 Planning and Development Council to develop a permanent biodiversity corridor between Cacapon and Sleepy Creek Mountains.
“We’re eco-freaks. This is central to who we are and why we do what we do.” Miller said.
“We’re very environmentally conscious. We recycle everything. We compost. At the end of the busiest day we only have one bag of trash going to the landfill. Earth health, animal health and human health are part of the same continuum that ties together our dream for the land and the dream for the restaurant.”