Craig Von Foerster's Harvest Brings Sold-Out Crowds to Rogersville
Dedicated diners have been following Von Foerster’s cooking since he moved to the Ozarks in 2012
Ettie Berneking // Feb 26, 2016
Photos by Starboard and Port Creative and Ettie Berneking
Surrounded by twisted apple trees and thorny blackberry bushes, Craig Von Foerster looks right at home, even if it took him more than three years to get here.
Gone are the stunning oceanside vistas he enjoyed for nearly two decades as the executive chef at the acclaimed Sierra Mar in Big Sur, California. In their place, towering trees, a 95-acre apple orchard and a blackberry patch make up the view at Von Foerster’s new restaurant, Harvest. Tucked away in Sunshine Valley Farm’s orchard outside Rogersville, Missouri, Harvest is easy to miss, but for the dedicated diners who have been following Von Foerster’s cooking since he moved to the Ozarks in 2012, it has become a sought-after destination. Part of the draw is the artfully crafted menu, which changes every weekend, but another reason for the regularly sold-out crowds is the recent change in venue. After three years of hosting elaborate farm-to-table dinners in the middle of fields around the area, Von Foerster is finally in a brick-and-mortar location of his own.
To many, Von Foerster’s decision to move from coastal California to southwest Missouri was a mystery, but for him, the relocation offered a chance to do something new. “I looked at my gaps in knowledge and decided to make bread,” he says. Each day, Von Foerster would wake up, help his wife, Tamara, care for the family cattle farm that also brought them back to Rogersville and fill his afternoons making sourdough bread and working on creating new menu ideas for what would become Harvest, using products sourced within the region.
While searching for the perfect location for Harvest, the couple decided to host dinners at area farms, creating beautiful dishes made with ingredients sourced directly from local farmers and producers. Tamara grows and manages the gardens on their family farm, Farm Road 168, and harvests and pickles food that then ends up on Von Foerster’s menu. At the farm dinners, his breathtaking dishes wowed diners, and he quickly built up a following. People drove from as far as St. Louis, Kansas City, Joplin, Missouri, and even across the Arkansas border for each five-course meal. Dinner started with a farm tour and a big unveiling of the night’s menu as guests uncorked bottles of wine.
“The farm dinners gave people a chance to get to know the farmers they were buying from and get to see where they worked,” Von Foerster says. “We haven’t walked away from this concept just because we’re no longer in a field – though we’re also going to hold more dinners in the orchard in 2016.”
Since opening Harvest over Halloween weekend in 2015, the Von Foersters have continued their farm-to-table style that drew consistent crowds last summer. Open for reservations only, Thursday through Saturday, the rest of the week is spent preparing the stocks, condiments and loaves of bread Von Foerster plans to use, but menus often change from day to day, and Von Foerster doesn’t shy away from highly experimental dishes. After all, his loyal diners are eager to enjoy more than the usual steak and potatoes.
“We had a special not long ago that used fresh sardines,” Von Foerster says. The sardines were grilled and served alongside roasted Farm Road 168 heirloom tomato tarte tatin, cured olives and a garden herb salad. “We sold out the first night, restocked and sold out again the second night.”
With a certified sommelier curating the restaurant’s wine list and Tamara applying her artistic touch to the elegant yet pared-down décor, Harvest has become the new home for Von Foerster’s sought-after cuisine. Here, diners won’t find oversized plates where a single appetizer could satiate even the hungriest patron. Instead, small but stunningly beautiful bites are delivered and meant to be shared, sampled and enjoyed thanks to layers of flavor and texture applied to each dish. As for his menu, “It’s just paper with words,” he says. There is no overriding theme aside from freshness and high quality.