Thomas Keller's Garden + Creamy Barley with Spring Vegetables

In the charming town of Yountville, just north of Napa, is a garden. The garden is at the base of the mountains, with vineyards running up the side and wildflowers springing up in the grass, directly across the street from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. It has rows of carrots, chives, garlic, fingerling potatoes, rainbow chard, and some empty plots I imagine will soon be planted with tomatoes.

There are two benches to take in the view, and a large greenhouse. Surprisingly, no gates or fences inhibit you from walking between the plots and admiring the vegetables. It’s as if one of the greatest restaurants wants to express how pure cooking can be. I could have sat in front of the garden for hours, but I had a reservation to get to.

“For temporary relief from hunger.” This is the slogan of Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller’s restaurant on the other end of Washington Street. At Ad Hoc, there is no menu, at least in the conventional sense. You don’t order anything but your drinks, because the menu changes daily. When seated, you are handed a chocolate brown folder with the evening’s menu and wine pairings. Then, the food simply comes, family-style, in All Clad cookware.

The night we dined featured crispy pork belly (lovingly referred to as “bacon crack” and “pork jello” by the servers), tiramisu, and a warm salad of arugula and tempura battered vegetables. Thomas Keller’s attention to detail was obvious in every dish. His trained chef’s cut their vegetables uniformly, as he suggests in his newest cookbook release, and the pork servings were perfectly rectangular. The carrots in our salad, our server noted, came from the French Laundry garden where we had just been an hour before. I even stopped in front of the carrots, noticing how a few of their tops were sprouting up. I didn’t just know where my food came from, I saw it with my own eyes.

I imagine the chef’s at Ad Hoc have a fun time in the kitchen. They wake up, see what’s fresh, what sounds good, and cook it. Instead of offering a long list of appetizers, entrees and desserts, they focus on four courses and can execute them perfectly. Andrew was smitten with the pork belly, but I had my sights on the barley served alongside it, and have recreated it to remind us of our trip, and to celebrate the spring vegetables that have found their way into my kitchen. Have you ever recreated a dish you had in a restaurant? If you have, share your story in the comments!


{printable recipe}

The pork was served with a risotto-style barley laced with expertly diced spring vegetables. Using the risotto method results in a creamier consistency, perfect for pairing with any protein or eating on its own.

1 bunch asparagus, thinly cut into 1/4" rounds
1/2 cup peas or fava beans, shelled
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups barley, rinsed
6 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon zest, to taste

In a heavy saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil on medium low heat. When the butter is nearly melted, add asparagus and beans or peas, and stir to coat. Add salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until cooked through and tender. Set aside in a glass bowl.

While vegetables cook, bring chicken stock to a boil in a stockpot, then keep simmering on low heat.

In the same pan, heat another tablespoon each of butter and olive oil on medium low heat. Add the barley and stir to coat. Cook for two minutes, until the barley begins to toast.

Begin adding chicken stock, one ladle at a time. Stir gently after each addition, and allow the liquid to absorb into the barley before adding more. Continue this until all the liquid has been used. The entire process will take about 30 minutes. Half way through, you will notice the barley plumping and beginning to become creamy.

When the barley is cooked, Add the remaining tablespoon of butter, reserved vegetables, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Stir vigorously for a few seconds to combine everything, then add the lemon zest and test for seasonings. I used about one quarter of a lemon.

Serve hot, garnished with chives and extra Parmesan.