Aspiring chefs and foodies already have plenty of reasons to be envious of Katharine Elder.
She already has her own farm-to-table food business – a seasonal outdoor restaurant called Bramble Cafe that she runs during the summer on her husband’s picturesque family farm near Valley Center. And when she’s not serving scones and frittata at the blackberry bramble-adjacent cafe, she’s whipping up a series of dreamy farm-to-table dinners that always sell out immediately.
But now, Elder has upped the ante on her too-good-to-be-true culinary life.
She just returned from a two-week stay at a northern Italian villa, where she worked as the chef-in-residence, preparing farm-to-table dinners for guests using the fresh vegetables, cheeses and meats native to the region. In her downtime, she popped in to cook in a few of the neighborhood restaurants and bakeries, learning from the Italian cooks who run them.
Even better – she was able to work with Wichita wine expert Jamie Stratton, the wine director at Jacob Liquor Exchange. He traveled to Italy as well, along with wife and fellow wine expert Whitney and their infant son, to learn about Italian wines and create pairings for Katharine’s meals.
The villa, called Poggio Verde, is near Como, Italy, which is about 50 miles north of Milan. It’s been in Elder’s family for several generations, and her aunt and uncle, who live in Milan, recently renovated it and began welcoming guests. While Elder and Stratton were there last month, two sets of travelers that included several Wichitans, were staying at the villa while they participated in wine and food tours.
The chance to cook using the produce from the region was a dream-come-true, Elder said.
“The dinners have been fabulous – figs from the tree on the property with goat cheese and toasted pistachios, gnocchi with sage butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano and wilted spinach farro salad with roasted and fresh veggies, veal roast with fennel and potatoes, tagliatelle with shrimp, polpette di vitello with polenta, grilled octopus with lemon and capers...”
It’s truffle season in Italy, so she also was able to cook with fresh truffles.
Elder has been visiting the villa her whole life, and she said it provided the inspiration for her culinary work it Elderslie Farm. But this visit gave her even more to think about, she said.
“The attention to detail, careful tradition, the ability to converse through food without words...” she said. “The way they treat vegetables seasonally in the area is very much like I aim to do, but knowing that it is steeped in hundreds of years of tradition is so very encouraging to me as we are starting out.”
Stratton said his trip was also inspirational. He was able to pair wines from the region with Elder’s dishes, visit the Valtellina wine region, and work with a local wine dealer, whose family owns a Michelin-rated restaurant.
Stratton said that now that he’s returned to Wichita, his goal is to get some Valtellina wines to Kansas.