with Gabriel Fanous at DAMON BAEHREL on 27 December 2017
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What a delightful scam!

Damen Baehrel runs a tiny restaurant in upstate New York. He calls his cuisine Native Harvest as he claims to source everything from his 12 acre property surrounding his small house which also includes in the basement his restaurant. He is a great guy, easy to talk to, a genuine host, obviously passionate about his work and regales his guest with great stories. A extraordinarily long meal goes by quickly. And you leave the place with a good feeling.

He is however a much better scammer than cook. Here are his claims
1. He cooks the 25-27 dishes all by himself for a table of 4 in 7 hours. At the same time he serves the dishes, pours the wine and cleans the plates.
2. He produces everything himself except the meat and the seafood or fish which he sources from various unnamed suppliers.
3. The process of producing flower out of acorn takes him up to 18 months.
4. For acidity he uses pin needles although he now had gotten his first harvest of small lemons from a tree he keeps somewhere in his house.
5. We started our meal at 4pm (and left shortly before midnight), he claimed that he had another party before us and had 40 minutes to clean and prepare for us.
6. He also claims to have thousands of requests for a reservation that he closed his reservation and waiting list in 2014.

So why do I think this is all a scam:
1. Why would somebody spend 18 months producing flower out of acorns just to produce a focaccia which taste like a normal focaccia which I can buy in the super market 3 miles down the road? His day must have 60 hours because each step takes forever and there numerous of them.
2. Every dish gets introduced with a 2 minute story about the production. All is completely differently but looks suspiciously similar. There is the pink, the orange and the green sauce. Clearly the very strict no photo/video and note policy comes in handy because with the exception of Le Wang nobody could possibly remember all the ingredients of the 2 minute speech of one dish, left alone 25 of them.
3. He claims to produce over 30 different cheeses of which we got served 13, not one of them memorable. I don’t even know an industrial cheese producer which produces that number of entirely different cheese, but this one man show can do it?
4. I turned up at 340pm, 20 minutes ahead of time and had to wait in front of the property gate. There was no car coming out and when I entered the dining room no smell of food or people, unlikely when somebody just feasted for 5 hours.
5. Damon lets nobody into the kitchen to look at it. We specially asked to see the prep kitchen in the adjacent building. This request was denied because his wife and disabled son would be there and we would disturb them. I was seated in a way that I could see the building all the time. During our 7 hour meal not one time was there a light in the entire building.
6. The wine gets served out of bottles. Interestingly whenever the wine is more expensive the wine bottles were already open. A half bottle of Veuve Cliqot (maybe $17) was opened while the magnum Coche Dury and the Chateau Yquem 1999 was all served from an already open bottle.

I would not want to go so far as to say that even his claims of food processing are false. They may be lies but even if there weren’t I simply don’t get the point of it. Why go to these lengths to produce food which when served blind in a nondescript restaurant would be certainly called mediocre?
I am however convinced that the story of his waiting list and his multiple meals per day are complete hyperboles designed entirely to make a remote restaurant a destination where he can charge $395 per person when down the road it would cost $50.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a great experience, lots of laughter and genuine interesting conversations.

I left feeling good, but then I always liked a good magic show.

2 / 10
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  • Tom Miller
    You dined there having 25 courses over seven hours, rated it a 2 out of 10, and made unsubstantiated accusations - none of which you back with any evidence beside conjecture, suspicion, and the claim you don't understand why anyone would do what Chef Baehrel does. If you say you don't understand why Chef Baehrel would take such time preparing food as he does to serve his unique cuisine, I would follow I don't understand why you did not leave or request a refund at some point in your seven hour experience. A 2 out of 10 is failure, Yes? But you managed 7 hours and 25 courses. The problem comes two-fold: 1.) this restaurant is licensed two ways, as a restaurant and farm and has to submit to inspections that it does what it claims and does so as mandated by rules. He's been licensed for over thirty years. No restaurant could survive that long under that kind of scrutiny serving a 2 out of 10 experience to guests with the rigidity and requirements of NY licensing. 2.) Further, one can easily find stellar reviews from all over the world, exemplary raving reviews in great detail by people who not only remembered the ingredients that you could not seem to, but also with photographs. I remain suspicious you've actually been there since you don't appear in the photos based upon your image, and your companion doesn't have the restaurant listed in their foodle page. I have actually eaten there, and it was a life-altering outstanding occasion. As you observed, Damon entertained you for hours, he was your server, your busboy, he took time to explain his process, he served you at least 25 different courses if you did attend, you would have seen him do all these things all by himself. You said, "...we had a great experience, lots of laughter and genuine interesting conversations." You said, "He is a great guy, easy to talk to, a genuine host, obviously passionate about his work and regales his guest with great stories. A extraordinarily long meal goes by quickly. And you leave the place with a good feeling." A 2 out of 10, you say? But somehow you don't understand why he would do what he does, and you then, by numbers, raised twelve unsubstantiated issues with no evidence to support your claims which come right out of the largely discredited 2016 New Yorker hit piece. And I would argue that because one doesn't understand their experience or why a chef as unique and regarded as Damon Baehrel has a passion for doing what he does in his precise, painstaking and fussy way, this is not a valid reason to libel a restaurant that otherwise has been blowing people away for decades. Your words, "Delightful Scam" don't even make sense. A review of accuracy and quality would talk about the food, mention the details of the dishes you said were too voluminous to recall, and present some food photos (despite the no photos policy, arrangements can be made.) Compare your 2-out-of-10 review to this detailed accolade by Jonathon Ortiz in Best of Hudson Valley: https://hvmag.com/uncategorized/damon-baehrel-the-man-the-myth-the-menu/ You seem passionate about food experiences, you've been to some outstanding restaurants, as have I. This review is beneath your pedigree. How can you share an experience you claim to be a great one, and yet not detail the food and come up with a 2 our of 10? Something about your review strikes me as disingenuous and forgive me if I'm wrong. I mean the man wrote a book detailing how he works, some of his recipes, and his philosophy.