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Gritt’s executive chef cooks up experiences for farm-goers

BUFFALO — On a recent summer day, with a scorching sun overhead, Stephen Owens had his mind on pumpkins.

Not that they were ripe just yet — no, they were little more than blossoms still hanging on the vines at Gritt’s Farm, slowly growing into bulbs that will expand and turn a deep shade of orange in time for the late-summer harvest.

But weeks ahead of that, Owens thought the gourds might hold the secret to booming snickerdoodle sales when the Fun Farm opens in mid-September. Last year, through six weeks of hayrides, corn mazes and petting zoos, the soft and chewy cinnamon sugar treats proved to be no match for that other, more traditional cookie.

“We’re reformulating the snickerdoodle cookie because it didn’t really sell as well as the chocolate chip. ... We’re trying to figure out how to make it more popular, or more intriguing,” said Owens, the farm’s first-ever executive chef.

“It’s a fall cookie. Adding pumpkin to it may be the thing that really pumps it up, ’cause almost everything coming out of here has either a pumpkin or an apple flavor,” he added. “And then I’m also going to add some white chocolate chips to, like, half of the batch and see if adding white chocolate chips might be an option.”

So, armed with canned pureed pumpkin — just until the farm-fresh version is ready for picking — he stepped into a full-sized, commercial test kitchen full of stainless steel and spice racks, surrounded by fields of corn, and went to work.

“The first thing you do is cream the butter and sugar together,” he said over the whirring of the electric mixer.

“Next, we’ll add the wet ingredients, but instead of egg, I’m doing a pumpkin puree,” and maybe adding a bright royal icing on top after baking and cooling.

The samples will be passed around to employees, handed out to customers, offered during Food Truck Fridays to see what the response is. Then he’ll adjust accordingly.

That, in a nutshell, is what being an executive chef on a farm is all about. Owens is in charge of finding — often, creating — the best recipes he can to showcase the flavors so carefully grown on the rolling hills around his kitchen.

Some of the recipes, available on the Gritt’s Farm website, are primarily for CSA customers who get bags of fresh produce and might need ideas. Some of the recipes make their way to the farm’s food truck and to festivals.

“We’re switching the menu up every week,” Owens said, “based on what we have available.”

Other recipes, the best of the best, are used for the popular farm-to-table dinners. Owens was one of three chefs for the first three dinners on the farm in 2016 — an opportunity, he said, to encourage consumers to eat locally grown food, and to support the farms around that do the growing.

“A lot of the farms we’re competing with are the ones that we’re buying things from for the farm-to-tables. We’re trying to make a relationship, because when they do better at selling produce, we do better at selling produce. The more people you get there, the better everybody does,” he said.

Owens’ position didn’t exist when he first came to the farm. But it’s a natural for a boy who grew up watching both grandmothers — including his mawmaw, who was also a star Nintendo player — whip up magic in the kitchen every day.

“Those are some of my fondest memories of eating and childhood,” he said.

When Mawmaw died, he and his older brother took over dinner responsibilities — which turned mealtime into a daily cooking contest.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said, “especially because I used to win a lot.”

That led to an associate’s degree from Putnam Career & Technical Center, then a bachelor’s in restaurant management from the College of Culinary Arts at the prestigious Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte.

On the heels of several impressively cool gigs — think, internship at Facebook in Palo Alto, California, and a week preparing food for the 2013 Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia — he made his way back home, where he and his wife took over the Buffalo Diner.

By the time they closed the doors around Labor Day 2016, he was already well-connected with Gritt’s Farm, and signed on to manage their annual, six-week Fun Farm food service that fall. He knew it was a temporary job — except he didn’t see it that way.

“I came to the Fun Farm with the intention of creating my job,” Owens said. “I totally created this position.”

His approach was simple: With all the produce the farm grew, and all the equipment they had sitting around other than those few weeks each year, a full-time chef would give them enormous options.

Brad Gritt saw it that way, too.

“I’ve been to farms that had chefs on staff, so I knew what went on there,” said Gritt, the farm’s general manager and a former schoolmate of Owens’ from their days at Buffalo High School.

“It’s an important component of a farm like ours that does a lot with our vegetables and produce. It gives us an opportunity to have events and not just do something run-of-the-mill. We can have a little fun with it,” he said.

When people visit a farm, they want to look, see, touch — and taste. Having a chef on board has allowed Gritt’s to take the concept of agritourism to a whole new level. There’s a basket-making workshop in the spring, a popular Mother’s Day brunch, an Easter egg hunt, even an adult-themed Easter egg hunt. Owens has cooked for all of them.

Up next: a Sunflower Festival the weekend of Sept. 14 and 15 with a field full of U-cut sunflowers, live music, food, beer and wine and Fun Farm areas open to the public. The annual Fun Farm opens Sept. 21. Owens will oversee food service for all of that.

“My pitch was, ‘Let’s bring some people out here. Let’s create some experiences.’ And that’s what we’ve done,” he said.

Gritt’s Farm is located at 864 Gritt Road in Buffalo. For more information, visit gritts farm.com, check out Gritt’s Farm on Facebook or call 304-553-2951.

Upcoming Farm-to-Table Events

Editor’s Note: The following is a list of some of the upcoming Farm-to-Table events in and around Charleston and across the state.

“Summer Supper,” Gritt’s Farm to Table Dinners

With Chef Andrew Stewart with Bridge Cafe and Bistro in Hurricane

WHEN: August 10, 6-8 p.m.

WHERE: Gritt’s Farm, 864 Gritt Rd., Buffalo

COST: $60 per person, limited to 50 guests

INFO: Visit grittsfarm.com or call 304-541-3451 for more information

A four course meal on the farm using Gritt’s seasonal harvest as well as other local ingredients from fellow farmers.

“A Taste of Italy,” Fish Hawk Acres Summer Farm Dinner Series

WHEN: Aug. 14, 6 p.m.

WHERE: 1 Fish Hawk Dr, Rock Cave

COST: $35 per person

INFO: 304-473-7741 or http://www.fishhawkacreswv.com/

Located in Rock Cave, about 14 miles from Buckhannon, Fish Hawk Acres dinners include a tour of the farm and live entertainment included with the seasonal gourmet dinner provided by Dale Hawkins and Teresa Lipps.

Farm-to-Table at J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works

Presented in support of WV nonprofits focused on healthy food, farm, or lifestyle initiatives; a portion of ticket sales will support a specific nonprofit

WHEN: August 15, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, 4797 Midland Dr., Malden

COST: TBD

INFO: 304-925-7918 or http://www.jqdsalt.com/events/

Featuring the food of Chef Chris Dilts from The Waterwheel Restaurant of The Inn at Gristmill Square in Warm Springs, VA.

Twin Falls Traditional Family Style Farm-to-Table Dinner

Presented by WV State Parks in partnership with WV Dept. of Agriculture and WV Farmers Market Association

WHEN: August 16, 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: Twin Falls Resort State Park, Rte. 97, Mullens

COST: $45 per person

Twin Falls presents a traditional family style dinner at the famous 1800s Pioneer Farm, featuring acoustic entertainment from award-winning guitarist Robin Kessinger. The menu includes iron skillet fried chicken, fresh-roasted corn from the Pioneer Farm Garden, deviled eggs made from fresh local eggs, watermelon and more.

“Grandma’s Table Family Dinner”

Presented by WV State Parks in partnership with WV Dept. of Agriculture and WV Farmers Market Association

WHEN: Aug. 17, 6 p.m.

WHERE: Vista Restaurant at Hawks Nest State Park, 49 Hawks Nest Park Rd, Ansted

COST: Room package for two, 2-nights including various events, $264; after Aug. 3 remaining dinner tickets will be available for $40 per person.

Presented as part of A Taste of Hawks Nest Weekend. Activities include a wine, beer and cheese reception on Friday and aerial tram rides, entertainment, a cash bar and farm-to-table dinner on Saturday.

Market Table: A Farm-to-Fork Fundraiser

Presented by Capitol Market

WHEN: Aug. 17, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Capitol Market, 800 Smith Street

COST: $115 per person

INFO: 304-344-1905, capitolmarket.net or Capitol Market — Charleston, WV on Facebook

A multi-course dinner by Chef Paul Smith, the dinner will feature ingredients available all around Capitol Market paired with wine selections from The Wine Shop at Capitol Market. Proceeds benefit Capitol Market, a 501©(3) non-profit.

North Bend State Park Farm to Table Dinner

Presented by WV State Parks in partnership with WV Dept. of Agriculture and WV Farmers Market Association

WHEN: Aug. 22

WHERE: 202 North Bend State Park Road, Cairo

COST: TBA

“Hoedown on the Hill” Farm-to-Table Dinner

Presented by WV State Parks in partnership with WV Dept. of Agriculture and WV Farmers Market Association

WHEN: Aug. 23

WHERE: Chief Logan Lodge, 1000 Conference Center Drive, Logan

COST: $29.95 adults, $14.95 children 12 and under

Features locally sourced foods like wilted lettuce salad, ribs, fried green tomatoes, carrot cake and more. Dinner entertainment includes music and old-fashioned games like horseshoes and bobbing for apples.

Farm and Forage Supper Club at Lost Creek Farm

Presented by Chefs Mike Costello and Amy Dawson of Lost Creek Farm

WHEN: Two seatings: Aug. 23 and Aug. 24, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Lost Creek Farm,104 Sunrise Rd., Lost Creek, WV

COST: $100

INFO: 304-745-4718, www.lostcreekfarmwv.com, or Lost Creek Farm on Facebook

An intimate seven course seasonal meal featuring a wide variety of ingredients grown and foraged in theLost Creek Farm gardens and forests. Seating will be extremely limited (16 guest maximum each night). Proceeds from ticket and merchandise sales will support efforts to construct a commercial kitchen, shared use space and culinary education facility at Lost Creek Farm.

Cass Scenic Railroad’s Farm-to-Table Dinner

Presented by WV State Parks in partnership with WV Dept. of Agriculture and WV Farmers Market Association

WHEN: Aug. 29

WHERE: 12363 Cass Road, Cass, WV 24927

COST: TBA

INFO: 304-456-4300

Plan your dinner date around a scenic train ride up to Whittaker Station or Bald Knob on an antique, steam-driven locomotive.

Farm-to-Table at J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works

Presented in support of WV nonprofits focused on healthy food, farm, or lifestyle initiatives; a portion of ticket sales will support a specific nonprofit

WHEN: Aug. 29, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, 4797 Midland Dr., Malden

COST: TBA Tickets will go on sale on August 8.

INFO: 304-925-7918 or www.jqdsalt.com/events/

James Beard nominated Chef Ashley Capps, from Buxton Hall, Asheville, NC. Menu available in late July.

“Summer Supper,” Gritt’s Farm to Table Dinners

With Chef Stephen Owens of Gritts Farm

WHEN: Sept. 7, 6-8 p.m.

WHERE: Gritt’s Farm, 864 Gritt Rd., Buffalo

COST: $60 per person, limited to 50 guests

INFO: Visit grittsfarm.com or call 304-541-3451 for more information

A four course meal on the farm using Gritt’s seasonal harvest as well as other local ingredients from fellow farmers.

Cacapon Resort State Park Farm-to-Table Dinner

Presented by WV State Parks in partnership with WV Dept. of Agriculture and WV Farmers Market Association

WHEN: Sept. 10

WHERE: 818 Cacapon Lodge Dr., Berkeley Springs

COST: TBA.

This unique event includes a dinner with all food locally sourced and grown and entertainment from the Band Creek Valley Boys.

“Fiesta on the Farm,” Fish Hawk Acres Summer Farm Dinner Series

WHEN: Sept. 11, 6 p.m.

WHERE: 1 Fish Hawk Dr, Rock Cave

COST: $35 per person

INFO: 304-473-7741 or http://www.fishhawkacreswv.com/

Located in Rock Cave, about 14 miles from Buckhannon, Fish Hawk Acres dinners showcase a variety of fresh culinary delights. Guests get a tour of the farm and live entertainment included with the seasonal gourmet dinner provided by Dale Hawkins and Teresa Lipps.

Canaan Valley Resort State Park Farm- to-Table Dinner

Presented by WV State Parks in partnership with WV Dept. of Agriculture and WV Farmers Market Association

WHEN: Sept. 12

WHERE: Canaan Valley Resort, 230 Main Lodge Rd, Davis

COST: TBA

A joint effort between Canaan Valley Resort and nearby Blackwater Falls State Park. Call for pricing, menu and details.

Farm and Forage Supper Club at Lost Creek Farm

Presented by Chefs Mike Costello and Amy Dawson of Lost Creek Farm

WHEN: Two seatings: Sept. 13 amd Sept. 14, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Lost Creek Farm,104 Sunrise Rd., Lost Creek

COST: $100

INFO: 304-745-4718, www.lostcreekfarmwv.com, or Lost Creek Farm on Facebook

An intimate seven course seasonal meal featuring a wide variety of ingredients grown and foraged in the Lost Creek Farm gardens and forests. Seating will be extremely limited (16 guest maximum each night). Proceeds from ticket and merchandise sales will support efforts to construct a commercial kitchen, shared use space and culinary education facility at Lost Creek Farm.

Farm-to-Table at J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works

Presented in support of WV nonprofits focused on healthy food, farm, or lifestyle initiatives; a portion of ticket sales will support a specific nonprofit

WHEN: Sept. 16 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, 4797 Midland Dr., Malden

COST: TBD

INFO: 304-925-7918 or www.jqdsalt.com/events/

Chef Matt Welsch of The Vagabond Kitchen, Wheeling, WV.

The Wild Ramp Farm-to-Table Dinner 2019

Presented by The Wild Ramp

WHEN: 5 p.m. Oct. 5

WHERE: The Wild Ramp, 555 14th Street West, Huntington

COST: $75 per person

INFO: 304-523-7267, wildramp.org or The Wild Ramp on Facebook

A five-course meal and two complimentary drink tickets for wine and beer to celebrate the connection between farms, food, and the community.

Farm-to-Table at J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works

Presented in support of WV nonprofits focused on healthy food, farm, or lifestyle initiatives; a portion of ticket sales will support a specific nonprofit

WHEN: Oct. 8 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, 4797 Midland Dr., Malden

COST: TBD Tickets will go on sale on September 17.

INFO: 304-925-7918 or www.jqdsalt.com/events/

Chefs Mike Costello and Amy Dawson of Lost Creek Farm, Lost Creek, WV. This dinner will feature offerings from Hawk Knob, Appalachian Cider and Mead. Menu available in September.

Farm and Forage Supper Club at Lost Creek Farm

Presented by Chefs Mike Costello and Amy Dawson of Lost Creek Farm

WHEN: Two seatings: Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 13 at 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: Lost Creek Farm,104 Sunrise Rd., Lost Creek

COST: $100

INFO: 304-745-4718, www.lostcreekfarmwv.com, or Lost Creek Farm on Facebook

An intimate seven course seasonal meal featuring a wide variety of ingredients grown and foraged in theLost Creek Farm gardens and forests. Seating will be extremely limited (16 guest maximum each night). Proceeds from ticket and merchandise sales will support efforts to construct a commercial kitchen, shared use space and culinary education facility at Lost Creek Farm.

Manna Meal Farm-to-Table Brunch

WHEN: Oct. 27

WHERE: Capitol Market, 800 Smith Street, doors open at 9:30 a.m.

COST: $125 per person, namesake sponsorships are available for volunteers and organizations being honored.

INFO: Tickets will be available at the of July at eventbrite.com, on the Manna Meal Facebook page or by calling 304-345-7121.

Chefs Paul Smith of Buzz Food Service and Jeni Burns of Ms. Groovy’s Kitchen will prepare the brunch, which includes mimosas and a Bloody Mary bar. Manna Meal will be highlighting long time volunteers and sponsors.

Reach Maria Young at

maria.young@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5115 or follow

@mariapyoung on Twitter.

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Funerals for Saturday, August 24, 2019

Barron, Dennis - 11 a.m., Airborne Church, Martinsburg.
Baylor, Elizabeth - 1 p.m., Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.
Bonds Jr., Patrick - 1 p.m., King of Glory International Ministries, Charleston.
Burgess, Corey - 5 p.m., Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
Burns, Helen - 11 a.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation, Inc., Grantsville.
Caldwell, Gary - 6 p.m., Long & Fisher Funeral Home, Sissonville.
Casto, Carroll - 1 p.m., Raynes Funeral Home, Eleanor.
Casto, Roger - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Winfield.
Duty, Fred - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.
Fisher, Bernard - 2 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.
Gwinn, Lloyd - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Habjan, Nathan - 1 p.m., Wilson-Smith Funeral Home, Clay. 
Hall, Daniel - Noon, Witcher Baptist Church.
Hinkle, Ethel - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Hoffman, Bruce - 2 p.m., Foglesong - Casto Funeral Home, Mason.  
Kinder, Siegel - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.
Kyler, Virgil - 11 a.m., Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Reedy.
Palmer, William - 1 p.m., Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home, Charleston. 
Raynes Sr., Steven - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Oak Hill.
Truman, James - 2 p.m., Newton Baptist Church, Newton.
Turner, Keith - Noon, Full Gospel Assembly,  Huntington. 
Webb, Antoinette - 11 a.m., SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Oak Hill.
Wilson, Greg - Noon, Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.
Withrow, James - 1 p.m., Cooke Funeral Home Chapel, Cedar Grove.