Local Heroes Chef/Restaurant: Andrew & Kristin Wood of Russet
At Russet, the menu is shaped each week by what farmers have to offer. Maybe this is a story we’ve heard before, but, really, chef-owners Andrew and Kristin Wood are fervently dedicated to sourcing local ingredients. Andrew says they buy from about 250 individual small farms directly.
Those farms provide their produce, dairy, grains and whole animals. “It’s really about keeping the money within 100 miles,” Andrew says. As they settle into their fifth year of business on Spruce Street, Andrew estimates they’ve spent a million and a half dollars to support local growers and producers. “For small farmers, that means new tractors and money to invest in infrastructure,” Andrew says.
It also means Russet gets the freshest and highest-quality ingredients. “All of the dishes that we present work backward from what’s available,” Andrew says. It’s a style of cooking the Woods learned while working at West Coast restaurants like Quince in San Francisco and Terra in Napa Valley. “The relationships [chefs] had with local farmers were much more personal,” Andrew says. Farmers— who the chefs knew by name—would set aside their best (or most unusual) produce for the chefs. They relied on each other. “We really wanted to emulate that model,” Andrew says.
The couple moved back to Southeastern Pennsylvania, delaying plans to open a restaurant when Rachel became pregnant. While working at Maia, James and Fork, Andrew was able to establish a network of local producers. Now, he reviews farm reports before placing orders and crafting a new menu each week.
The dining room in the converted brownstone matches the authentically rustic style of Russet’s food. A cowbell from the very first cow the restaurant bought (a 900-pound steer) hangs on the wall under the label kept from a wheel of cheese they imported from Canada. (The hard cow’s-milk cheese Alfred Le Fermier provided inspiration for the owners’ second son’s middle name.) Andrew and Kristin have their heart in the place, and diners can feel it.
Andrew’s motivated by the new ingredients he gets to work with each season. “Every year I think I’ve seen everything the Southeastern Pennsylvania farmers have to offer,” Andrew says. “And every year they surprise me”—like the two foragers he recently met who found stands of porcini mushrooms, or the woman who discovered native American chestnut trees in an area that’s been protected from deforestation.
These discoveries will continue to inspire innovation from the kitchen at Russet, though occasionally they bring a well-loved dish back on the menu. This spring, Andrew’s looking forward to preparing their Strawberry Ravioli— housemade pasta stuffed with strawberries, ricotta, parmesan, and balsamic, in a brown-butter balsamic sauce sprinkled with fresh thyme and strawberries. It’s a dish that, like all their others, lets the ingredients of a particular time and place shine.
1521 Spruce St.