Designers Turned Farmers Open Blenheim in NYC
On May 19, 2014, designers turned restaurateurs and farmers Morten Sohlberg and Min Ye of Smörgås Chef Restaurant Group debut Blenheim, an enticing restaurant in New York City’s West Village highlighting ingredients sourced entirely from the duo’s proprietary 150-acre farm in the Catskill Mountains.
Sohlberg and Ye introduce the restaurant as a canvas for the property’s vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy, and even maple syrup tapped from the extensive forests. Justin Hilbert, formerly of the critically acclaimed Gwynnett Street, serves as executive chef, flexing his creative muscles with a menu that pays homage to the farm with thoughtful flavor combinations accentuating the ingredients in their purest incarnation.
A curated wine list showcases biodynamic wineries and artisanal cocktails that use farm ingredients to match the flavor profiles of the menu. Inspired by a world away from the bustle of New York City, Sohlberg and Ye designed the 45-seat eatery with modern lines that depart from the traditional farm-to-table look, juxtaposed against vintage and antique décor. The restaurant showcases hand-built tables and brightly colored chairs, glass barn doors, and playful wall art featuring 18th century tools from the farm’s shed, as well as 26 outdoor seats set on the neighborhood’s signature cobblestone streets.
“Our new restaurant is entirely based on the ever changing notes of nature and there is beautiful interplay between the farm and restaurant,” Sohlberg says. “The farm gives us a different level of autonomy to decide what we want to grow for the restaurant, as well as how we want to grow it. The restaurant and farm are vertically integrated, and we are continuously exploring how we can adapt our farm techniques and raise our livestock to produce the most delicious ingredients possible to serve at the restaurant.”
At the helm of the kitchen, Hilbert, a Pennsylvania native, graduated from Johnson & Wales in 2000 and began his career in Europe at Michelin one-star George Hotel in England. In New York, he honed his skills under pastry chef Alex Stupak at wd~50 before finding the spotlight as executive chef at Gwynnett Street, which was included among Esquire’s best new restaurants in 2012. In 2013, Hilbert was honored as StarChef’s New York Rising Star.
The young chef joins Blenheim with a menu that reveals refined, farm-fresh dishes, using techniques of roasting, slow-cooking, and pickling to deliver sophisticated plates derived from simple and pure ingredients. With nature as Blenheim’s philosophical lodestar, Chef Hilbert complements the à la carte menu with a five-course tasting menu that changes daily based on ingredients and the whims of chef and farmer, as well as daily specials for two, with a suckling pig one day, or a catch of the day another.
The wine program, curated by wine director Daniel Filipek, formerly of Del Posto Ristorante and Aquavit, includes varietals sourced from producers who focus their energy more in the vineyard than the cellar. Featuring an approachable and enticing wine list at great value, the menu also highlights a few rare and prized vintage wines available by the glass and bottle.
Jonathan Russell, formerly with Mas Farm House and Savoy, joins as the new restaurant’s bar manager, bringing the freshness of the seasons from kitchen to behind the bar, and adding twists to classic cocktails, as well as non-alcoholic options. Before entering the restaurant industry, Sohlberg and Ye founded Sessions.edu, the world’s largest online college of design, and they draw from this experience on executing their vision for the restaurant’s interior design and furniture. Cass Smith, president of CCS Architecture known for restaurants such as The Spotted Pig and Tremont, was the architect whom Sohlberg and Ye worked with closely to build the space.
The tables, designed by Sohlberg, are hand-poured with cement, accented with copper sidings, and placed on repurposed antique table bases. Made to appear aesthetically whimsical in shape and size, the tables cleverly fit together like a puzzle to accommodate both small and large parties. Chairs are adorned in bright materials, as well as cozy banquettes that look out of floor to ceiling windows.
The restaurant includes clever elements inspired from the barn, with a 10-person private dining room fondly nicknamed “The Tool Shed.” Al fresco seating gives guests a spot to catch the early evening sun, as well as enjoy late summer nights in West Village’s vibrant neighborhood.