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|Farm to Table at Travaasa Austin|
|Written by Linda Hayes|
Floating in a private Watsu therapy pool. Testing your balance (and bravery) on a 35-foot-high challenge course. Connecting with your inner cowgirl during a nurturing equine experience, or on a bucking mechanical bull. Hitting your target in an archery class. There are endless ways to work up an appetite at Travaasa Austin, a serene, eco-friendly retreat and spa in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve about a half-hour from downtown Austin.
Lucky thing there's Executive Chef Benjamin Baker (a.k.a. Chef Ben) to keep hunger at bay. In charge of Jean's Kitchen (above), Travaasa's casual restaurant and bar, he turns out appealing and satisfying dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- and there's always something available to snack on in-between meals as well.
In tune with the healthy dose of activities on tap (or dose of healthy activities, as it may), Chef Ben's fare is packed with fresh, organic and locally sourced ingredients. Key to this is his relationship with an Austin distributor, Farm To Table, that partners with farmers within a 200-mile radius to supply locally grown farm products to area restaurants, independent groceries and other folks.
Daily, Chef Ben gets an update on what's available -- from leeks to chickens, beehive honey to watermelon radish, pasture-raised eggs to custom-trimmed pork chops -- along with status reports on harvests and crops, and notes like 'the corn is so sweet it will hurt your teeth.' Daily, deliveries from Farm To Table and other sources are made straight to the restaurant kitchen (a little hand-lettered sign marked "farmers" points the way).
While I enjoyed many delicious dishes at Travaasa during a recent stay, one in particular stood out -- a raw blackberry tart with a rich, nutty crust that was pure summertime on a plate. While I devoured it at a patio table under swaying oaks and within view of a striking canyonlands sunset, it's sure to be just as tasty at your table.
Chef Ben's Raw Blackberry Tart
For the crust:
Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Divide mixture into six small pieces and mold into little concave tart shells. (The mixture should be very pliable and easy to shape.) Chill.
For the filling:
Macerate the blackberries in grapefruit juice and sweeten with agave nectar. Fill the pre-chilled tart shells with the blackberry filling. Garnish with mint to serve.