体育投注平台The first time Jeffrey Merrihue came across the name Damon Baehrel, he was amazed that he hadn’t heard of him. “I didn’t understand how the secret had been kept,” Merrihue said recently. “The people I go around with, it’s hard for us to find something that is genuinely unique and new.” The people Merrihue goes around with are gastronomes, the trophy hunters of haute cuisine, the kind who travel the world to dine at famous, or famously obscure, restaurants. After a trip to Cape Town this spring, to a restaurant called the Test Kitchen, Merrihue, who lives in London and produces promotional videos for restaurants, became, he says, the second person to have eaten at every restaurant on the so-called World’s 50 Best list. He’s also been to eighty of the restaurants to which Michelin has granted three stars.
Around Christmas in 2013, a friend of Merrihue’s alerted him to a Bloomberg News piece about an unranked contender, which Bloomberg called the “most exclusive restaurant in the U.S.” It described a gourmet operation—in Earlton, New York, a half hour south of Albany—in the basement of a woodland home. Once called Damon Baehrel at the Basement Bistro, the place was now simply called Damon Baehrel, after its presiding wizard and host, who served as forager, farmer, butcher, chef, sous-chef, sommelier, waiter, busboy, dishwasher, and mopper. Baehrel derived his ingredients, except meat, fish, and dairy, from his twelve acres of yard, garden, forest, and swamp. He made his oils and flours from acorns, dandelions, and pine; incorporated barks, saps, stems, and lichen, while eschewing sugar, butter, and cream; cured his meats in pine needles; made dozens of cheeses (without rennet); and cooked on wooden planks, soil, and stone. He had christened his approach Native Harvest. The diners who got into the restaurant raved about it online. But at the time it was booked through 2020. “We spend our lives looking for places like this,” Merrihue said.
体育投注平台Undaunted, Merrihue sent an e-mail to the address provided on Baehrel’s Web site. A man who identified himself as Terrance, a friend of the chef’s, wrote that Baehrel had stopped taking reservations. “That wound me up even more,” Merrihue said. “I pride myself on getting into restaurants.” Still, it didn’t look good. “I thought, I might die before I get a chance to eat there.”
A year and a half later, Merrihue heard from Terrance again. Baehrel had an opening, three weeks later, on a weekday at 4 p.m. Merrihue hastily assembled a group, a “fantastic four of fine dining.” The three others were Kevin Chan, the editor of the Web site Fine Dining Explorer, who claims to be the first person ever to eat at all of the 50 Best; Andy Hayler, a well-known critic who says he is the only person ever to eat at all of the Michelin three-stars; and Mijune Pak, the editor of the Canadian Web site Follow Me Foodie. Chan flew in from Hong Kong, Pak from Vancouver, Merrihue and Hayler from London. They met in Manhattan and hired a limousine to take them the two and a half hours to Earlton. There was a fifth person as well—“my brother, who has no credentials,” Merrihue said.
The brother arrived early. The gate to Baehrel’s property was closed. Once the others had arrived, the gate swung open. The driver left them and headed into the nearby village of Coxsackie for some pizza. They walked up a driveway to a house on a hill. Around back, they came upon a manicured entrance to the basement. Baehrel, in an apron, greeted them enthusiastically.
He told them that he had just served a fifteen-course lunch to fourteen diners. Over the next seven hours, he served Merrihue and his companions twenty-three courses. “I hate long meals,” Merrihue recalled. “But we couldn’t believe it—it just flew by.” In the end, they paid around four hundred and thirty dollars a head, including a corkage fee. (They’d brought their own wine.)
“The consensus was that it was absolutely outstanding,” Merrihue said. “It is the most memorable meal I have ever had. Would it have been my favorite if it had been made by twenty people? O.K., no. But top ten, maybe. I have never seen anywhere where one person does everything.”
“It was incredible,” Chan told me. “High quality, precisely cooked. The flavor profile. Each course so well thought out. It’s almost too surreal to believe.”
All four wrote glowing reviews online. A few months later, on Merrihue’s site, FoodieHub, he named Damon Baehrel the best restaurant in the world for 2015. “He is an unheralded genius,” Merrihue told me. “He really should be in the upper echelons of the greatest chefs who have ever lived.”
Is Baehrel unheralded? You can read, and watch, a lot about him on the Internet. There are stories from Bloomberg, the Daily News, the Daily Mail, Town & Country, Fox, Reuters, China Central TV, and ABC News, as well as raves from foodie bloggers who have been there and, in spite of a purported dining-room photo ban, posted the requisite dish pics. His story caters to such gastronomes, as they vie for superlative experiences—most extreme, most local, most remote, most odd. Here’s a Fäviken, the exotic farmhouse restaurant in rural Sweden, except it’s just one guy, in Earlton, and it’s booked through 2025. Its implausibility may be as important to its appeal as any range of textures or tastes. In June, the blog Opinionated About Dining released its list of the top hundred restaurants in the United States, based on a survey of globe-trotting pilgrims like Merrihue. Baehrel came in fifth, ahead of any other restaurant east of Chicago. (Blue Hill at Stone Barns was seventh; Eleven Madison Park was fifteenth.) MSN.com just named it the best restaurant in the state of New York. One evening in May, I happened to be watching “Jeopardy!,” and under the category “Almost Fanatical Devotion,” in which the other questions had to do with Stephen Colbert, Soul Cycle, and Phish, the following appeared on the screen: “There’s a 10-year waiting list for Damon Baehrel’s Earlton, N.Y. restaurant & its 5-hour this ‘menu’ of small portions.” A contestant guessed correctly: “What is the tasting menu?”
There are armchair gourmets, too, among the devotees. In June, Baehrel honored the Make-A-Wish request of a teen-ager from Nebraska. The boy has a condition that prevents him from being able to eat food, and, perhaps as a consequence, he has a fascination with food preparation. He wished for a day of working in the kitchen alongside Chef Baehrel, whom he’d discovered on the Web. The family brought along special air filters, and the boy wore a mask.
In February, I got in touch with Terrance through an e-mail address on the Web site. His reply began, “Thanks for contacting Damon! I’m Terrance. I’ve arranged Damon’s reservations from my NYC office since 1993.” He added, “I’m not an employee, just a friend. I’d be happy to present your inquiry to him.”
Terrance arranged a time for me to talk on the phone with Baehrel, to discuss my desire to write about the restaurant. Baehrel had an avid, guileless way of speaking that put me in mind of Ned Flanders, from “The Simpsons.” “How lucky am I to get to do this?” he said. “Most chefs aspire to get out of the kitchen. Not me.” I told him that I wanted to see him at work, on a night when the restaurant was full. I imagined something like the setup in an Agatha Christie movie: a convergence of exotic strangers on a remote locale.