Allentown PA: The Glasbern Inn’s Star Chef
Down on the Farm with a Hot Shot Chef
The Glasbern Inn & Chef Jason Hook prosper in Pennsylvania Dutch Country
Chef Jason Hook found his passion for French cuisine working at Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia. He was soon recruited by The Four Seasons in New York, then sent to France to hone his skills. Returning to New York, Hook was employed by French culinary superstar Alain Ducasse.
“That was the best thing I ever did,” he says. “It was a pinnacle experience. I’m inspired by his techniques.” Hook then moved on to restaurant Jean George, another top venue that strongly influenced the young chef. According to Lenora Dannelke in her review of Dans Restaurant
I got to meet this chef with the impressive genealogy back on his home turf of Southeast Pennsylvania, in the Lehigh Valley/Allentown area, to be exact. Now Jason Hook is the happily married father of two children, easily forging the farm kitchens of Glasbern Inn (there are three of them) into the cosmopolitan dining experience he is widely known for. After a lunch of his signature PBLT sandwich with farm-fresh micro greens, he led a friend and me on a tour of Glasbern’s farm.
The Famous PBLT
PBLT is Chef Jason’s take on a BLT. Instead of bacon he uses cured & smoked Pork Belly from Glasbern’s own hogs. The surprise was a runny, soft-fried egg, the yolk almost red from their free-range chickens, moistening the sandwich, and competing with the lemon mayo (I almost said hollandaise) for my attention. The thick slices of challah bread barely contained this intense rush of flavor and texture. Later, to Jason’s delight, I referred to it as an Eggs Benedict sandwich.
On the cusp of mud season we trudged through pig sties, cow barns, chicken coops and greenhouses checking out the whole farm-to-plate thing he’s got going. “More than twenty-five years ago Glasbern was an abandoned farm, with the buildings collapsed or in disrepair, and the fields overgrown. Look at it now. We raise Scottish Highland cattle, Katahdin sheep, Berkshire pigs, chickens, and laying hens. The organically-grown year-round greenhouses provide all our salad greens, vegetables and herbs.”
The Glasbern Inn, outside of Allentown, PA. As we toured the farm I learned that Chef Jason was raised here in the Lehigh Valley and received his culinary degree here. How is it he could be lured back? Ironically, the old World War I song “How Do You Keep Them Down On the Farm? (After They’ve Seen Paree)” still raises a legitimate question.
His response, “I wanted to study in France, the Four Seasons made it possible. I was working for them in New York when they opened in Paris. They sent me over to help set up the kitchen. I worked my way through all the stations in one summer, and I got to see France.”
Mastering French Cooking
“Alain Ducasse, (the four star French Chef) hired me when I returned to New York. He was a great influence. I consider him my mentor. I worked my way through all the stations in his second restaurant, getting to appreciate and master the classic French techniques.”
“From there I went to Jean-George, learning how the Asian influence can add different flavors to French cuisine. I helped set up that kitchen. We opened across the hall from, and just before, Thomas Keller’s Per Se.”
So, let me get this straight. You go from France, to the pinnacle of Manhattan restaurants, and now you’re “back on the farm”. How does that happen?
Just then Jason’s sous chef called in sick, so Jason hurriedly left us to cover his duties in the kitchen, trailing promises of culinary surprises to come. I could hardly wait. I didn’t have to wait for his answer, though. I figured that out for myself (and he confirmed it later.)
Allentown is close enough to Manhattan to enjoy the culture, but rural enough to be a great place to raise children, surrounded by friends and family. Not only is Jason an accomplished chef, but he’s got his priorities straight. And, as I found out over the course of my visit, he’s a very nice guy.
Highland cattle at the Inn. All organic, all grass fed. Delicious!“We’re all about grass-fed, no-antibiotics, free range and organic; rotating crops and pastures to preserve the health and well-being of the farm and everything on it.” my friend Brett Stuckel offered.
Brett recently joined the Glasbern team to help pull the whole act together. What an undertaking! The more I saw of Glasbern the more confused I got. Was it an organic farm, a corporate retreat, a charming Bed & Breakfast, an impressive restaurant, a historic hotel, or a romantic couple’s get-a-way? The amazing thing about Glasbern is that it is all that and more! It’s GREEN, too!
Greenhouses & Chicken House
The greenhouses and chicken house are heated by two wood-fired furnaces, one of which can also heat the Packhouse. Standing in front of the three-story bluestone fireplace on the second floor of the Packhouse, it was hard to imagine that little furnace heating this vast, exposed-beam space. Brett showed me through the corporate meeting / reception areas in this converted old barn.
Looking through a wall of windows he pointed out a level spot above one pond where wedding ceremonies take place. The Packhouse is only one of three spaces where such indoor/outdoor events can be held at Glasbern, and it also has twelve fully-appointed suites.
Brett explained that typically “a wedding party would rent the entire building, rooms and all, for a convenient rain-or-shine location. There’s even a full kitchen to prepare all the food on site, or that caterers can use to stage the meals.” As he talked we left the Packhouse and began to walk down the slope toward the corporate center.
Organic beets and dozens of other veggies grow year round at the Inn.Turning the Farm Around
The view out over the ponds, streams and fields was bucolic; this was an old Pennsylvania Dutch farm, afterall. It wasn’t old farm landscaping, though. When the Grangers purchased the abandoned farm and began turning it into a B&B, they put careful thought into planting gardens, windbreaks and screens.
Now, nearly thirty years later, mature weeping specimens of pine, spruce and larch dominated the corners and pocket gardens. They were underplanted with equally exotic dwarf evergreens, shrubs and perennials.
Rows of spruce blocked the view of all three parking lots, their borders defined with carefully laid stone walls. The grounds are certainly impressive. I was sorry to be there before the green of summer showed off the landscape’s true potential.
Just past the herb garden cascading down the hill from where the chickens basked in the sun, we reached the Corporate Center. It was another stone and wood building that could have been a repurposed original farm structure, but probably was not. It was ingenious how all the buildings looked as if they’d grown there.
This one had a full bar/reception area, a fireplaced meeting area, and an executive board room, plus another full kitchen. One wall of French doors faced a flat-as-a-croquet-court lawn that could be tented for summer events. “We can comfortably seat up to 150 people here depending on the shape of the tables.” Brett pointed across another pond to an arbored, stone-lined nook in the hillside. “I can’t tell you how many marriage proposals were made there. It’s a favorite spot for couples.”
Delicacies just kept on coming out of Jason’s kitchen.We moved from there to the pub for some coffee with Glasbern’s owner, Al Granger. “The name means ‘glass barn’.” He told me his wife christened the property that because of the many large windows in the sun-filled main barn. Today, the haymow of that barn, a soaring three-story exposed-beam space, is the dramatic setting for their incredible restaurant, the front desk, and several guest rooms.
“Glasbern is a renovated 19th-century farm, with the farm buildings converted into upscale accommodations. Our restaurant and a number of guest rooms are here in the original barn, with towering fieldstone walls, 28-foot timbered ceiling, and 150 year-old posts and ladders.”
I suppose Brett showed you the Packhouse already. We also have rooms in the Carriage House, and a few self-contained cottages. Each of our 38 rooms has a queen or kingsized bed, a jacuzzi tub big enough for a couple, flat screen TV, full wifi, modern showers and a fireplace.”
The Carriage House
I’d been through the rooms already, so I knew how grand they were. Several of them were on two levels, connected by a spiral staircase. My room upstairs in the Carriage House had a four-poster so high I needed stairs to climb into bed! There was also a closet with a refrigerator containing complimentary beverages, and a few things I didn’t need: an iron, ironing board, and hair dryer. All the comforts of a home away from home!
One of the sumptuous rooms in the Glasbern Inn’s Carriage House.I excused myself to go enjoy some of those comforts. After a good night’s sleep on linens so soft they felt like at least a 600 thread count, and the pampered softness of the Turkish towels after my bubble-bath, I was brushed and combed and ready for breakfast.
There was a groaning board of food available. From cereals and fruits to scones and local preserves, all the food was either from the farm itself, or locally sourced. I could have filled up right there, but my hostess informed me that I could also order from the breakfast menu.
Dutch Country Scrapple
I was torn between the eggs Benedict and the scrapple and pancakes; I love eggs Benedict, but when would I get real Dutch Country scrapple again? My dilemma was solved when my eggs Benedict was served with a side of scrapple. What could be better than challah toast, farm-fresh free-range eggs, bacon and a rare pork regional specialty made from Glasbern’s own pigs? I was in heaven!
I changed my mind about Glasbern. More than any of those things I said before: organic farm, corporate retreat, Bed & Breakfast, restaurant, hotel, or couple’s get-a-way, Glasbern Inn is a Dining Destination; a foodie’s Mecca in the beautiful Dutch country of Pennsylvania.
Richard Frisbie is a regular contributor to many online publications. He owns the Hope Farm bookstore and press in Saugerties, NY and writes about food and travel around the world.
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