THOMAS HENKELMANN - Greenwich's Most Outstanding Secret
by Kaya Morgan
As owners of one of the premier, small luxury inn's in America, Thomas and Theresa Henkelmann have created an inspiring symphony of flawless comfort, top notch service and gastronomic delights to tantalize the senses in rural Connecticut. Dating back to 1799, this former farmhouse first became host to travelers in 1859 and has remained a well-known landmark until in 1997 when it once again became available after 21 years under the same ownership. Just 25 miles north of the Big Apple, the Homestead Inn became Thomas and Theresa's dream come true.
Alongside a row of beautiful mansions in the old moneyed town of Greenwich, Connecticut Belle Haven, its wealthiest neighborhood the inn and restaurant became known on a par with any first-class establishment with one important difference. The Hinkelmann's have created the intimacy, cuisine and service usually found at only the best, French country inns truly in the grand, old style.
Using their combined skills, they breathed new life into the quaint and wonderful old inn. Theresa, former partner in a successful interior design firm, transformed the look of their rambling Victorian inn to more of a Martha Stewart-esque feel using copper vats overflowing with fruits and floral arrangements, sensuous fabrics, a flickering fireplace, artfully chosen French and English art and antiques, while the half-timbered, low ceiling, intimacy of the dining room brought the warmth and charm of a classic French auberge found in Alsace or Normandy a seductive setting for Thomas's tantalizing creations.
Said to be quite possibly the best dining experience between Manhattan and Boston, and unquestionably one of the best rural restaurants in America, Thomas Henkelmann's eponymous restaurant has received the highly-respected, 4-star Mobil Award in 2001 and recently joined the ranks of the prestigious Relais & Charteaux group along with receiving the highest rating by Zagat.
German-born, Thomas, had no idea that the course he set out upon in his youth as he worked in his family's restaurant, Zum Zacker, near the Alsatian border would one day make him a master chef. But soon, his keen interest and natural ability drew him to pursue a 3-year apprenticeship at the Black Forest Hotel restaurant on Lake Titisee. He spent the following year working in the kitchens of the world-renowned Hotel Le Richemond in Geneva.
Then, after seeing a television show about the legendary Auberge de l'Ill restaruant in Illhaeusern, near Strasbourg, Thomas hitched a ride with a family friend to Illhaeusern, only to find the restaurant closed upon his arrival. Hoping merely to use the telephone, with a knock on the door, Thomas found himself face to face with Chef Paul Haeberlin. A conversation ensued and the family was so impressed with Thomas's commitment and passion that they created a position for him, and thus began the most influential relationship in Henkelmann's career. Indeed, here he learned many of the classic French techniques, the importance of using the right products and doing it the right way with an intense focus on presentation.
Following his training with Haeberlin, Thomas accepted the position of Patissier and Poissonier at the Michelin Aubergine in Munich under Gault Milleau's "Chef of the Century," Eckart Witzigmann. He then completed his Chef's Master Degree before heading to New York in 1989 as Executive Chef of Maurice at Le Parker Meridien. Although his plans were only to remain in New York for a short time, in 1992 when he became Executive Chef of the critically acclaimed La Panetiere, the die was cast.
Although elegantly French, Henkelmann skillfully combines the traditional way of French cooking along with the more modern influences, producing a much lighter fare while selectively employing only the freshest herbs, grown in their own gardens, to enhance his unique flavorings.
The range of the menu is commendable beginning with 10 sumptuous appetizers including seared yellowfin tuna with pineapple-mango chutney in a light curry vinaigrette, the crisp triangle of Maine lobster set on sautéed spinach, Shiitake mushrooms with a red wine butter sauce, or the signature trio of Hudson Valley duck foie gras terrine, truffled mousse, seared foie gras with a green bean salad. The 10 main entrees are equally superlative with Dover sole filets poached and filled with saffron mousse, garnished with Maine lobster medallions, julienne of vegetables with champagne sauce, fillet of Atlantic sea bass with crisped potato scales, fennel fan, tomato fondue with bouillabaisse sauce, or the loin of lamb wrapped in spinach and watercress, a grilled lamb chop, fingerling potato purée filled with leeks and topped with a crisp potato tarte with lamb-thyme jus.
The cheese course offers roquefort terrine wrapped in prosciutto with macerated prunes and an array of five or six selections per night along with wonderful, homemade raisin walnut bread. Desserts become a heavenly, glorious finale with Valhrona chocolate soufflé cake with a liquid chocolate center and bourbon vanilla bean ice cream, Vacherin with vanilla bean ice cream and raspberry sorbet with layers of meringue, crème chantilly and fresh berries, or the profiteroles with vanilla bourbon ice cream and warm chocolate sauce.
And finally, Henkelmann has crafted an impressive wine cellar with over 400 selections of primarily fine French vintages. Everything aside, Thomas Henkelmann has developed a talent for splendid presentations, displaying both a delicacy and robustness on the same plate which is difficult to find in a French restaurant. So, put this wildly popular, exquisite dining experience at the top of your list and remember that afterward, there's a comfortable, soft bed upstairs where you can bask in the fragrant scent of the crisp Connecticut country air just outside your window.
For reservations, contact 203.869.7500 or www.thomashinklemann.com and www.homesteadinn.com
Smoked and Cured Atlantic Salmon
with Cucumber & Yogurt Dressing
1 cucumber, sliced into thin rounds
extra virgin olive oil
Sherry wine vinegar
1 lb. Atlantic salmon cut into quarter inch cubes
1 shallot minced
1 T. Capers
4 leaves fresh basil (chiffonade)
salt & pepper
freshly ground coriander
1 c. plain yogurt
fresh chopped dill
Mix together and season to taste
Thinly sliced strips of smoked salmon (2 in. x 10 in.)
Arrange cucumber slices around the outer edge of the plate near the rim. Brush lightly with a mixture of olive oil and vinegar. Mix the small cubes of fresh salmon with shallots, capers, olive oil, chopped basil, salt, pepper and coriander. Form a circle of the smoked salmon and fill with the fresh salmon. Spread the inside of the cucumber circle with a thin layer of yogurt and place the salmon circle in the center. Top with salmon roe and a basil flower.
To reserve vacation or dining experience, call 408.585.4848 or at www.homesteadinn.com or at www.thomashenkelmann.com
Click on Kaya Morgan to return to author's bio page and other stories.
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