Mr. Holland’s Opus

It’s about the food, the buying from the Finger Lakes farmers, the relationship and the friendship and using my techniques as a craftsman to make their food the best I can
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His years of crafting food and pairing wines

by Pete Wayner

photos by Lyndsi Stoltzfus

Pâte à choux contains four ingredients: flour, butter, milk and salt. In the ovens at Fox Run Vineyards, they puff up like little golden brown cabbages (the name literally translates “cabbage pastry”) because the steam from the milk and butter fills the dough, creating delicate little caverns inside. These present the perfect opportunity for creative sweet or savory fillings.

They also present the perfect demonstration of Brud Holland’s culinary prowess: Simple ingredients, sourced from the same region where they’re served, composed with masterful technique and brought to life with a creativity. The perfect mix of craftsmanship and artistry, with every ingredient (save the salt) made or grown in the Finger Lakes.

“A skilled craftsman can do things, [consistently] do them the same and make them very high quality,” said Holland. “Artistry is about expression … for me it’s about the food, the buying from the Finger Lakes farmers, the relationship and the friendship and using my techniques as a craftsman to make their food the best I can … That’s the thing about a chef. It’s definitely both.”

Holland is chef at both Fox Run and Sapalta Dining at Plum Point Lodge, which features 24 guest rooms, six glamping yurts, a farmhouse suite and 300 feet of frontage on Seneca Lake. To spend time with Holland is to witness the essence of channeled kinetic energy. He speaks excitedly— particularly about food made and grown in the Finger Lakes. He also moves fast, and he kind of has to. During the season, he makes breakfast at Sapalta, lunch for the café at Fox Run, and then returns to Sapalta for full dinner service.

“To work with a chef who has so much passion, it makes my job cake,” said Natalie Travis, general manager at Plum Point. She opened the Lodge with Holland and owner Dave Bunnell on Mother’s Day 2019. “All of the plates he does are beautiful, the food comes out fantastic, everyone’s happy. Being front-of-house manager at a restaurant where the chef’s doing this type of food, of this quality, at a place in this area—I mean, it’s unreal.”

The menu at Sapalta is covered with dishes that initially seem familiar but upon closer inspection contain local, carefully curated ingredients and Holland’s signature flair. For example, the chicken parm is breaded in ground New York State oatmeal rather than generic breadcrumbs. The sauce is made from scratch. The cheese is from Muranda Cheese Company in Waterloo. The burger is half grass-fed Finger Lakes beef, half ground bison from Ramph’s Bison Hill Farm in Newark, New York. The pork porterhouse steak is smoked overnight on-site and garnished with housemade plum barbecue sauce.

Plums find their way into many different dishes and cocktails—even the restaurant’s name is on brand. Sapalta is a variety of plum that can withstand punishingly cold climates. The state’s largest Sapalta orchard is on the Lodge’s grounds, something both Holland and Travis boast about tongues firmly in cheek: The orchard has eight trees.

Excitement and a sense of whimsy, grounded in classic European techniques Holland learned at the New England Culinary Institute, also extend to Fox Run, where he’s been chef for over six years. The offerings at the café reflect the same dedication and quality as the menu at Sapalta, but Holland truly spreads his wings for the weekly Food and Wine Experience. Every Friday from July to the end of October, a limited number of guests take an hourlong tour of the vineyard and experience a tasting with six small plates paired with six Fox Run wines selected specifically because of their interlocking flavors.

“You see their eyes light up when they taste that perfect match,” said Scott Osborn, president and co-owner of Fox Run Vineyards. “There’s all of a sudden this understanding.”

It’s an understanding Holland has built over his 33-year career. “I call it the food file in my head, where I can just think of things I know are going to go together—this cream puff idea, savory cream puff, pâte à choux thing … everyone was just blown away.”

They were blown away because Holland serves the dish two ways, with two different wines, resulting in two completely different experiences (despite only changing two ingredients). In one pâte à choux, he places a tiny brick of creamy, buttery brie from Four Fat Fowl artisan creamery in Stephentown, New York. In the other, he spreads chevre from Lively Run Goat Dairy in Interlaken, and a daub of jam made from the strawberries grown in the winery’s garden. Even though the vehicle for the cheeses—the pastry—is exactly the same, the result, when paired with the Blanc de Blancs 2014 and Semi-Dry Riesling 2017 respectively, is astoundingly different.

The Blanc de Blancs is so dry and effervescent it cuts the rich creaminess of the brie and cleans your palate all at the same time. The Semi-Dry Riesling is sweeter, but hits different notes than the strawberry jam, interlocking perfectly and tempering the saltiness of the chevre without overshadowing the flavor.

The moment of realization Osborn alluded to presents itself in both of these bites, and Holland thrives on giving people that experience. He remembers another dinner at Fox Run, where he cooked locally grown kohlrabi for the first time, just to see what would happen. Throughout the evening, patrons kept asking him what the amazing square thing under the salad was.

“I love that,” he said. “I love that in the sense you can do something unusual, unexpected, people don’t have a clue what is but they like it and they want to know how you did it. I mean, that’s very satisfying. And it was grown and made here. This is a great time to be a chef in this region.”

Pete Wayner is a writer and videographer in Rochester. He loves to eat, drink and be outside— ideally at the same time. More of his work can be found at petewayner.com.

Lyndsi Stoltzfus is a Penn Yan–based photographer, inspired by light and capturing genuine emotion. Find more of her work on Instagram at @lyndsiphotography.

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