Monday, June 1, 2009

Hartwood in the Hills

This one’s a little about the food yesterday (which was amazing) and a lot about the people and the place yesterday. It's not kitchen geeking snark, it's a wistful and wonderful tale of a day when the food and the rest of it all blended together so well you almost couldn't tell it all apart.

Sometimes it works out that way. Sometimes I can turn my apartment into a little bistro if you shut your eyes to the place and focus on the food and people. Sometimes you can transform people by putting them in a certain place. Yesterday was a question of the people and the place transforming the food into so much more than a fundraiser buffet.

It was all for Hartwood in the Hills and was held at Café Cimino.

I know Cimino is a magical place. Sutton's 103 year old P. J. Berry Estate at the end of town. A bend in the river and a turn out of time. The food there has always been incredible. Local produce, seasonal foods, expertly trained chefs. Fine dining in a small town with just over 1,000 people.

Sitting on the banks of the Elk River as it rolls down to Charleston to join the Kanawha on their march from the hills of West Virginia to the Ohio and the Mississippi.

I now have an inkling that Hartwood is just as magical. Here’s part of what they have to say about themselves:

Heartwood embodies the ideal that the arts belong to everyone and the artistic gifts in each person deserve nurturing. Heartwood’s mission is to ensure that everyone has access to Heartwood’s programs regardless of their ability to pay. Heartwood’s Board of Directors and faculty are dedicated to keeping class fees low, ranging from $3.00 to $5.00 per class. Full and partial scholarships are available to all students. The Board and faculty are committed to providing scholarships to any student based solely on need.

Heartwood offers a warm, welcoming environment to people of different abilities and backgrounds. Students have included physically and mentally challenged children, foster children from dysfunctional families, and juvenile offenders on probation. Theater projects build community, teamwork skills, self-esteem, and self-respect. They give children an appreciation of their role in the course of historical events. The atmosphere at the school is encouraging and noncompetitive. Every student gets an equal opportunity to shine.


The Hartwood folks brought masks and props, costumes and billboards, laughter and dancing. You didn’t need to have a talk about Hartwood, they showed you what it was.

While there to celebrate Hartwood, we wandered the grounds of Cimino, lounged by the goldfish pond and drank wine, read books on the patio at the bar, sat on the veranda watching puffy-white cumulus clouds meander across the sky, and generally enjoyed the beauty of the day and place.

Chefs Tim and Eli Urbanic fed us right too, with fresh breads, cheeses, and salads, gorgeous sausage and peppers, ziti, garlic/rosemary mashed potatoes, roast pork loin with apples and sauce. It was simple, rustic, comforting food and it put even larger smiles on everyone’s face.

Melody was moving quickly and gracefully between the pockets of people spread around the grounds. First and foremost, she was introducing them all to Maggie Mae, the trained therapy-dog who proudly displayed her certification on her vest! It was likely the first time I consciously approved of pet-ware.

I thought and said out loud that yesterday was my favorite day of the year so far. Someone may cynically remind me of other wonderful days this year, and there have been several. January 19th was particularly moving for me and for millions of others. It was a sweep of history, grand-scale day. Yesterday was a sweep of the heart, focus on the very small and very important things day.

You all know the feeling I had as the sun beat down on my face and I took a long, cool swig of Pinot Grigio and drifted between conversations about art and learning, Chef instructing someone on how to prepare a simple pasta dinner, and the rush of the Elk behind me.

On the drive back home I watched dusk settle over the mountains. The wisps of clouds replaced by the purple haze of a late spring night in central West Virginia. There were still folks celebrating Hartwood behind me. I expect there were still people celebrating when I arrived home an hour after leaving the party. Food and wine; friends and strangers; and a flowing river with a smiling staff were all part of day in Sutton. And they all fed us in equal parts.

You can see a lot more of the day here.

1 comment:

Jeanne Muir said...

What a nice post about Cafe Cimino Guest House; wonderful food in a beautifully restored setting with a sincerely welcoming hostess in Melody and local food from Chef Tim. We were lucky enough to have our state B&B conference there in March and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay. I wish I wasn't far away on the other side of the state so that I could visit more often. Folks in the neighborhood should take advantage!!