Noticing Neighbors Fox & Pearl
The temperatures are dropping, the leaves are turning, and Fox & Pearl is ready to welcome the season with a menu of fresh, seasonal ingredients. Chef Vaughn Good creates a dynamic menu with dishes inspired by what harvest is brought in by local farmers. Between eggplant, grilled pumpkin, and a barbecue menu that is offered from 11-3pm on Saturdays and Sundays, there is a feeling of spontaneity that comes with the meal when dining-in.
Recently, Fox & Pearl has begun offering Patreon memberships. With the membership, the subscribers have access to behind the scenes and can attend Chef Vaughn’s cooking classes while learning from home. I got the chance to sit down with Kristine Hull to learn the stories behind this midwestern bistro.
Hayley: For readers that haven’t stepped in before, could you talk a little bit about Fox & Pearl?
Sure, so Fox & Pearl is a Midwestern bistro. We specialize in local, seasonal ingredients. We know all of our farmers and we have an ever changing menu—I would say it's almost Microseasonal. It changes, sometimes nightly. Not like the entire menu, but dishes will change or have an add or whatever. We have a live fire hearth, so there's a lot of a rustic component to it. Fire is definitely essential to all of our cooking. We have a smoker, so we do a lot of smoked meat, and smoked ingredients. We also cook over the live fire during service. So I think that adds to the flavor and the ambience. Hayley: Definitely.
Kristine: Then with our bar, we try to marry the bar to our food program. It is also sourcing small producers, so we do organic and sustainable when we can. Then with our wine program, we focus on natural wine. So either biodynamic, organic, natural processes, small farms tie in all of that.
It’s neat to know how closely you all work with the local farmers. Are there any vegetables or ingredients that you get excited for when fall comes around?
Sure. So let me first say I'm not the chef. Vaughn is the chef, and he definitely would have his own kind of take on all of that. But in the fall specifically, we get excited. Juniper Hill Farms is one of our farms we've been using since we were in Lawrence, and they always have tons and tons of squashes and pumpkins. Vaughn likes to use this smoked, or grilled pumpkin. It's like a funky, green heirloom pumpkin. It doesn't look like anything you'd ever want to buy, but it is so savory and almost meaty in flavor. But for all of fall, there is something about cooler weather and fire cooked food that goes hand in hand. All of those things play together really well in the fall. Hayley: Absolutely. Kristine: Fall is also fun because there is a lot of harvest, and we're getting tons and tons of produce. So during this season, we're doing a lot of preservation—a lot of pickling and making jams. We focus on preservation so that we can keep the fresh flavors throughout the winter.
How do you feel like working with local farmers impacts the quality of the ingredients?
I don't think you can even compare it to anything else, honestly, because it's A: fresh, and B: you know your farmer. So they are going to work for you and you can have a direct dialogue. Being able to tell them: “Oh, I like this, I don't like this, or I like it when the produce is at this stage.” They'll harvest directly for you sometimes, and are even growing things specific for us. So I think that is really fun. But I also think just keeping it local, you are obviously getting the freshest ingredients. It's also really fun.
We have some items where we don't even know what we're getting. So they'll tell us, “Oh, here's this thing that we harvested. We didn't know we were going to harvest it.” That's why sometimes, you suddenly end up with an X amount of something very random like eggplant. Then all of a sudden eggplant needs to be on the menu for the weekend. It’s fun, and it makes it dynamic.
So every time someone comes in, the experience is finding out what the menu is right now.
Yeah, exactly. We've been doing this farm series where we will go out and tour our farms. It brings our staff, but also the diners closer to the food. We take our staff out to the farms and they get to know the farmers—they get to see the animals and the produce. Even with the cheese, we get to see the process of how the cheese is made. It embeds a little bit more pride and understanding in the food, so you can appreciate that when you are eating it. It's not just packaged somewhere—there's this history and story behind it. The farmers are integral to our actual final product.
I saw online that you all created something I haven't seen in a restaurant before, you are offering a Patreon model for anyone that wants to participate. Can you talk a little bit about what that offers?
Kristine: This is a new idea we just started. It's in its early stages, because mid-2020, probably like mid pandemic, everybody was saying home. Vaughn, my partner, started subscribing to patreon channels of things, just because we had time. So he was getting into a musician and followed a musician, and then thought it was an interesting model. You can learn things about their process by being a subscriber. He particularly would get exclusive things like cool merch from this band, but he really liked the patreon model for that. So we explored it and were like, what if we did a restaurant patreon? We could do some cooking classes, and people could get exclusive offers, but it would be behind the scenes of the restaurant.
It's been fun to put together. We prerecorded an entire season of cooking classes so that we could keep it up. Weekly or every other week, we do a release of a video and then our patreon members, for a small fee, are basically getting a frequent flyer kind of incentive. They get a key chain to show when they come in, and when they dine with us they get discounts or exclusive offers. It's a way for them to feel connected to the restaurant and the restaurant community, and then also get this content. Hayley: There’s a back and forth between you and everyone that comes in, now. That’s a neat dynamic. Kristine: We also had this idea at one point that we were going to work on a cookbook. So we started this work on a cookbook, and Vaughn felt like this was more his way of getting a cookbook out into the world. People buy a cookbook, but you just buy it once and that’s it. This is a more interactive process because they could also text in, or with Instagram you can message us and ask the question.
So as you're making this sausage recipe, and you have a question, a message pops up on our side so the chef can respond to you directly. It's a much more personal process. At the level we're at right now, on a small scale, it makes it personable, and a lot more interactive. It's a fun experiment, and we are in the early stages of it.
In owning the restaurant and then working there, what goodness have you seen? Like, what positivity have you seen either recently or during your time there?
Oh, man. Well, first of all, we only opened in 2019, so we had barely got our legs under us when the pandemic hit. Maybe this is from COVID, maybe it was just like the timing of what happened, but I really feel like we have embraced the community and then the community has embraced us. It's wonderful. We have the farmers, obviously, and that is a greater part of our community. But just like on a local, micro level, we have our parking lot parties, where we invite the community and get to know our neighbors. It's really special when your neighbors appreciate and support you. We've been working on putting in this little urban garden on our lot and encouraging the community to participate in that as well.
But I feel like one of the most important things is to understand your area and connect with your place a little bit, and we're definitely trying to do that. 2020 was a hard time for all restaurants, and then we were a new restaurant. We didn't know where we stood. The fact that we made it out of that and also built momentum during that time, I feel like that's very magical.
Keep up with the latest with Fox & Pearl through their website and Instagram. All media originally published by Fox & Pearl via their online platforms, with photographer credit to Neesh and Pilsen Photo Co Op.