I arrived at People’s Light and Theatre last Friday to chat with Chef Ben Mayhew, and was joined by Abby Stafford, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications and Andrea Shives, Marketing Assistant. Ben came from the kitchen with a dish he whipped up for me to sample—parmesan and garlic crusted ribeye served with potato gratin and asparagus. It smelled delicious, and the crispy parmesan was a great addition. The portions were very generous, and Ben explained this dish is typical fare at The Bistro!
Despite my strong desire to eat everything on my plate without looking up or speaking, I had some questions for Ben. As a child, Ben was fascinated by cooking—he longed to be able to flick his wrist and send the contents of a pan flipping over the hot stove, only to land safely back in the pan. “From then on, I’ve had a passion for it,” Ben said. Ben started working in a kitchen as a junior in high school before graduating early to attend the Culinary Institute of America.
During Ben’s time at The Bistro, he’s learned a lot, and he really enjoys the small dining areas that allow the kitchen to focus on the quality of the food, rather than quantity. Ben mused that he has “learned to be more than a cook” here. “I learned to be a chef.” When I asked Ben what kind of food he serves at The Bistro, he explained that he cooks “recognizable dishes elevated to be more than they were.” This is epitomized by the mac and cheese, a Farmhouse classic, served with the right cheeses and smoked chicken. To Ben, it’s all about technique. With the right technique, he can “make ordinary food gourmet.”
Chef Ben also had dessert in store for me—he brought out a double layer cheesecake with salted caramel sauce, whipped cream, fresh berries and strawberry coulis. This was absolutely the best cheesecake I’ve ever eaten, and that caramel sauce was to die for! Ben explained that his fiancé, Karen Huey, is his sous chef and makes all the desserts. “I couldn’t do it without her,” said Ben. “I bring a lot of technique and she brings a lot of creativity.” Abby chimed in to talk about the warm family environment at The Bistro, a spot where some spouses work together and people often bring their children; “it makes sense the kitchen would be the same!”
Incorporating themes from the theatre into his menu is also something Ben enjoys, and he is able to do just that with the newest show. Performances of Treasure Island, a Musical Panto, began on November 16th and The Bistro will feature Panto Brunches each Sunday during the show (November 20-January 8). These special brunches will be held in the banquet facility and actors from the cast will be present, in costume, interacting with guests.
The genuine warmth of everyone I met, the fabulous food and great atmosphere make this place a hit. Most of all, I love that Ben’s influences are so down to earth. They plan to start handing out peanut brittle to guests at the end of each meal, recreating an experience Ben had at his grandmother’s house as a child. That feels like home to me, and I can’t wait to go back.
Find Chef Ben regularly at the Farmhouse Bistro at 39 Conestoga Road in Malvern. More information is available by visiting farmhousepeopleslight.com.