Farmer x Baker Founder Shares Her Favorite Winter Foods

When we spoke with Jen Urich of Farmer x Baker, it was during one of her favorite cooking stretches—when the “last kiss of summer” had already led to a “big full harvest” full of “fantastic greens” and treasures like delicata squash. When autumn gives way to winter, Jen’s kitchen adds a bounty of root vegetables and other cold-weather delights. As a business owner whose model is inspired by the evolving seasons, she declared fall and winter especially exciting times to be a “culinary enthusiast.”

A woman serves wine to the founder of Farmer x Baker as they share their favorite winter foods around the dining table.

Ten years ago, Urich, who hails from Detroit but has been here for two decades, pivoted from landscape design to the world of agriculture. She built a small farm at home, and began to grow produce that was served mostly at fine-dining restaurants (“back when that was a thing, pre-COVID,” she says). She became irritated by the fact that all of the produce being sold and plated was going to establishments where normal folks like herself couldn’t afford to eat. It forced her to zoom out and view the bigger picture of the system, while asking, “Why is that?”

The Farm-to-Table Mission

As an entrepreneur Urich calls herself a “compulsive problem-solver,” so five years ago she looked into turning a shipping container into a fast, casual venue serving locally sourced farm-to-table food at Aspinwall’s Allegheny RiverTrail Park. (The county tried to stop it; they’d never seen anything like it, she says.) However, the region’s first shipping container restaurant has proven to be wildly successful; the business now includes catering and wholesaling, too.

A chef plates a purple puree and bundle of stuffing onto three white plates from a silver pot for the famer x baker winter favorites.

Urich’s whole ethos and mission: connecting guests to nature through food. She made a unique arrangement with the park, and 10 percent of growth profits now go back to them, meaning customers’ dollars help preserve this serene riverside setting, where dogs can happily join dining owners, too. She collaborates regularly with the folks at Trace brewing and other eateries around town.

Tasting the Winter Season

Last winter she participated in a dinner series called Root Cellar, a ticketed event for the public that highlighted cooking with the winter bounty and storage crops. The menu began with Cauliflower Vindaloo Bisque. The next course featured confit duck and Jackfruit Cassoulet, a medley of beans, rainbow carrots, fermented black kale, beet crisp, whipped ube, and shallots. Next up: poached Asian pear Japanese mizuna, local chevre, black sesame crisp, fermented ginger vinaigrette. After that, diners enjoyed Winter Herb Cavatelli glazed in local mushroom stock, brown-butter crumble, crispy parsnip, Brussels petals, and a 60-minute egg. And for the sweet finish? Classic profiteroles, blood orange créme Anglaise, dark chocolate ganache. When we asked Jen to share these recipes, she said with a smile and a shrug, “There are no recipes to share. I just made them up!”

Five white dishes filled with different small cuisine dishes on a green wood board table with three small white candles placed in the middle.

At this colder, darker time of year, Urich loves to braise anything. “I’m a huge fan of root vegetable soups and stews,” she says, “and I enjoy leafy greens in the winter with legumes.” Another seasonal favorite? Sleek—a Syrian dish that she deems simple and clean fuel for the body. “So easy!” she promises. “Sauté your onions and garlic, then throw the rest in the pan and cook down.” The recipe involves one can of a bean of choice (she prefers black-eyed peas), one pound of kale (removed from the large stem, sliced, and boiled), one cup of cooked brown rice (or any grain you have on hand in the house) one large, thinly sliced red or yellow onion, three garlic cloves, two tablespoons of olive oil, plus salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

A dish served at the Farmer x Baker Favorite Winter Foods dinner shows a close up of a white plate on a green wood table. It holds various vegetables in the colors green, purple, brown, and yellow to one side of the plate. A fork sits to the right corner of the frame as well.

Working Towards a Better Culinary Future

Urich is happy to chat about farm-to-table cooking, something she’s lauded for here in the Pittsburgh area. Yet “every farmer grows plants,” she says, and she also wants to talk about the “real issues” plaguing her industry and its frustrating environment. She admits she’s always been a bit of a disruptor; after all, she has been known to bring a lentil-based dish to a lamb fest. “Life’s more fun that way,” she says.

A man in a black hat and shirt adds the final touches to an array of white bowls holding a yellow soup inside.

“We need a shift in culture in the service industry,” Urich shares. Right now, the margins are so thin, and only big companies can afford to provide benefits and health care to their employees. She wants to help create a lower barrier of entry so that a larger platform is available to showcase different culinary talents. In fact, she has the goal of turning Farmer x Baker into a chef incubator space for minority and marginalized chefs by spring or summer 2024. She’s hoping to collaborate with The Equity | Impact Center, a nonprofit that addresses “systemic inequity through broad social, cultural, and economic solutions and comprehensive, intentionally designed initiatives.” Urich commends their “really important mission,” like the work they do with young Black women.

She has another big project in the works too—moving in with Polska Laska in Sharpsburg, where she’ll serve as the pastry chef. (They plan to be open by the time this article goes to press). Here Farmer x Baker will contribute its greatest hits: bagels and pastries, served alongside the venue’s pierogies. Fans can also order Urich’s bagels through Harvie, a local grocery subscription service.

A table setting shows three bottles of wine, many wine glasses, and placemats set across it.

Connecting Through Cuisine

At the end of the day, Urich is inspired by creating memories through food. After all, she points out, this is how we started as cave people. Chatting with this admirable force about her community-based mission, it becomes immediately clear that she loves connecting people to nature, and to one another. “And what better way to do it than through food?” she asks.

Although the details of several future projects are still in the works, Urich reassures us, “It will happen.” And somehow, when she utters these words, we very much believe her.

Story by Corinne Whiting / Photography by Laura Petrilla / Styling by Anna Franklin

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