Conshohocken native Josh Lawler and his wife Colleen met while studying Hotel and Restaurant Management at Drexel University. Upon completion of their studies, both bounced around the Philly restaurant scene before heading to New York. There Josh scored the chef de cuisine position at farm-to-table shrine Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where he worked under the tutelage of James Beard Award-winner Dan Barber, while Colleen worked at BLT Market and Picholine. A little more than a year ago, with a set of twins on the way, they decided to head back home to be closer to their families. Tonight they debut The Farm and the Fisherman, a 30 seat, white tablecloth byob at 1120 Pine Street. Earlier this week, Grub Street caught up with Josh to talk a little bit about his and his wife’s new venture.
GS: We heard you did a couple dry runs this week in preparation of The Farm and Fisherman’s opening. How did they go?
Lawler: They went well. There’s still a lot of stuff to work out. We’re still working out some tiny kinks with the space, and working on the food a little. Overall, things have been really smooth.
GS: Prior to The Farm and the Fisherman did you and Colleen ever work together before?
Lawler: No. We always worked in separate restaurants. When we were last in Philly, I worked at the Fountain and she worked at Susanna Foo. Up in New York, she worked at BLT and Pincholine and I kind of worked all over the city.
GS: What is it about the farm-to-table movement that has you hooked?
Lawler: I started gardening when I was eight years old, and ever since then I’ve always been interested in farming. It’s kind of like this fad now, but sourcing really good ingredients has always been a hallmark of good cooking.
GS: So it’s not like you’re chasing a hot trend?
Lawler: No. It’s something I would be doing whether it’s a trend or not.
GS: Are you at all concerned that you’re opening at moment when the farm-to-table thing is on the verge of reaching its saturation point in Philly, with the Farmer’s Cabinet and Aimee Olexy’s Talula’s spinoff on the horizon?
Lawler: Not really. If you look at my restaurant, it doesn’t look like a farm-to-table. I don’t have like farm products everywhere or gardening stuff. It’s neighborhood restaurant with a nice warm room. Of course we source local ingredients and work with local farmers, but at the end of the day it’s a restaurant that serves really good food that should stand on its own.
GS: We talked about the “Farmer” aspect of your restaurant. How does the “Fisherman” part come into play?
Lawler: Growing up I went to Cape May all the time, and I love fishing. There’s a lot of local fish that doesn’t get utilized or takes a back seat to stuff like farm raised salmon.
GS: can you give us some examples of local fish that you plan to use?
Lawler: Croaker is really great fish I have on the opening menu. I’ve met with a couple of fishermen about sourcing Cape May squid. Bluefish is a really tasty fish.
GS: What’s your menu going to be like?
Lawler: The opening menu has three sections: Appetizers, mid-courses and entrees. Each section will have for to five dishes. Entrees will be pretty traditional. The mid-courses are sort of like the missing link between apps and entrees. Some will be vegetable-driven, and others will have like a certain animal or a specific cut from an animal. The idea is to give people plenty of options.
GS: How often will you change the menu?
Lawler: Since there’s just two of us in the kitchen, it’s going to be really easy to switch it over pretty frequently. It will be based primarily on what I’m getting from the markets.
The Farm and the Fisherman, 1120 Pine Street, (267) 687-1555