Welcome to Chef Reveals, a new feature to Eater Philly and @eater_philly on Instagram, in which we display the day-to-day essentials of the city's top chefs all shot from above by the very talented TommyBaboon. This week, a tandem reveal by Helm's chef-owners Kevin D'Egidio and Mike Griffiths.
[ : @tommybaboon] @catchawavekev and @mgriffiths5687's @helmphilly bedrocks (clockwise from top left): @heypace plates, congratulatory letters, persimmons, @curdiologist cheese, purple diakon from @hoodrichfarms, @powers_whiskey, vinyls, foraging book, wedding picture, wine corks. Click that link in the bio for more details, and tag your own kitchen essentials with #eaterchefreveals.
For Kevin D'Egidio and Mike Griffiths (friends first, business partners second), it was all pretty straightforward: open a small BYOB — keep it simple, cook food that's both honest and progressive, write the menus on chalkboards, and work your tail off. In March 2015, they made it happen, and in Kensington of all places — traditionally not the neighborhood you'd expect there to be a thriving, upscale, farm-focused BYOB. But there it is, in all its acclaimed glory. Front of house is manned by the sartorially-charmed Justin Manne with the help of an especially friendly service staff, not to mention some food running duties by D'Egidio and Griffiths themselves. But before your first bite, notice the room; you might find one of their farmer buddies roaming the space, hands still covered in dirt. Peruse their vast cookbook collection, and soak in that warm vinyl filling the room with whatever music they're feeling that night, be it Bob Dylan's wax poetry or the delightfully poppy nonsense of Mr. Beibs-almighty. Again, it's a simple, honest affair at Helm, and if Philly dining continues on this steep trajectory, it's good that we have them for the long-haul.
Explained in clockwise order from the picture above (start top left):
Plates by Heypace Ceramics: You won't find matching plates or silverware in Helm's dining room. "Realistically, because we couldn't afford it to start," admits D'Egidio, "But we eventually said, hey, we want a few showcase plates that really make us happy. We were lucky enough to walk into Jinxed in Fishtown, and we noticed some stellar plates for sale, some gorgeous pieces that really took our breath away. When we asked about them, we were even more thrilled to realize they were locally made by Michael "Charles" Pace, the ceramicist behind Heypace Ceramics.
Congratulatory letters: "We've had so much support and help from our friends and family that we like to keep [the letters] as tokens, from the congratulation letters by friends who helped us open and purveyors who we've established relationships with, to the guests who come in our doors and become part of our family. We post all of their messages and support around because it's important for us to always realize why we are able to sustain what we have.
Persimmons: house dried to make hoshigaki — an ingredient in their pasta course. "We love taking ingredients and curing, drying, fermenting them. Making vegetables last longer, changing their structures and flavors are interesting ways of reimagining dishes."
Cheese: Lots of dishes have a central dairy component at Helm, and more often than not, it's cheese. In particular, cheese from Valley Shepherd. "Just how relationships with farmers are important, we've learned that having a great relationship with Valley Shepherd is ever so important. There's nothing cooler than writing a new dish and mentioning it to Zeke [Ferguson] and all the great people at Valley Shepherd to get their input. Not trying to just sell us cheese, but instead finding ones that make sense. As a local cheese purveyor, they make our job very easy."
Purple daikons: "Arguably our newest and favorite vegetable of the year." These root vegetables represent the commitment to local farms that runs through the veins at Helm. These ones in particular come from restaurant-friend, Jack Goldenberg. "He introduced us to the local urban farm, La Finquita which we love. Farmers like Jack are a driving force behind what we do. Constantly reinventing their farms, always pushing the freshest product. It's easy to get excited about creating new dishes when the farmers are just as stoked about their own products. If we had the space, we could have filled table with vegetables just to talk about every passionate farmer we are fortunate to work with."
Powers Irish Whiskey: In typical kitchen crew fashion, the Helm team loves their whiskey. "Nothing beats toasting to a good service with a cold High Life and a shot of Powers. It's the staple around here."
Lemons: Though they may seem commonplace in every restaurant kitchen, Griffiths and D'Egidio swear they use lemons more than any one else. "We are very heavy handed in regards to seasoning here; high salt, high acid. It's our mantra, and like it or not, it's what we love here.
Vinyl collection: "One particular noteworthy artist for us is 2Pac. We have 2Pac Fridays where we get pumped up for service listening to just him for a few hours before service." Music plays a significant role at Helm's day-to-day. The restaurant itself, besides any preconceived notions, was named after Levon Helm of The Band. The team loves their record playing, and you'll hear it all from old-school classics to something of the more modern variety. "We are very passionate about our playlist selections: It's very telling of our personalities in the kitchen."
Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries: Working in the kitchen can oftentimes feel monotonous, so to keep inspiration alive, the kitchen crew find ways to break free and get excited. "One thing we like to do is to go foraging. The real start of spring for us is seeing the garlic mustard greens and lesser celandine popping up. Then we start picking ramps, stinging nettles, Japanese knotweed, and mushrooms: black trumpets, morels, chanterelles, maitakes. If it's out there, we like to find it and use it.
Wedding picture: D'Egidio and Griffiths feel lucky to be both friends and business partners. "Very few people are as fortunate as we are, with wives and families who support us wholeheartedly. It makes the longer, harder days worth it."
Wine corks: This one's simple: Helm is BYOB. You'll likely be greeted by Justin Manne, wearing his patented bow tie and smile, and with his wealth of knowledge, he'll help make sure your wine pairing is perfect for the occasion.