MacPhersons look forward to ‘crafting’ dinners with local food sourcing
John MacPherson was riding a jackhammer when a visitor pulled up to 20 Main Street in Sperryville this week to see how the much-anticipated Three Blacksmiths is progressing.
“We’ve ripped everything out except the block walls,” reveals John, as he begins the construction tour. “The building has enough space, it’s just a matter of us making it all work.”
Knowing the MacPhersons — John and his wife, Diane — as countless Rappahannock residents do from their previous Foster Harris House success in Washington, that shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, the capable couple has already worked around one significant snag.
“So at the Foster Harris House we had the chef’s table in the kitchen,” John explains. “We had a lot of regular guests who wanted to dine in the kitchen. And that was fun. But we didn’t see a way to do that here. So, we just put the kitchen in the dining room.”
And not just any ordinary kitchen.
“Right in the center is going to be an open hearth, a four foot wide open hearth, where we’ll have a live fire and where we’ll cook a lot of things on the coals and over the fire. And then next to that will be the cookline, with the stove and what have you,” says John. “And then there will be a back kitchen, where we’ll have the refrigeration and dry storage and where we will do the prep.”
By we, he means he and his wife, former Foster Harris sous chef Ethan Taylor, and one other person. Three Blacksmiths and their helper.
“There’s just going to be four of us,” John confirms. “This is a very small operation and we want to keep it that way. That’s what was so nice about the Foster Harris House just having 10 seats and three people. So we’re bumping it up just a little bit more.”
To exactly 16 seats, which the couple says is a perfect size for this unique style of restaurant offering patrons “handcrafted dining.”
The couple is borrowing heavily from what they as a family (they have an 11-year-old son, Finn) digested during two extended trips to Europe — once before opening the Foster Harris House, and then this past summer when they spent no less than eight weeks traveling from France to Slovenia, visiting as many sought-after restaurants as they could fit into their schedule.
“We’re taking a lot of the influence that we had in Europe and we’re bringing all the things that we really loved there and building it into this building,” John says. “A lot of the style, a lot of the décor, we really wanted it to feel the right way.”
For example, removing the ceiling of 20 Main Street, which required plenty of chiseling and scrubbing by Mike Jolly’s team from Jolly Construction, Inc. of Culpeper, exposed eye-appealing wood rafters, which had been hidden during the building’s previous lives. New walls will consist of maple plank, and the floors a dark walnut. Tables are being designed for Three Blacksmiths in Tappahannock, while diners will be seated in what John calls “cool” leather armchairs.
And proper lighting — the restaurant is only open for dinner, after all — is crucial when creating the perfect ambience
“It’s one of my pet peeves,” John says. “With so many restaurants we’ve been to the lights are just too bright. There will be layers of light in this room — some well-positioned LED track lighting, some low-wattage wall sconces all around, there will be lamps on the tables, and then of course the fire. It will be very subdued light.
“Very intimate and very small,” he foresees. “It’s going to be very comfortable.”
Three Blacksmiths will be open three nights each week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with a prix fixe menu.
“It will be very seasonal, very local,” John says. “And it will change often — we don’t really know how often. It could change week-to-week, or even night-to-night, depending on what [fresh harvests] Waterpenny or Sunnyside [farms] have. Those are the things that give us an opportunity to change on the fly, because we have all these [farming] folks so close by.”
The MacPhersons see themselves offering “a bit more” to the Three Blacksmiths menu than they were able to accomplish at the Foster Harris House, where their mix of fresh ingredients and creative recipes and flair earned them a loyal following of foodies in the Piedmont region and beyond.
In Europe, John educates, every meal at a few of the more popular and successful restaurants “starts with a few fun things, many of them unexpected that appear at the table. We want people to experience fun, special things, too. Some real simple things that find their way to the table.”
Such as blending Rappahannock beekeeper Keith Rowand’s impressive assortment of “cooking” honeys into Three Blacksmiths’ recipes. “I’m bringing in all 12 of Keith’s honeys,” says John.
Diane, at the same time, will be taking on additional responsibilities since Foster Harris days when Three Blacksmiths opens its doors, hopefully in March.
“She’s going to start working in the kitchen and do some baking,” reveals John. “Ethan and I will cook, as will Diane. And everybody will be responsible for serving as well.”
“I’m going to have an opportunity to learn a couple new things,” Diane pipes in. “I haven’t really been a big participant in the kitchen and I want to add that to my repertoire.”
And, she adds: “I’m going to learn to bartend.”
“She’s going to be our mixologist,” John prefers, “which is something new for us because we didn’t have a full liquor license at the Foster Harris House. But we will have one here.”
“We’ve wanted for a long time to focus on just one thing that we could do really well, and when we owned the Foster Harris House, while we loved doing all those things, after a while we felt like we might be getting ourselves spread too thin — with the inn, the restaurant, the cycling tours. We had a lot of things going on,” Diane says of the couple’s new venture.
“In this new business we get to work together, which we enjoy, but then we can stay focused on good food, and the guest experience, and the place, and not have to worry about breakfasts, checking in guests, making people safe on the roads on their bikes,” she says.
And better yet, the couple will be cooking alongside their former sous chef.
“This is perfect,” Ethan weighs in. “I love John and I love Diane. And I love cooking, so that’s a plus, too. Honestly, I’m into the whole community thing and how we have all the regulars. It makes cooking a lot more enjoyable, all the interactions with everyone. It can’t be beat. It’s intimate.”
As for relocating to Sperryville after creating such a successful food and lodging enterprise in Washington?
“It’s so exciting to be in Sperryville,” answers Diane, “what with the amount of energy you can feel, and not just from businesses in Sperryville, but the neighbors have been really supportive. There’s just a feeling of vibrancy here that we are really excited to be a part of.”
Three Blacksmiths gets its name from when early Sperryville boasted five general stores, six mills, a saloon, barber shop, pharmacy, and three blacksmiths.
“It was a time when most things were still made by hand and craftspeople had a direct connection to their handiwork,” the couple recalls on the restaurant’s new website. “Since then, the world has sped up in ways unimaginable to our ancestors, but there’ll always be a place for those of us who take pleasure in working with our hands. We wanted to honor a slice of Sperryville’s past and the folks that honed its future. At Three Blacksmiths, instead of forging metal in our open hearth, we’ll be crafting your dinner.”