Hidden in Plain Sight – The Seasonal Pine Tree Café
During your winter weekend visit to Abbey Farms, delicious, stick-to-your-ribs food is readily available at the Pine Tree Café, located in the Nagel Emporium. Not only are all menu selections made from scratch, many are also tried and true family favorites of the Voirin family.
At the helm of this endeavor is David Voirin, a retired policeman who knows his way around the kitchen as well as – or better than – the streets of Aurora where he was a beat officer for many years. As the fifth child of 13, he hung around his mother’s busy kitchen, watching her cook. He peppered her with questions as many of her recipes were “all in her head.”
Abbey Farms Chili
Using his mother’s chili recipe, Dave started his Abbey Farms cooking career several years ago, by making the chili served in the concession stand during Pumpkin Daze. The addition proved to be popular. The success prompted Adam Voirin, Chief Operations Officer for Abbey Farms, to offer food on the weekends during Christmas season. The pair brainstormed what might work and the Pine Tree Café was launched in 2015.
When Adam asked him to plan and run the café, this 68-year old saw it as an exciting challenge and enthusiastically jumped in with both feet.
“I’ve always cooked a lot, but in my own kitchen,” he commented. “Having a large commercial kitchen with all this equipment is wonderful.”
Moving to a commercial operation meant upping the quality control, with food safety imperative. So, he took food safety and preparation classes. He also turned to one of his sons-in-law who was a chef in Michigan, which Dave said helped tremendously to speed up the learning curve.
Grandma’s Sweet and Sour Purple Cabbage
Next up was to choose menu items, keeping with a winter comfort food theme. Dave again turned to family recipes, many of which have their own stories. For instance, the recipe for the purple cabbage side dish was brought to the United States from Luxembourg when Dave’s grandmother emigrated to the United States in 1915. She could be the genetic source of his cooking prowess, too.
“After she settled in Aurora, she’d cook a meal for a group of businessmen who met in the Old Second Bank in downtown Aurora,” Dave relayed. “This sweet and sour cabbage recipe was one of her most requested recipes. I feel fortunate that I’m able to make it the same way that she did.”
The German Potato Salad served at the Pine Tree Café is also a family recipe, along with the stuffed cabbage rolls and lasagna. The barbecue sauce on the pork chop sandwich is not – but it is made from scratch. While at a police training seminar in 1994 in Louisville, Ken., he asked about the barbecue sauce a restaurant used, because he really liked it. Much to his surprise, the chef brought him a handwritten copy of the recipe, which Dave still has. The original recipe makes eight gallons – but freezes well!
“It is a good recipe – no bottled barbecue sauce here,” he added.
Choosing quality ingredients is important to him. All the meat is purchased from the Wheaton Meat Co., a business he’s worked at occasionally for the past 10 or so years. Perhaps even more important is the kitchen staff he works with during the weekends, a group of paid and volunteer workers that Dave calls “the best kitchen help I could ask for.”
More About the Cook
During our visit with Dave, we learned that he really is a foody. He collects recipes and cookbooks. And, he does like to watch Food Network shows, especially Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. He says the recipes are some of his prized possession. So much so, he’s even gifting a collection of his favorites. Lucky for us, he’s sharing a couple recipes, too.
Besides cooking, this father of five daughters, likes spending time with them and his three grandchildren. He also enjoys listening to music of all kinds, but particularly blues and rock.
When asked about his favorite things to cook, he said it is soups and chili. And, cheesecakes. Although his cheesecakes aren’t on the Pine Tree Café menu, the homemade Apple Crisp is and gets rave reviews.
Stop by some weekend during the Christmas season and warm up with something more than our delicious hot chocolate. While you’re here, say hello to Dave and let him know what you think. He really does want to serve you the best food possible. You’ll find him running the show in the kitchen…
For those who have eaten at the Pine Tree Café, we’d love to know what your favorite menu item(s) is/are. Leave us a comment on our Facebook page! On a personal note, this writer found the stuffed cabbage rolls delicious – even reheated in the microwave…