The latest Parla-Proust questionnaire features Justin Naylor, a former high school Latin teacher with whom I collaborated when he would bring his students to Rome from Wyoming Seminary in Pennsylvania. Justin recently resigned from his teaching gig to give his full attention to Old Tioga Farm, his farm and restaurant in Stillwater, PA. Justin and his wife Dillon were juggling work, children, their farm and their restaurant pop up for years and this is an exciting new step for them, so go check them out! They are kind, passionate, sincere people eager to swap Italy stories and share conversation over beautiful food.
Parla Food: Describe your work and how it came about.
JN: My wife Dillon and I operate Old Tioga Farm, where we raise vegetables organically for about 30 families on the CSA model and have a 16 seat fine-dining restaurant, open by reservation on Friday and Saturday only.
I got into vegetables working on farms back in college during a year off from school and it was love at first sight. Once I was surrounded by the best produce, I wanted to cook it in a way that honored its integrity, and that led me to a minimalistic, Italian-inspired approach to cooking. There were many detours during the past ten years, and for most of that time we were working off the farm and doing the veggies and restaurant part-time. But we’ve finally taken the plunge and dedicated ourselves full-time to our work on the farm, both with the veggies and restaurant, and it feels great. I know it’s a little different to be both a farmer and chef, but I love the combination and it is very meaningful to me.
PF: What inspires you?
JN: I’m inspired by fresh produce. Walking among rows of beautiful, nourishing vegetables is just such a beautiful thing. In my kitchen, I can look out and see our kitchen garden and market garden as I cook, and it is just so inspiring. I fry a squash blossom and think back to seeding it in trays months before. We also are lucky enough to live in an old house built circa 1830. Our two restaurant dining rooms have beautiful old floors and massive fireplaces. I can’t imagine living or working anywhere else.
PF: What profession would you most like to try?
JN: Well, until several months ago I was a teacher, so I guess I have tried that. In a completely different life, though, I might be a lawyer.
PF: What profession would you not like to try?
JN: Anything that feels bureaucratic, or without impact. Sadly, I think there are many jobs like that.
PF: Who do you respect most?
JN: People who live with integrity and by the values that motivate them.
PF: What is your favorite food?
JN: Spaghetti alla gricia, pasta dressed with guanciale, pecorino romano cheese and black pepper. I simply love guanciale. I’ve learned how to cure my own, and that lends an extra special importance to it for me. The gricia at Armando al Pantheon was the first thing I ever ate in Rome, and it’s still the dish I would choose above all others.
PF: And drink?
JN: Wine. My favorite winery is Isole e Olena, in Chianti Classico. I’ve had the good fortune to meet winemaker Paolo de Marche, who is such a beautiful and humble man. Whenever I drink his wines, I think of him, and this enhances the wines for me.
PF: What characteristic do you appreciate most in others?