Farmer and Frenchman—an agritourism business with vineyard, winery, cafe plus lodging and special events venue
It was the pairing of a Parisian engineer-turned-Miami-restaurateur with a Henderson Countian that created Farmer and Frenchman in 2016, located in rural western Kentucky near Robards.
Owned by Hubert (French pronunciation), and Katy Groves Mussat, consumer-members of Kenergy Corp, she says, “For Hubert, this is a dream come true, and also for me. I always wanted to move back to Kentucky.”
Katy says she moved away in 1999 to go to college and later to graduate school. She found herself in Miami, doing research for her dissertation in anthropology.
“I was studying local food projects and Cuban politics in Miami, and all of a sudden I ran into this French guy who had a restaurant in Miami.”
Hubert, who learned how to cook from his dad, got his experience in restaurants owning and being a restaurateur says Katy. “He was a civil engineer in Paris and decided to change his life completely because he did not like being a civil engineer.”
She says, Hubert had always visited his dad who had restaurants all over the world. He decided to join his dad in Miami and try his hand at running restaurants. Hubert opened his own restaurant, Piccolo Pizza, in Miami in 2001, and still owns it.
Once Hubert and Katy got together they lived in Miami for several years, but Katy says Kentucky was always calling her home. She says her parents assumed that she’d definitely never come home, now that she had met this Parisian guy who lives in Miami.
Farmer and Frenchman’s story
While home one year visiting, the idea of raising grapes quickly took root. “I brought Hubert to Kentucky to visit my family, and one day we went out to the farm that my great grandfather and great grandmother owned, which had been passed down to my mom,” says Katy. “The only thing left on this farm was this ramshackled 1940s tobacco barn that a farmer still rented to put his tobacco in, but it was really falling apart.”
She says Hubert, who had always wanted to own and run a winery, was like, ‘Wow, do you think you can actually grow grapes in Kentucky, and would this be a good site or us to try and do this?”
The Mussats made the dream come true, Katy says largely with the help of the University of Kentucky’s grape and wine program, which has a wine maker and grape grower who helps people who are trying to establish a commercial or home vineyard.
“It’s nearly impossible to own and operate a winery in France, unless it’s been passed down to you from generations and generations,” explains Katy. “So, here we are now, doing, it seems, exactly what we were meant to do.”
While Katy symbolizes the “farmer” part of the duo, she says she’s definitely is not the chef nor does she do the farming. It was actually her brother-in-law Tommy, a farmer, who kiddingly came up with the name in the early days.
Katy says, “He was helping us get the vineyard started and said to Hubert, ‘Yeah, it could be me and you—I can be the Farmer and you can be the Frenchman.’ So that’s kind of how the Farmer and Frenchman name came up. It stuck.”
The Mussats are hands-on owners who live on site, both living and and working there. “Hubert trained the team of chefs to create his family’s Italian recipes, so he can interact with guests,” Katy says.
Katy, says her tagline for Farmer and Frenchman is “Year-round views. Seasonal flavors—it doesn’t matter if it’s spring, summer, fall or winter, you will find some picturesque moment at Farmer and Frenchman,” says Katy.
Food and wine
“We source seasonal local products and our big draw is our wines. I really wanted to support local products, local producers. Those types of products taste better because they are fresher. You get heirloom vegetables, which are more flavorful,”says Katy. “That was important to us. From the beginning we’ve always been using local products and even have our own little kitchen garden.”
Earlier this spring, Farmer and Frenchman had morel (mushroom) specials and as the summer goes on, farming neighbors bring over different vegetables that are in season.
“Our menu started out as a basic pizza, pasta and salad. All of these recipes come from Hubert’s family, on his mother’s and father’s side,” Katy says. “They all happen to be from Italy. He’s the only French person in his family. His culture is definitely French, but his culinary tradition is a little bit more Italian.”
Some of the menu favorites include the salads, which are fresh year-round, as they use locally grown hydroponic salad greens. Their most popular pizza, which is a new recipe, is the Farmer Tommy Pizza, named after her brother-in-law.
Hubert’s favorite dish is chicken scarpariello, which is on the regular menu. “It is a traditional dish created and adapted by my father. It was the first thing my dad taught the kitchen staff. It’s a bone-in-chicken, flash fried in garlic white wine sauce with spicy sausage, kalamata and pepperoncini,” explains Hubert.
Hubert recommends anyone coming to the restaurant try one of the specials “so that they can try something new, and taste items that were hand-picked to showcase the region’s excellent agricultural flavor and terroir.”
The team in the kitchen are always excited to try new recipes says Katy. “We brought in a chef from le Cordon Bleu and Hebert’s father helped teach the kitchen staff, too.”
Katy says, “You’ll see when you come to our place now, our menu as really expanded since June 2016. Also, our daily specials are going to be a little bit more elaborate than the basic menu. We’re having things like Beef Cheek Ragu, and we also do different cuts of steak with French sauces, like Steak Diane (steak with Dijon cream sauce) and Steak Frite (steak with fries). Our fish dishes will have usually a French sauce, like a bleu blanc sauce with it.”
Farmer and Frenchman hosts approximately six wine dinners a year, where they bring in a special chef or wine and beverage expert for guests, but the team also learns from experts outside the area or around the world. For example, Antoine Collet, a French wine expert who works for Tattinger’s Champagne, is scheduled for the June 6 wine dinner.
Guests often comment on the quality of food. “Since we’re on site, we’re really watching the quality control,” Katy says, “and our team members are cognizant of putting their best foot forward, as they want to showcase awesome food.”
Farmer and Frenchman makes and serves sweet wines, which are a big hit says Katy. They have classic dry wines like chardonnay, riesling, merlot and cabernet sauvignon and some special blends. They also serve wines in the cafe from France, California and Oregon.
“We’re really excited to bring new and unusual wines so that people can pair those with our dishes and just try something new when you’re out here,” says Katy.
Community and family
Farmer and Frenchman is a destination.
Katy says she believes the Henderson area neighbors feel invested in helping their restaurant grow. Farmer and Frenchman is a hometown type of place for people to visit, says Katy, but they also have a lot of out of town visitors, especially with the cabins for lodging.
Guests can stay the night in one of three luxury cabins on the farm. They are 100% solar powered with 360 degree views of pristine countryside to offer a serene escape.
“People know they can drive an hour and half or two hours and they are going to be able to stay here overnight. We have regular visitors from Evansville, Owensboro, Madisonville and Webster County. We also have people who are coming from farther places. It’s really exciting that we’re getting people from Louisville and all the way from Indianapolis.”
The 1,800-square-foot event venue is available for weddings and other private events. The totally refurbished tobacco barn, with stunning architectural details and crystal chandeliers, seats up to 170, while the Promenade and Vineyard Lawn can also be rented to host smaller gatherings.
Katy says because Kentucky is always losing tourist dollars with residents going out of town and out of state, it’s exciting to be bringing those agritourism dollars back to Henderson.
They also welcome people who want to visit to take their pictures, such as engagement, high school or prom photos. “People will ask me if there’s a fee for taking pictures and I say, ‘No, we’re happy and honored, as it’s a compliment that you want to come out and take your pictures here. We ask that you always call ahead, however, to ensure that there is not an event going on,” she says.
“Farmer and Frenchman is a family-operated business, with 20 staff members who are like family, because they work and reside in our home,” Katy says. They are also excited to help their team grow and continue their education.”
She says her family’s help and support have been invaluable. “My family helps us a lot with tending to the grapes and working inside the cafe. My mom and stepdad have taken over taking care of the vineyard, because I became too busy taking care of the kids and then taking care of the weddings and special events. My dad helped design and build Farmer and Frenchman. He showed us how to build things, so we did a lot of the building on our own. My stepmom and stepsisters pitch in along the way, whenever we’re shorthanded or doing an event for a wedding.”
“Farmer and Frenchman is about heritage, it’s about family and it’s about keeping that agrarian tradition alive,” says Katy.
12522 Highway 41 South, Robards, KY 42452
The cafe is open Tuesday–Saturday, 12-9 p.m. Reservations are recommended on weekends, (270) 748-1856.
Find information on Farmer and Frenchman wine dinners on their Facebook and Instagram social media channels. Sign up for Farmer and Frenchman’s newsletter to keep up to date on special events and more.