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Sexy scrapple? Chef showcases Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine

Andrew Little

One of Andrew Little's specialties, Schnitz und Knepp (ham, apple and dumpling), is transformed when dumpling is exchanged for whole-grain mustard gnocchi.

Chef Andrew Little shares a job description with an unlikely occupation: Hollywood plastic surgeon. Both use their creativities to make plain things sexy.

Courtesy Andrew Little

Andrew Little is the executive chef at Sheppard Mansion in Hanover, Pa.

With the doctors, it’s budding starlets. With Little, it’s things like scrapple, pickled watermelon rind and root vegetables — dinner-table staples of the famously stoic Pennsylvania Dutch.

“I’m determined that people begin to take a fresh look at this wonderful regional cuisine and begin to consider it sexy,” says Little,  executive chef at Sheppard Mansion in Hanover, Pa.

Little wants to be to Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine what Paul Prudhomme is to Cajun cuisine. On Nov. 13, he is hosting a cooking class intent on sharing his passion for offbeat twists on common dishes such as pork and sauerkraut or chicken and dumplings that many foodies have written off as pedestrian. Cost is $45.

“The challenge is to take dishes and interpret them in ways that make them feel at home in a fine dining restaurant,” Little says. “It’s familiar food done in a refined way.”

Food critics are noticing. The Washington Post says Sheppard Mansion “struck gold” when owners and sisters Kathryn Sheppard Hoar and Heather Sheppard Lunn in 2006 hired Little and asked him to transform an already charming B&B into a destination dining experience.

Little says his aim is to take something truly familiar and reintroduce it. He and his staff cull family recipes, some dating back more than 100 years, and break them down the way skilled mechanics do vintage automobiles before they can really rev up the engine.

“We need to understand the rules of the original dish before we can break them,” he says. “Some of these recipes come with measurements that say, ‘half egg shell of vinegar.’”

So shoo-fly pie, a popular Pennsylvania Dutch dish of barely set molasses base, not unlike a custard and crumb topping, is re-imagined as an ice cream float.

A dish called Schnitz un Knepp (ham, apple and dumpling) is transformed when dumpling is exchanged for whole grain mustard gnocchi, and rabbit does a tasty tango with pieces of minced country ham.

“He’ll call me about one of our old family recipes and then take it and put his own creative spin on it,” says his mother, Sue Steigerwalt Little, who says her son gets his creative bent from her husband, Jim.

“Growing up, I hated the beef tongue my father loved,” she says. “Andrew served me some on a brioche with caramelized onions and truffle jus without telling me what it was. It was delicious!”

Rob Mayer, spokesperson for the York County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau says Sheppard Mansion gives tourists a truly fresh reason to visit.

“People from all over enjoy going to our area farm markets to get authentic Pennsylvania Dutch foods,” he says. “Now they’re realizing that some of the best meals are cooked and served right here, too.”

Andrew Little

Chef Andrew Little puts his own twist on Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. Pictured are sauerkraut balls.

Andrew Little

Creamed chicken and waffles is a dish at Sheppard Mansion.

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Chris Rodell is a Latrobe, Pa., contributor who blogs at www.EightDaysToAmish.com.