Michael Foust

Chef Michael Foust is reimagining the dining experience at Powell Gardens.

For the past seven years, chef Michael Foust, owner of Black Sheep + Market, has worked in some capacity with Powell Gardens, hosting dinners and participating in events designed to support and educate people about the Heartland Harvest Garden, one of the nation's premier edible gardens.

This year, Powell Gardens has decided to close its 50-seat on-site restaurant for the rest of 2020 and is working with Foust to replace it with a creative new dining model that will begin sometime in June. The new dining experience will serve delicious dishes made with produce directly from their gardens.

“Working with Powell Gardens all of these years, I have been able to see the food chain from seed to plate working with the seasonal produce from the Heartland Harvest Garden,” says Foust. “This year they asked me to reimagine what the dining experience could look like at Powell Garden when the 175-acre property becomes the dining room.”

The gardens are now open to the general public with new COVID-19 safety measures in place, including capacity restrictions, contactless timed tickets and one-way paths through the gardens themselves.

When the new food program rolls out, visitors will be allowed to reserve gourmet picnics on special occasions, order from Foust’s 35-foot food truck – a 1953 Spartan RV made from aircraft metal fondly known as “Ethel” – and pick up grab-and-go options to take with them to enjoy across the property.

Foust recently flipped Black Sheep into a community kitchen to help feed the hungry in Kansas City during the COVID-19 crisis. He plans to continue to operate his restaurant as a community kitchen until the seating restrictions ease to allow for more guests to dine in.

“The need is there so we will continue to feed our neighbors right now,” he says. “We’ll continue to do that work until it makes more financial sense to reopen the restaurant and market.”

In the meantime, Foust has scoured every inch of Powell Gardens, mapping out the most scenic areas to identify where he would someday like to create custom dining experiences for his guests.

“I can imagine a future dining experience at Powell Gardens where a couple could book a romantic table for two for dinner overlooking the water in the gardens,” explains Foust. “We also have an old Boy Scout cabin on the property with a fire pit that perhaps people could one day reserve to cook locally made sausages over the open flame, with condiments and sides made from produce in our Heartland Harvest Gardens – really, anything is possible.”

This kind of culinary creativity is what Powell Gardens continues to look to Foust to provide as it maps its path forward.

“Throughout this challenging period, we have remained focused on serving our community,” says Tabitha Schmidt, Powell Gardens CEO and president. “Not only by providing increased digital access to the Gardens while under stay-at-home orders, but by looking ahead to what the visitor experience could be once those orders were lifted. We know that nature and the outdoors play a crucial role in our wellbeing and that as a public garden, we can help fill this need. We set a course to adapt and innovate in order to offer the safe, restorative, and joyful experiences that we all need this summer.”

Powell Gardens is now open Wednesday through Sunday only from 10am to 6pm to ensure the custodial staff has time to execute increased sanitation procedures.

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to clarify that chef Michael Foust has worked with Powell Gardens for years, but did not previously run the café at the gardens.

Powell Gardens, 1609 US-50, Kingsville, Missouri, 816.697.2600, powellgardens.org