Adam VanDonge loves to listen to Mozart, Sinatra, and Beethoven as he puts his culinary school and country club training to work preparing entrees as pleasing to the eyes as they are to the palette.
The chef and owner of The White Linen, Topeka’s newest fine dining establishment, grew up on a farm in Soldier where he did chores and tended the family’s vegetable garden.
“My grandmother canned apples, peaches, pears and other things,” he said. “She made huge meals from scratch. At a young age, the importance of fresh food as an expression of love and nourishment was embedded on my heart and soul.”
After working in restaurants in other communities, VanDonge returned to Holton and opened an upscale sandwich shop featuring five unconventional but equally scrumptious daily options—chicken and waffles, ham with sweet potato puree and marshmallow cream—along with five soups and salads. In the back room, he periodically offered sold-out seven-course dinners with unusual offerings like bone marrow and mussels through his Drum Room enterprise.
A fan of farmers’ markets “and anything fresh,” VanDonge has scallops, halibut and other fish flown in for The White Linen’s rotating monthly menu. He also revels in experimenting and discovering new things he can incorporate into his menu like watermelon radishes with bright pink centers.
VanDonge has a no-waste policy so radishes, carrot peels, leek tops and the leaves of brussels sprouts are dehydrated and made into seasoning powders. Having realized his lifelong dream to open his own gourmet restaurant, VanDonge’s focus on fresh food prepared with unexpected flourishes is just one facet of his role. He wants to not only elevate the ambience of sharing an exquisite meal with family and friends in the unique setting of the historic Columbian building at 112 S. Sixth Ave. but also to expose diners to selections and spices they might not have encountered before.
“In December, we offered an 8 ounce filet as an entrée, and I had black truffles from Italy flown in from my supplier in New York,” he said. “I shaved the truffles on the steaks right at the table. Most of the people dining that night had never tasted truffles, so that prompted a conversation.” As a child, VanDonge and his brother often shot rabbits that their father would fry in a skillet on the stove. VanDonge’s grown-up take is to braise the childhood favorite “with garlic, white wine and onions so that the meat falls off the bone.”
“When you’re raised on a farm, you appreciate where food comes from,” he said. “You understand when you’re picking strawberries by hand how delicate they are and appreciate how hard they are to grow. People have become accustomed to eating processed food instead of fresh food, and my goal is to show them what they’ve been missing.”
The White Linen is open Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations are required.