Ananyms are words that spell a different word when reversed, hence the name Natirar. Spelling the word Raritan and then applying the definition you can see how one of the premier properties in New Jersey, and soon the world, got its name. Natirar has, for as long as I can remember, intrigued me for its history and vacancy. A property located in Peapack-Gladstone, Far Hills and Bedminster, New Jersey has its heritage dating back some 100 years and originally covered over 1000 acres. Kate Macy and Walter Ladd began acquiring small, local farmsteads in the late 1800’s. Macy, a Quaker heiress to a whaling, oil and shipping fortune and Ladd whose professional occupation was later listed as an insurance broker named their property Natirar and had Guy Lowell, a Harvard architect, design a Tudor-style mansion deep within the property’s belly. The estate includes some 22 buildings, six wells, 3 bridges, NJ transit right-of-way, 3 streams, a pond, woodlands and, of course, the 33,000 square foot mansion. I can remember as a young adult pulling over on the side of the road wondering who lived there and admiring the vast property with all those glorious trees.
Fast forward to present day, I suppose I have Sir Richard Branson to thank for my admittance. After Kate Macy’s death, her legacy of helping ladies in distress, was carried on by her husband and in 1983 the property was sold and the convalescent home for “deserving gentlewomen who are compelled to depend upon their own exertions for support shall be entertained without charge…” was no more. It was sold to His Majesty; King Hassan II of Morocco for a mere 7.5 million dollars and for the next 20 years was owned by the King who never spent a night there. Upon his death, his son, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, inherited the property and eventually sold the 491-acre estate to the Somerset County Park Commission for 22 million dollars. Recently, approximately 90 acres of the property has been leased to the Virgin Spa at Natirar, an entity controlled by Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group. Plans to develop this portion of the property include the mansion, stable/carriage barn as well as the outer buildings. An exclusive hotel, spa and restaurant complex are all in the works. It is here that Sir Richard Branson has given me my passport to the property.
A few months back Natirar opened its doors, so to speak, and the first phase of the project was underway. Ninety Acres is an extraordinary restaurant where organic, sustainable gardening is at the forefront. A collaborative effort between Sterling College, a liberal arts college specializing in Sustainable Agriculture and Conservation Ecology in Craftsbury Common, Vermont and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, NJAES, both units of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey have teamed up to help this farming model. Kudos should also be given to Robert Wojtowicz, Natirar’s founder who was introduced to William Wootton, the president of Sterling College and Robert Goodman, executive dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Rutgers and executive director at NJAES.
The drive up to the restaurant has you wind slowly through a cow pasture past some magnificent old trees hugging a shallow, but rocky riverbed. This all gives way to some stone cottages and a glimpse of the mansion before you get to Ninety Acres. The outside of the restaurant has very deliberate raised beds filled with fresh herbs that you will most certainly experience on the menu. Geometric forms lay inside pea gravel complete with obelisks supporting the more aggressive culinary treats. All this is held within the confines of an elegant and stately boxwood perimeter. Smack dab in the middle of all this, just before you enter the front door, is a Ginkgo tree. Good call!! Chef David Felton is determined to bring you the freshest, natural ingredients. Surrounded by its own organic farm and gardens, our dinner party sat inside a private room, walled with glass overlooking the farm. Katy’s arugula, Oak Grove brussel sprouts, Paradise Hill heirloom cranberries, Natirar’s Berkshire pigs, Griggstown pheasants and Davidson bluefoot mushrooms are just a few of the morsels you may encounter.
With thought given to preserve the area as part of the greenway and understanding Sir Richard Branson’s thoughts when he decided to start his airline, “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them… from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it” we can all appreciate a bit of history while sampling some extraordinary cuisine.