Posts Tagged ‘Locally Sourced Foods’

La Laiterie: Three Reasons to Dine at a Restaurant Operated by a Rising Star

Posted 19 Jul 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends

  

La Laiterie Bistro Dining Room

One of my favorite ways to experience great food is by visiting a restaurant owned by a chef whose reputation is on the rise. Matt Jennings, owner of La Laiterie and Farmstead in Providence, Rhode Island is such a chef. Jennings exhibits the three traits common among up-and-coming culinary talent; he is relentless when it comes to quality, extremely innovative, and present rather than absent on most nights at his restaurant (although he is known for hiring talent behind the stove to handle daily operations). You might think these traits are common at all great restaurants but this isn’t always the case.

Chef Matt Jennings and Chef Daniel Bolud outside the South Portico of the White House

When I first met Matt Jennings he was preparing food for a private catered event in Providence. His sleeve of tattoos reminded me of Jesse James, his size of Fernand Point. And like Point in his day, Jennings’ commitment to quality is relentless. The cheeses and salumi he served were impeccably sourced and he knew every detail about each one. He radiated emotion when speaking about certain items and explained how he was experimenting with raising his own Berkshire hogs to assure a level of consistency and quality for house-made salumi and sausage at La Laiterie. Jennings showed the same passion and commitment when I caught up with him on the south lawn of the Whitehouse in the fall of 2010. As I listened to him last October I imagined Jennings’ mind moving a mile-a-minute as he contemplates new sources and resources for food and ingredients in keeping with his mantra of honest, seasonal, handmade food. A chef who is on the rise never relaxes when it comes to ingredients and quality nor does he or she fail to produce food that is unique and innovative. Such a commitment is enduring.

 

Roasted Beet Salad, Sorrel, Pickled Beet Puree, Marcona Almonds

Innovation, in the broadest sense, means to modify something for the better; to renew or change. Jennings is one of the first chefs in Southern New England to innovate procurement of ingredients and to focus on sustainability. He and his wife and fellow chef Kate make sustainably sourced ingredients and quality a focal point at La Laiterie and have since it opened in 2006. As the restaurant has matured, the menu has evolved along with the artisan level ingredients used to produce each item. Although artisan sourcing and sustainability are not uncommon today, these practices were uncommon back in 2006 when Kate and Matt got their start. Their innovative sourcing practices have influenced a wide pool of culinary peers, this is something I really like. Another reason I like Jennings  is that he is consistently present.

 

Chestnut Trofie, Pumpkin Puree, Tallegio, Juniper, Crispy Garlic

Over the past year I have dined at more than two dozen nationally ranked restaurants where the executive chef was absent due to other commitments. What could be more important than supervising his or her own cuisine? Although I completely understand the expanded demands placed on a chef once the full attention of the public and the press is drawn it’s still disappointing to dine in a well know restaurant when the chef is absent.  Whenever I visit La Laiterie or Farmstead in Providence, Matt Jennings is there.

 

Arctic Char, Smoked Ham Broth, Autumn Vegetables, Chicarones, Manchego Cream, Shellfish

Jennings is representative of one of my favorite culinary communities, the growing number of rising star chefs in the U.S. If you visit a rising star it is likely you will discover each of the three reasons I list to be true. One way to find rising talent that is just emerging onto the national scene is to keep track of the chefs that populate the annual list of James Beard Award nominees published each March. Jennings earned a nomination this past March (2011) and I suspect he will eventually win a regional James Beard Award. Knowing Jennings, such an award will not change his approach to culinary arts, but there is always a risk.

Farmstead Counter

Three Reasons to Dine at a Restaurant Operated by a Rising Star Chef:

1)     A rising star chef relentlessly pursues quality because s/he burns with the desire to become a member of the community of varsity chefs in the U.S. as a matter of pride, professionalism, and accomplishment

2)     A rising star chef is innovative as a means for differentiating his/her self and as a strategy to uniquely satisfy the
ever-changing cravings of a public that is obsessed with food

3)     A rising star chef is consistently present rather than absent out of financial necessity and personal concern and commitment

 

La Laiterie Bistro

 184-188 Wayland Avenue

Providence, RI 02906

401-274-7177

Sidney St. Cafe, St. Louis

Posted 16 May 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service

Sidney St. Café chef-owner Kevin Nashan is passionate about culinary arts. He’s a professional culinary athlete who has the endurance and drive to survive the long hard hours it takes to achieve greatness; his work ethic is legendary. While on a tour of the café, chef Nashan proudly shows me his charcuterie aging room (a small humidity controlled custom room in the basement of the restaurant), fresh pates and terrines (classically made), and smoked products. We are out the back door of the kitchen in a flash and across the street to see the massive urban garden in the adjacent parking lot. Chef Nashan shows me the range of vegetables and herbs planted in neatly tilled mounds of soil, each tended by a designated member of the kitchen crew.

Back in the kitchen Nashan explains his drive to serve fresh local foods and to employ simple cooking methods with some modernist techniques mixed in. He also has a penchant for making as many things as possible from scratch. This isn’t unusual but the types of foods he makes from scratch including salumi, terrines, sausages, pretzel bread, and condiments remind me of the old school items I used to see in commercial kitchens back in the early 1980s. Few contemporary chefs of Nasan’s age (he appears to be in his 30’s) in smaller cities like St. Louis have the courage or expertise to take on scratch preparation of these types of items. Chef Nashan is a young chef with an old-school streak down his back and the unusual ability to balance classical and contemporary techniques with equal expertise and effect. His cuisine would hold up in any major metropolitan market including cities four times the size of St. Louis. Back in February the James Beard Foundation acknowledged Nashan’s talents by nominating him for the “Best Chef: Midwest” award for 2011 (Nashan didn’t win this year).

Chef Nashan is back in the kitchen now and I am sitting at the very end of the beautiful antique oak bar that dominates the front of the restaurant. The bartender and I begin to chat as she hustles to fill orders. She tells me that she has been with the restaurant for years having bartended for the previous owners. She loves how quickly the restaurant has evolved in recent years and the great attention Nashan has brought to the Benton Park neighborhood of St. Louis along with others including chef Gerard Craft of Niche located half a mile further up Sidney St. Although Craft’s food is outstanding, Nashan’s style is much more robust and craftsman-like in a St. Louis sort of way and just the type of food to draw local as well as national attention.

I am glowing with inspiration now so I order a seven-course tasting menu and sit back to enjoy the experience. My bartender gives me a refill and chef Nashan stops by again as he makes his rounds through the bar and packed dining room. As he heads back to the kitchen I am reminded once again that I just met another American chef working his heart out while living the dream. What a beautiful thing. 

Sidney St. Café Charcuterie Board with Pickled Cabbage and Pretzel Bread

 

Pork Belly with Flageolets and Bacon Powder

 

Seared Sweetbreads with Wilted Greens

 

Compressed Melon Salad

 

Sautéed Escolar with Pickled Vegetables and Pappardelle

 

Pomegranate Martini Sorbet

 

Roast Missouri Lamb Chop, Lamb Crepinette, Cassoulet with Fresh Sausage, Polenta

 

Whoopee Pie with Salted Caramel Ice Cream

  

Sidney St. Café

2000 Sidney Street

St. Louis, MO

314-771-5777

 

Four Ingredients

Posted 26 Aug 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home

  

It is rare that I talk about foods that I prepare myself on this blog. However, tonight I ate a tomato that inspired me. While poking around outside my back door I discovered and harvested a beautiful ripe red heirloom tomato from the small patch of vegetables I tend. I was drawn to it by the fragrant aroma radiating from the group of tomato plants on this side of the garden. The smell and taste of fresh home-grown tomatoes are two of a handful of sensory experiences that define summer for me.

As summer begins its gradual transition toward shorter days and the autumnal equinox moves closer, I stop taking my fresh tomato supply for granted. By the time our first frost arrives I often have several dozen green tomatoes that have no hope of ripening on the vine. These are tomatoes with the best of intentions that will never reach their prime. Thoughts about the fading days of late August and the end of summer flash through my head as I carefully pluck the tomato from its stem with a heightened level of appreciation.

The lucky specimen I select is a plump, globe shaped Ceylon tomato although this Ceylon doesn’t look like the others I have grown in the past. It’s perfect round shape and lack of pronounced ribs cause me to wonder if this plant was an actual Ceylon or some other varietal. However, when I rinse, cut, and taste the tomato it is perfectly sweet with slight acid and good bite much like a typical Ceylon. Perhaps this is the real thing.

 

Across from my tomatoes, there’s an out-of-control group of broad leaf Genovese basil plants. They are full and healthy with perfect shaped shiny leaves and a deep and sweet aroma. I snip off a handful of leaves and bring them in to my sink for a rinse. After gently patting them dry, I roll and roughly chiffonade the leaves and toss them in the bowl with the tomatoes, a rough teaspoon of sea salt, and several grinds of fresh black pepper.

Four ingredients, that’s it. Four ingredients that when combined define summer and, after one bite, provide an unrivaled flavor experience.