Has local, from scratch food always been your mentality, or is it something you grew into?
I have always wanted to cook locally and from scratch as much as possible. It makes the most sense to me and feels like my responsibility. My eyes were really opened when I started cooking at New Rivers in 2000. I joined the preeminent restaurant in Rhode Island that was sourcing local and sustainable, a real trailblazer. That was my light bulb, my a-ha moment. Everything I had always read about, I started living every day.
Tell me about foraging.
Foraging has been an important part not only of my professional life, but also of my personal life. It’s a chance to connect with nature, escape the kitchen and stretch the legs. It feels primal and rewarding to be out in the woods in the morning to pick something and serve it to a guest that evening. It gives our menu and food a sense of place and time.
My favorite things to hunt for are all types of mushrooms. Seasonally, certain mushrooms can be expected to appear almost the same exact day, year to year. I also do a lot of wild greens, roots and herbs, all year round. Coastal and aquatic foraging – seaweeds, shellfish, beach and coastal plants – is something I’ve dabbled in and am learning more about. Rhode Island has a ton to offer. We have so many different habitats right in this tiny landmass. There’s a good variety and lots of undeveloped land to explore.
How did you first learn how to forage?
Eva Sommaripa from Eva’s Garden in South Dartmouth (a leading grower of herbs, greens and vegetables) generously took me on walks on her land, where she showed me wild greens, herbs and roots. As far as mushrooms go, I have participated in many guided walks and have a few pals at the Boston Mycological Club. I own many guide books, but I tend to stick to the 20-25 varieties of mushrooms that I am absolutely sure about.
What’s your philosophy about what’s often called “nose-to-tail” dining, using all parts of the animal?
We offer a pretty extensive charcuterie (hams, sausages, patês, etc.) and offal (organ meats) menu at the restaurant, which uses local meats. We feel it would be wasteful and disrespectful if we didn’t use the often-overlooked parts of an animal. We don’t want to simply cherry pick the tenderloin and rib sections of an animal. While we love those parts as much as anyone, there are so many other parts that are frankly more exciting and challenging to cook. It takes some skill and patience to coax the beauty out of pig trotter or beef heart, but the beauty is there. We like to showcase the parts of the animal that people may have never tried before. There are flavors and textures in these parts that are really exciting.
What have you been making for charcuterie lately? What techniques do you use?
We have been expanding from the traditional pig-based charcuterie to a pretty wide range of animals including rabbit, guinea fowl, pheasant, fish, ducks, goat and chicken. We always try to balance the charcuterie/offal menu: some dry cured, some smoked, some cooked/pressed, some confit, some sausage. With all the new techniques and equipment out there these days, it is even more important to us to continue the traditional foodways and old school techniques.
It seems like a lot of Providence chefs are friends. Do you think that's unique to Providence?
There is certainly a group of seven or eight of us that are close and supportive of one another. You’d think since we run and own restaurants we would be competitive, but we’re not at all. We share info on new farmers, new dishes. I think this is unique to Providence – it seems like other cities have more competition. When one of us does something cool or gets great press, it's good for all of us – and for Providence. We're all in our mid-'30s,and we have similar ideologies, but different styles when it comes to food and restaurants, which is awesome.
Where do you like to travel for culinary explorations?
Several Providence chefs take an annual Montreal trip in late winter. We go up north and eat and drink for three days straight. We hit Au Pied de Cochon for their once-a-year brunch throw-down – they kill you with food and beer. Among other restaurants, Schwartz’s Deli is a must for their ridiculous platters of smoked meat, fries and pickles. The trip is filled with copious amounts of Quebecois charcuterie, cheese and whatever else we find as we comb the city’s markets, farm stands, etc. It is truly a blast.