You could feasibly go to the Red Cat Kitchen at Ken ‘n’ Beck every night for dinner and try something new. That’s how often Chef Ben deForest is changing his menu. “I call it Attention-Deficit-Disorder cuisine,” he joked. “It’s an evolution: some things work, some don’t. I believe that’s the way to cook.”
Mr. deForest is the celebrated chef of the original Red Cat in West Tisbury and Balance in Oak Bluffs. He most recently cooked at Zephrus at the Mansion House before taking over the kitchen at Ken ‘n’ Beck.
He got his start in the kitchen thanks to a bet. During the summer of 1988, Mr. deForest was pumping gas at Menemsha Texaco. He had a friend who had to cook dinner once a month in exchange for a room. As his night got closer, the friend complained incessantly until a young Mr. deForest put an end to it. “Stop complaining. I’ll do it.” Though he doesn’t remember what he made that night, thanks to a friend, a chef was born.
While the restaurant is still Ken ‘n’ Beck and the building is owned by longtime proprietors Carol and Tom Ward, the kitchen is very much Mr. deForest’s, hence the new name, Red Cat Kitchen at Ken ‘n’ Beck. Mr. deForest spruced up the décor with larger-than-life paintings by Rez Williams and Traeger di Pietro (Balance fans will recognize some of these) and crafty stained glass collections by Carlos Morales, creating a funky chic atmosphere for enjoying great food and drink.
Mr. deForest is looking to the past for inspiration and guidance. “My finest work was at the original Red Cat,” he said. He’s been flipping through old menus and tinkering with original recipes. And as much as he enjoys changing the menu, Mr. deForest admits that there are a few dishes that he will never get away from. Such as the Island Fresca that he’s been making for more than 16 years: vine ripe tomatoes with corn and basil in a corn broth tipped with reggiano.
He’s also been experimenting with gnocchi. Last week he was using Yukon Gold potatoes and serving those perfect little dumplings with English peas and pecorino Romano, with the option to add bacon. “It’s a nice small place to experiment in,” said Mr. deForest. “And I have the time to do it, to steer a course.”
Recent experiments rendered dishes such as tempura gulf shrimp with cucumber salad and pea shoots; beef tartare served with crunchy bread and horseradish crème; seared sea scallops served on sweet corn risotto; barrel cut N.Y. strip steak with shiitake and red cabbage stir fry, whipped potatoes, and Thai chili.
Appetizers range from $8 to $15, entrees $23 to $32. Snacks and sides include mac and cheese, one hardboiled egg, fried rock shrimp, and a “white trash cheeseburger and fries,” $3 to $14. The chef also creates a “vegetarian showdown,” and he’ll prepare a multi-course tasting menu for the indecisive foodie, $10 per plate.
To wash it all down, check out the fully stocked beer and wine list in addition to fun cocktail concoctions like the huckleberry crop: huckleberries with organic crop vodka, lime, and sugar. For a warm afternoon refresher try the East Coast Lemonade: citron, sprite, sour, lemons, and ice.
The Red Cat Kitchen at Ken ‘N’ Beck is open daily for dinner starting at 5 pm. Call 508-696-6040 for details, visit them on Facebook for food and drink specials, or just pop in at 14 Kennebec Ave., parallel to Circuit Avenue, in Oak Bluffs.
Elio Silva, owner of the Tisbury Farm Market and Vineyard Grocer, is preparing to combine his two stores into one “compact, full-service grocery store” at 412 State Road in Vineyard Haven, in the building that was formerly Island Home Furnishings. But while we await this exciting new business, Mr. Silva is setting up a seasonal farm stand, in the same location, set to open on June 16. Visit vineyardgrocer.com or call 508-696-8914 for more information.