Chefs start new adventures and come together for a good cause
Photo courtesy of Aaron Oster
This past Tuesday, April 9 was the Island Grown School's Spring Feast at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS).
Kaila Binney, Island Grown School's high school coordinator, began organizing these dinners, held twice a year, as a way to fund and promote the high school garden. Her goal is to make it a self-sustaining project that the school can continue. Funds raised from the first dinner bought soil and materials for raised beds. The next brought in fruit and berry trees.
"Every dinner pushes us a step forward," said Ms. Binney. "This is a perfect fit and collaboration engaging high school students with local food."
Before the dinner, guests enjoyed music by the MVRHS string quartet while eating hors d'oeuvres.
The three-course dinner was a collaboration of chefs Chris Fischer, Aaron and Alexandra Oster, high school culinary arts teacher Jack O'Malley, and high school culinary arts students. This was Mr. Fischer's third dinner partnered with Island Grown Schools and the high school culinary arts department.
"I signed up because I like to support the school garden," said Mr. Fischer. "It gives the kids an opportunity to learn how to grow food, and every time we do it we get them a little more money."
This was the Osters first dinner helping in the kitchen, but they attended a dinner last fall. "We really believe in the whole program that Kaila is running," Mr. Oster said.
The culinary students were treated to a variety of unusual ingredients. "We really wanted to push the boundaries to what will be on the plate, to try to give exposure to techniques and procedures," Mr. Oster continued. Students were taught the basics of charcuterie, as well as how to make homemade bread and pasta. The menu featured as much from the Island as possible: shellfish from Stanley Larsen at Menemsha Fish Market, lamb from Allen Farm, greens from North Tabor Farm, and eggs from around the Island.
Mr. Oster characterized the menu as comprising of "off-kilter foods," influenced by spring on the Island, foods that are considered "throw-away" such as seaweed and lamb hearts. "Most people feed them to the dogs," he said, referencing the lamb hearts that were transformed into a beautiful salad.
"We try to keep the food cost at zero or as low as we can," Mr. Fischer said. "We use what's available. We look where we can go glean, we took a trip to Stanley Larsen's and he gave us mussels that he harvested from Menemsha pond." Both chefs celebrate nose-to-tail and farm-to-table cooking philosophies, sourcing as much local food as possible and repurposing and re-imagining ingredients into refined dishes.
"Aaron is so knowledgeable," Mr. Fischer said. "He thought to use egg yolks for pasta and egg whites for Pavlova." Pavlova, a traditional Australian dessert made from meringue, was a finishing touch made by Ms. Oster, a native of Australia.
"I've been so grateful to Chris and Aaron for all the time and energy they gave sourcing the food and teaching the students where the food comes from," Ms. Binney said. "It's great to have these younger chefs on board that are real role models to these students." Ms. Binney also commends Mr. O'Malley for taking the time to be part of this collaboration. His children were also on hand to help serve and clean.
Both new and old faces attended the dinner, keeping this unique tradition alive. "Every year we need more soil and money for seeds," Ms. Binney said. "We are always looking for ways to expand the garden: there is plenty of room for growth."
So far, the feedback about the garden has been extremely positive. "The garden is shifting people's mindsets," Ms. Binney said. "It's a really uplifting element of the school, and it's wonderful that we have all these people supporting it. We'll see how it grows from here."
Beach Plum Inn
Chris Fischer is taking over the reins in the kitchen at the Beach Plum Inn in Chilmark. Right now he is busy giving the dining room a facelift, renovating the outdated space that overlooks Menemsha, and building a chicken coop on the property. He is also managing his family farm, Beetlebung Farm, where he hopes to grow as much food for the restaurant as possible.
Mr. Fischer's background in Italian and new American food will shape the menu, sourcing local produce as well as seafood.
"I want to take care in finding high-quality products and have fun with it," he said. Dishes will be simple and straightforward, stemming from his previous experience working with chefs Mario Batali and Alice Waters.
The Beach Plum Inn will open on Friday, May 3. Visit beachpluminn.com or call 508-645-9454 for more information.
The Port Hunter
Aaron Oster and his wife Alexandra moved to the Vineyard almost a year ago from New York City, after they came to the Island for a wedding and fell in love with it.
This is Mr. Oster's first season at The Port Hunter in Edgartown, which opened last year. He previously worked with Jan Burhman at Kitchen Porch. This is Ms. Oster's second season with the restaurant. "My wife was responsible for the amazing ice cream sandwiches last year," Mr. Oster said.
This season, The Port Hunter will re-identify itself as a seafood restaurant. "We will be pushing 'trash fish' such as whole grilled scup and conch croquettes," said Mr. Oster. Trash, or "rouge fish," describes fish that is less desirable and less commonly eaten. "We want to use seafood that is exclusive to these waters, and highlight what's here on the Island," he continued. You will most likely see bluefish, ocean perch, and tautog replacing the usual suspects from the sea.
In addition to the bounty from the ocean, Mr. Oster will focus on utilizing as much of animals' bodies as possible. He praises local chefs that have been committed to this philosophy, including Chris Fischer, Kevin Crowell of Détente in Edgartown, and Shaun Sells of the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown.
Mr. Oster has high hopes for the season. "The Courtneys [Port Hunter owners Patrick and Ted] are young, excited, and invigorated owners that want to do something great on the Island," he said. Chef Jeremy Davis will also return.
The Port Hunter will open on May 15 for dinner and in the middle of June for lunch. They will continue to have live music on Monday nights as well as an expanded menu.
Slow Food Martha's Vineyard
This Thursday, April 11, meet Mr. Oster, the new president of Slow Food M.V., at the Ag Hall in West Tisbury for a potluck dinner starting at 6 pm. Create a dish to share for six people, including a local ingredient if possible. Bring your own place settings and drinks: this is a zero-waste event. The night will feature board members speaking on why Slow Food is important to them. For more information, visit slowfoodmarthasvineyard.org.