Chef's story

Craig Decker is the chef behind Edgartown's Alchemy. —Photo by Michael Cummo

The Island has many top-of-the-line restaurants and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these culinary wonders and present our findings in a weekly series.

Craig Decker, like many Island chefs, is a washashore. Unlike many, though, it didn’t take him several summers of bussing tables or working the prep line to decide that his fate was destined to be cooking on Martha’s Vineyard. Two weeks was enough to convince him to relocate. Now, as the executive chef at the highly regarded Alchemy, he’s contentedly settled on Vineyard shores with his wife and two children.

How did you come to be on the Island?

I came out to visit a friend from college in 1998 and fell in love with the place. I went back home and put my two weeks’ notice in and came back out. My first job was at Lattanzi’s. I actually spoke to someone there while I was visiting my friend. There was a position open.

How and when did you start cooking?

I was probably 15 or 16 for my first restaurant job. I was a busboy, dishwasher, prep cook for a diner at home in upstate New York. I worked at a couple of different places and realized that this was something I really wanted to do. I went to culinary school at CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and (worked at) a couple of restaurants in Napa Valley and Palm Beach, Fla.

How did you come to be at Alchemy?

I had worked as a line cook at Alchemy for three seasons. In the middle of August of 2000, I was fresh out of culinary school with no job. I knew the chef, Mike Presnel, who was also the chef at Savoir Faire. I had just graduated culinary school and happened to see Anthony Carestia on the street. He was a cook at the time and is now actually part owner of Alchemy. He told me I should come in and talk to Mike about a job. Anthony got me the job and we’re still together.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

I really haven’t had one. I’m knocking on wood right now. I’ve witnessed a couple, but I’m still leaving that option open.

What meal of yours was part of an important event?

I did something for my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. A lot of family and friends were there and it was really a special day. It was probably one of the most memorable cooking experiences I’ve ever had. When family and friends come together and celebrate two people who have been together for such a long time, a lot of love goes into the food and it really reflects everybody’s feelings towards the day.

What is the single best bite you’ve eaten in the past week?

On my day off I made homemade chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. That’s a big staple around our household starting now when the weather turns. My wife made roast chicken the night before and I told her to save me the bones. I made a stock overnight and then the next morning got up and made soup. By the time the kids got out of school it was ready. I don’t get an opportunity too much to eat with my family, so that’s what makes it a great bite.

What’s the favorite thing you cook for your wife and kids?

I would have to say the biggest hit is spaghetti and meatballs. I make it the same way my grandmother used to make it. I remember when I would come home from school there would be a big pot of spaghetti with the meatballs already in it and the bread right next to the stove. I would come home and immediately start tearing the bread up and dipping it into the sauce and maybe scoop out a meatball or two.

Who is your cooking hero?

My grandmother.

What is your favorite dish on your menu?

I would have to say it’s a play on chowder ingredients: braised pork belly with a salt cod and potato croquette. That’s served over creamed leeks and corn. All the ingredients that are usually represented in chowder but prepared in a different way.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Shallots, duck fat, Reggiano Parmesan, Maldon sea salt, and bacon.

Your favorite kitchen tool?

I would say that would be my gnocchi paddle. Pasta making is very near and dear to my heart. I try to make the most perfect noodles, or raviolis, or dumplings I can make.

Using local Vineyard produce, fish, game, etc., describe the perfect M.V. feast.

Now we’re almost coming up to the bay scallop season. Last year or maybe the year before, it was probably around Thanksgiving, we had the family over. We got a bunch of scallops. We had them every which way. We had them raw. We seared a couple with olive oil – real simple. And I think we made pasta with it and served it in that. It was just a long feast of scallops.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

In summertime, going up to Menemsha, getting some chowder and steamed lobster and sitting on the beach. Having the kids play in the water and my wife and I just sunning on the beach. Now with the kids in school, I would play golf in the morning and have a big dinner at home.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you have your second restaurant?

I would probably say the Hudson Valley region in New York. I worked in Napa and there and both are about food and wines and farms and fresh ingredients — everything local. But being someone who grew up in New York and witnessing the seasonal changes, everything is so wonderful there.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?

I don’t know. I was starting out be a pharmacist. I worked through school at restaurants and when I graduated I decided that I knew this was something I was always going to do. The irony, too, is that my grandfather was a pharmacist. He also was a restaurateur. He had a summer drive-in milkshake and burger and ice cream place. He did that in the summers, but also was a pharmacist as well.

What is your “prepping music list” the stuff you listen to when you’re alone in the kitchen and no one’s around to hear?

It would probably be 80’s punk music. The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, or Social Distortion. Now you know my darkest secret.

 

Jeremy Davis, executive chef at The Port Hunter in Edgartown, made silverside baitfish tacos during the Wild Food Challenge this past Monday. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these epicurean wonders, and is presenting its findings in a weekly series.

Jeremy Davis arrived on Island five years ago after a long history of cooking in private clubs across the country. A proponent of the farm-to-plate movement, Jeremy enjoys the privilege of meeting and conversing with the direct providers of his ingredients. He will be discussing the Farm to Plate experience with farmer Lily Walter and chef Jan Burhman at the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival, Saturday, October 18, at 12 pm at The Port Hunter. For more information, visit mvfoodandwine.com.

How did you come to be on the Island?

I took the ferry. I heard the place was a real fantasy.

How and when did you start cooking?

When I was 14 years old. It was a little restaurant in Daytona Beach, Florida. Cooking is pretty much the only industry I’ve been interested in. I’ve been doing it as long as I’ve had a job. I just always loved food. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s science, it’s art, it’s history. It’s something you create in your hands and people ingest in their bodies. It’s pretty neat all the way around.

How did you come to be at The Port Hunter?

There was a brand-new restaurant opening up and I just applied to be on the kitchen team. I got hired (as a line cook). That was three years ago. A little while later I moved up to head chef.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

I’ve burnt a lot of bread in my day.

Do you have a dish or a meal that you cooked for something really special?

I cooked a really nice staff party meal for The Red Cat in Oak Bluffs. That night I actually roasted a whole pig and brought it out in the middle of the dining room during dinner service. I put it on the table and fed them fresh pulled-pork tacos. The restaurant was kind of shocked when I brought it out and dropped it on the table. I just kind of peeled back the skin and they took tongs and pulled the pork into some grilled tortilla shells I had. It was a really cool experience.

Favorite dish on your menu?

The vegetable. You get a choice of rice or quinoa. It comes with a black bean ragout, roasted vegetables, and sweet potato hash. You can add an egg or ricotta cheese or tofu. So it’s like a playful dish that the customer can build in their own way. It’s a little different and a vegetarian dish that you can add meat to if you’d like to.

What’s the best single bite you ate in the last week?

Probably the Cuban sandwich from 7a in West Tisbury. That’s probably the best thing I’ve had in a long time.

What do you cook for a romantic evening at home?

I think the most romantic dish is dessert — a little more romantic than actual dinner. I would make cinnamon roll French toast with some fresh berries and whipped cream and maple syrup. I would have that with some champagne and a splash of orange juice.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Fresh fish, fresh veggies, fresh cheese, fresh herbs, and curry.

Do you have a favorite kitchen tool?

My knife. It’s a Japanese Shun knife.

What songs do you listen to when you’ve got the kitchen to yourself or don’t care who hears?

My playlist is every different genre you can think of. Every different sound. I don’t have a preference. I love music. I usually just like to listen to whatever the other guys are prepping to.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

I don’t usually get a day off, but some good time off is if it’s slightly gloomy, rainy, I go out to eat in different restaurants. There are a lot of good chefs on the Island.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

Thailand. I love their cuisine. It’s bright, flavorful, it’s crunchy, it’s fresh. Their flavors are far more extreme than any other.

Judy Klumick of Black Sheep will host a "Rock Star Adventure of Cheese, Charcuterie and Wine" at Black Sheep for the MV Food and Wine Festival. —Courtesy Judy Klumick

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these epicurean wonders, and is presenting its findings in a weekly series. Judy Klumick will be part of this year’s “A Rock Star Adventure with Cheese, Charcuterie, and Wine, ” seminar at the M.V. Food and Wine Festival on Saturday, October 18. For more information, visit mvfoodandwine.com.

Judy Klumick’s relationship with cooking didn’t begin as a fiery barbecue that singes the outside and leaves the insides just cooked. It was more like a slow, careful braise that heats all the way through to the heart. After 30-some-odd years, the affair is still going strong. After developing the food selection at Morning Glory Farm for 12 years, she’s landed at Black Sheep: a combination fromagerie, charcuterie, and restaurant on Main Street in Edgartown.  With this new spark in the romance, she’s bringing the lowly pizza and mac and cheese to great new heights.

How did you come to be on the Island?

Martha’s Vineyard via Vermont. We [she and husband Jack Klumick] sold our restaurant in Vermont and my husband interviewed with Jim Moore at the Kelley House for a manager job at The Newes from America pub. He went over and within a month I packed up the house and moved here. That was in 1997.

How and when did you start cooking?

I started cooking out of necessity when I was probably 16. Just being the youngest of eight, mealtime was always kind of a hassle at home. I cooked for myself a lot. I found that I really enjoyed the home-ec part of school and really nothing else. I actually majored in culinary arts all through high school. I did an off-site program. So, I started playing around with cooking and was kind of pushed into the career and realized I really enjoyed it at our restaurant in Vermont. From there I did several other things like catering and cooking in other people’s homes. It didn’t really blossom until I came to Morning Glory Farm in 2001. That’s when I really started getting into cooking and enjoyed it.

How did you come to be at Black Sheep?

The Black Sheep is what I like to call serendipitous. I was with my step-daughter at the St. Patrick’s Day parade. She introduced me to [a man named] Keith and said I was a chef. He said “Oh! I want you to meet my partner.” So we walked over to the Black Sheep and I met his partner, Mark Venette. He was changing his venue at Black Sheep from a wine bar [Trio] at night and the Black Sheep shop during the day. Mark was finding that the Black Sheep was really gaining momentum. He wanted to change the venue to have more prepared foods and a bigger catering menu. I was looking for a job, but he wasn’t really sure what direction he wanted to go as far as changing venues. A few weeks went by and he came up with a plan and proposal. So, Mark and I met and decided he was going to move forward with the change of venue. We just clicked as friends, and as future boss and employee and we had a wonderful summer. I think it went way beyond his expectations of what it was going to do. That was just this past spring.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

I’ve had so many. My career’s been so long, I’ve done every disaster I think you could possibly do — from injuries to recipe screw-ups. It’s a really hard business. You have your really, really good days and your really bad days. It changes every day.

What’s your favorite MV dining experience?

Hands down, Right Fork Diner in Katama. It’s probably the best place on the Island as far as attitude, service, and food. Jamie Langley is an amazing owner. It’s definitely one of those hidden gems.

And the Thai place (Bangkok Thai Cuisine in Oak Bluffs). It’s always the same, the people are always nice. You know what you’re getting.

Favorite dish on your menu?

I do a really nice duck ragout with homemade pappardelle pasta. It’s just a really nice winter dish. My favorite cooking style is braising.

What do you cook for your husband for a romantic evening at home?

He really loves linguine with a fresh clam sauce. I’ll start cooking more, but right now he’ll just grab something at the Net Result and we’ll have a big salad. Now we’re starting to want to have those bigger meals.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Salt, definitely. Everything needs salt.

Garlic

Olive Oil

Sriracha

Black Pepper, fresh ground.

Do you have a favorite kitchen tool?

I love my lemon reamer. It’s definitely a must-have.  And a good chef’s knife.

What songs do you listen to when you’ve got the kitchen to yourself or don’t care who hears?

Probably Daft Punk or some mix from Pandora. Something by Colin Hay from Men at Work. His stuff is always good.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

This time of year, on a sunny day like this, doing the Derby is perfect. I love to fish. Summertime days off, you’re just so exhausted you do housework and sit at the beach for an hour.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

I love the east coast. I would like to be up in the Rockport, Maine, area. Or if I were to go abroad, I’d probably be in Northern Italy.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?

I definitely would be working with animals, as a vet tech or something that has to do with taking care of animals, large or small.

Dan Sauer, chef and owner of 7a in West Tisbury, specializes in surprising sandwiches. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these epicurean wonders, and is presenting its findings in a weekly series. Dan Sauer will be part of this year’s “Fresh off the Farm” event at the M.V. Food and Wine Festival. For more information, visit mvfoodandwine.com.

Dan Sauer makes lunch an art form. A 1999 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA),

he worked at Oceana Restaurant in New York under the guidance of Chef Rick Moonen. Now, as part owner (with his wife, Wenonah) and executive chef of 7a, he uses locally sourced foods and elevates the lowly sandwich to an eyelid-dropping, intermittent-sighing experience. Located behind Alley’s in West Tisbury, 7a Foods opened in June 2010 and has become a lunch destination for foodie tourists and discriminating year-rounders. Dan Sauer also cooks a mean breakfast.

How did you come to be on the Island?

I was working at Oceana, and a friend of mine was working at Gramercy Tavern and told me about a sous-chef in New York named Marco [Canora] who had a restaurant [La Cucina] on the Vineyard in the summer. He was looking for a cook, so I got an interview with him and got the job. That was in the summer of 2000. I worked for him that whole summer, then went back to New York. My wife and I got married in 2004, and we moved back here about a year later. I was the chef for Outermost Inn in Aquinnah for Hughie Taylor.

How and when did you start cooking?

I started cooking when I was in high school. I worked in a place in Billings, Mont., called Walker’s Grill. That was my first cooking job. I wasn’t very college-bound, to say the least. I had to find something to appease my parents. Culinary school filled that. But from the first day I started, I sort of loved all the action, the pressure, the camaraderie, the s***-talking, and all the things that go on working in a restaurant.

How did you come to open 7a?

It was sort of the thing I did in the off-season at the Outermost for a couple of years. I would make fresh pastas and sauces, soups and sausage, and sell it. I actually started a little Facebook page for it. People would place their orders, and I would deliver them to their houses or a meeting point down-Island. I got interested in growing my own food at the Outermost. We had a garden there that I tended. They already had a garden, but I made it more kitchen-based. The year I left the Outermost Inn, I did the Farmer’s Market and some catering, all under the name 7a Farms. When the Alley’s space became available, I thought it would be a good fit for what I wanted to do. We signed the lease a year after that [end of June 2010].

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Several. A big one was at Oceana when I was catering a party. You’re always supposed to make a little bit extra. I thought everything would go fine and I told the chef I made extra and I didn’t. It was 10 sheet pans of sea bass, and I dropped the last one. We didn’t have any other sea bass in the house. I got yelled at quite a bit. We had to give them another kind of fish.

What’s the best single bite you ate in the past week?

Funny you asked. I’m doing a 21-day cleanse with my wife. You can’t eat any meat or protein for the first week. I just made a curried lentil stew last night, because on Day 8 you can start eating that. It’s about the best thing I’ve eaten in a long time.

Was it good because it was good or because you missed it?

A little bit of both, I think.

Favorite dish on your menu?

Right now it’s probably the Heirloom Tomato Sandwich. It’s got heirloom tomatoes and corn relish and goat cheese on our house-made focaccia. With North Tabor Farm greens. A lot of Island stuff. It’s a great time of year for vegetables.

What’s your favorite dish using fall ingredients right now?

My favorite would probably be butternut squash soup, and starting in about a month or so we’ll start doing a fall veggie melt, which is roasted fall vegetables with Gruyere cheese and honey aioli. That’s always a big hit.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Number one, without a doubt, is salt. You can’t cook without it. It’s not just a spice or seasoning. It actually changes the way your taste buds react to food. Proper seasoning is everything.

For number two, I’d probably say olive oil. Cooking with a good olive oil and finishing with a great olive oil is usually how I use it. It adds so much flavor.

Three? Pork. It’s just the best thing in the world. There’s so many things you can do with it. It’s hard to use a cow nose-to-tail because of its actual size, but I can get a half a pig and find ways to use it all throughout the restaurant.

Four? Garlic, I would say. The way you cut it — it can be a paste, it can be sliced, and you can slow-cook it in olive oil. It adds a lot of different flavors. You can utilize it in a lot of different ways.

The last one: acid, I would say. Either citrus or vinegar. It’s essential. It’s another thing that brings flavors together and makes things pop. Squeeze a lemon on something at the end. You may not taste the lemon, but it just brightens up the whole thing.

Do you have a favorite kitchen tool?

Probably my smoker. We make our housemade pastrami in it. I smoke garlic for mayonnaise that I make chicken salad with in the summer. I’m working on a smoked mustard right now for a homemade mustard, smoking the seeds before I make it.

What songs do you listen to when you’ve got the kitchen to yourself or don’t care who hears?

After we close, we definitely listen to the Wu-Tang Clan. During the day, when we’re open for business, we listen to every possible type of music you can imagine. We have Pandora radio stations and it’s a constant source of conversation and arguments and discussion. In the summer, we have a couple of workers from Jamaica, so reggae is definitely a part of it.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

Definitely involves spending time with my wife and two sons [ages 6 and 7] on the beach. Lobsters from Larsen’s and fishing with my oldest son.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

Probably Bozeman, Mont. It would give me a reason to be able to go home on a regular basis. It’s not my hometown, but it’s my home state.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?

Probably in jail.

Chef James McDonough entered his second season at Lambert's Cove Inn, Farm, and Restaurant this summer. — Chris Riger

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these epicurean wonders and are presenting our findings in a weekly series.

There’s something very welcoming about a restaurant with wainscoting, bookshelves, and French doors. Park it in the middle of a farm, and you almost feel as if you’re dining in a cottage in the English countryside. New this summer are chickens, two goats, and executive chef, James McDonough. On the Island since 1996, McDonough long ago mastered local cuisine, and he delights in the herbs and veggies grown right on the premises. Once the two teenaged goats come of age, watch for menu items featuring chevremade right in his kitchen.

How did you come to be on the Island?

In 1996 I answered an ad in The New York Times for an executive chef for the Beach Plum Inn. I had just come up from the Caribbean. My wife and I were down in St. Thomas for four years. We had our first two children and realized we needed help, so we came back to the States and I met with Paul Darrow [then owner of the Beach Plum Inn]. Funny enough, he’d gotten my résumé and had eaten at three restaurants that I worked at over the years pretty much at the time I was there — including in St. Thomas. All those coincidences led us to the thought that there was something going on and maybe we should meet. So, we met in New York City and he went through the rest of his interviews and I got the job.

How and when did you start cooking?

At age 14. I started out dishwashing at a small mom and pop place and pretty much right from the get-go started cooking to help them out — as most dishwashers do. By age 17, my senior year, I was pretty much running the place — opening and closing it. I don’t want to overplay that. It was an eatery more than a restaurant. Short order stuff.

But, I just fell into it. I love the adrenaline of cooking. I love the challenge of it, the fast pace of it.

How did you come to be working at Lambert’s Cove Inn?

[Owners] Scott and Kell approached me last summer with the idea of maybe working here. I helped them out a little bit last summer. Over the winter we talked about it. When I left Beach Plum, after 16 years of the 80-hour week, seven months on, five months off, I yearned for a more normal pace of life. And so I resigned there actually on New Years’ Day three years ago and hooked up with Jean Dupon, who was developing La Cave (in Vineyard Haven). I spent two years working with him — breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but I was able to set it up and hire and train staff and develop the menu so I was able to leave at five o’clock and come home and have a balanced life.

In that time frame, Jean was looking to sell, so things were a little unsure how much longer he would run it.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

Oh, my gosh, yes! One that stands out more than anything else was when I was apprenticing at La Fromagerie my first year. It took me six months to work myself up to where I could be trusted to work on the line. One of the things the executive chef there, Imon, did was to teach me to make the paté en croute. It was a three-day process. It was a really wonderful experience. However, the first time I was allowed to do it on my own — you start it out at 450 degrees and when the top begins to brown you turn it down to 350 — I forgot to turn it down. I burnt six of them, which is about 80 orders. I took two days to get it to that point. Needless to say, Imon was not happy with me. There was absolutely nothing you could do to salvage it. It was a lesson I will never forget.

Is there a dish or meal you prepared that was part of a very special occasion?

That same paté we entered into a food show at the New York Coliseum in 1982 and it won a blue ribbon. Imon came to trust me to make them again, and I mastered them. I came in on my own time just to spend extra time with these things.

What’s the best single bite you ate in the last week?

My wife makes this homemade pizza with fresh garden vegetables, feta cheese, basil, garlic, and local greens. For something I don’t do — for something I really enjoy because I’m not doing it — it’s that.

Favorite dish on your menu?

Just one? Grilled pesto-crusted Atlantic salmon, tri-colored vegetable orzo, and heirloom tomato ragout. [The ragout] is kind of light and simple. The basil comes right from our garden.

Favorite dish you cook for your wife for a romantic evening at home?

Steamed Menemsha lobster.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Extra virgin olive oil, garlic, tomato, house-made demi-glacé, and sea salt.

Your favorite kitchen tool?

My Vita-Prep (commercial food processor). It’s just so versatile for mixtures like soups and sauces.

Using local Vineyard produce, fish, game, etc., describe the perfect Martha’s Vineyard feast.

Bouillabaisse. I use a mélange of all the seafood that comes right from here — lobsters, little necks, scallops, striped bass, mussels. Island tomatoes, Island herbs. Accompanying that, a salad of mixed greens. For dessert, fresh mint from the garden and fresh berries with a white Chantilly cream.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

Pack the cooler and go to the beach. Surfing. Swimming. My wife and kids, picnic, cooler, beach all day.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

St. Thomas. I’d go back down to the Caribbean. I miss it — parts of it. One of the major reasons for leaving was having the two kids and all the trials and tribulations of that. Getting all the things you needed. It doesn’t have to be St. Thomas. Any of those places down there.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?

You know, I never really thought about that. Something with my hands. Something creative. I could see myself in landscaping. If I had a pipe-dream it would be as a professional surfer. I love the ocean, but never had the talent for that. So, a gardener or landscaper.

Chilmark Tavern chef Jenna Sprafkin. — Jenna Sprafkin

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these epicurean wonders and are presenting our findings in a weekly series.

Jenna Sprafkin, executive chef at Chilmark Tavern, speaks with a great deal of enthusiasm about her work, which did not become a vocation until after college. Her ambitions were originally in mass-media but during tapings of food shows she found that she was more interested in the food production than the technology. Ironically, it was the Internet that brought her to our shores.

How did you come to be on the Island?

Jenna Petersiel, the owner of Chilmark Tavern, was my camp counselor in sleep-away camp in New Hampshire in 1991. I loved camp and spent several years as a kid and adult there. Four years ago I found her again on Facebook. I frequently post pictures of what I’m cooking on Facebook. In February of this year I got a message from her saying that she lost her chef and was looking for a new one. I went online and Googled Chilmark Tavern. It was in the realm of the food that I do and believe in. I called her and she invited me out in March to cook for some people. I spent an incredible two and a half days on-Island and she hired me.

How and when did you start cooking?

As an amateur since I was a little kid. My great-aunt owned a restaurant and when we visited, we would do cooking projects at her house. When I was 12, we got cable TV, including the Food Network. Both of my parents cooked, but not very good. One day I watched Bobby Flay make a red pepper coulis and I thought, “I can do that.” My parents came home from work and I had stuff all over the kitchen. I mean, all over. They said, “What did you do?” I said, “I made red pepper coulis.” They said, “What are we going to do with it?” I said, “Eat it?”

After that, I started experimenting. When they would cook, I would make suggestions. But I didn’t think of it as a career choice. I didn’t go to culinary school. I got my degree in Television and Radio at Ithaca College. After college I was in an internship with a part of the Food Network. I realized I was more interested in the food than the production. Whenever there was downtime, I would find myself hanging out with the food stylist. People said I should go to culinary school. When I was 21, I went to the Institute for Culinary Education in New York City – a nine-month program for career changers. That’s when my professional career started.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

Two or three years ago I spent a summer as a private chef on a yacht out of Newport. We were sailing from Newport to Cuttyhunk. I was told that the [children of the owner] had sweet tooths, so, the first day, I made a chocolate cake. The crossing was really rough and I felt sick, but the captain kept assuring me that that was as bad as it would get. That was not the truth.

From the motion of the boat, the cake toppled face-down off the counter and onto the floor. I managed to scrape the frosting that hit the floor off the cake and make more. While the boat was rocking and I was seasick. But they never knew.

Is there a dish or meal you prepared that was part of a very special occasion?

I spent six months at the Viceroy Hotel in Anguilla cooking for celebs in private villas. One of the people I cooked for was Nas, the rapper. I was a big fan and only saw him before in his rapper personae. The second day I was there, he came down in his pajamas and fuzzy slippers. He said to me, “Yo, chef! Those crab cakes last night were bangin’!”

What’s the best single bite you ate in the last week?

We have a good relationship with Chilmark Store. They sometime leave us leftover pizza. I was working nonstop every day and three nights ago at 1 am, I ate a piece of pepperoni pizza heated up. It was the perfect food. It was just what I needed at that moment. I washed it down with a Polar Grapefruit Seltzer.

Favorite dish on your menu?

Our menu changes a little bit every day according to what’s available and what I feel like doing. Right now we have a scallop dish with Anson Mills Red Flint Grits, seared local scallops with pork belly (cured and braised in brown sugar, maraschino cherry juice and coffee), reconstituted dried cherries and local spring onions from North Tabor Farm cooked in whey from our in-house made ricotta.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Salt, fresh herbs, high quality olive oil (from Northern Italy or Greece), fennel (in any form), and Aleppo pepper (from Syria and Turkey).

Your favorite kitchen tool?

I have a really awesome spurtle that someone made for me. It’s a wooden spoon without the bowl. It’s great for stirring things like polenta and curd because it gets into the corner of the pot so things don’t get burned. I’m a fan of all wooden utensils.

Do you have a favorite kitchen tip or shortcut?

Have everything prepped before cooking so you can focus on cooking, not gathering.

Using local Vineyard produce, fish, game, etc., describe the perfect Martha’s Vineyard feast.

I’d start with oysters from Emmett Carroll in Menemsha, pairing with a mignonette (a sauce made with wine vinegar, pepper, shallots or sweet onions, and salt). We’ve been getting fluke from Stanley Larson, veggies from North Tabor Farm and Morning Glory (summer squash, snap peas, fresh herbs). I’d make some sort of hand-rolled pasta with spinach and little neck clams. I’d make sausage with pork from Grey Barn. Baby kale from North Tabor Farm. For dessert, fresh local fruit in a pie or shortcake.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

I’m looking forward to having one! If and when I do, a non-food related book, a sparkling rosé, a sandwich from 7a, an umbrella, blanket, and a quiet spot on the beach where I can be alone.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

Practically, it would be Menemsha because I’m such a control freak. I would want it close by. If I were a dreamer, I would pick northern California, probably Sonoma County, mostly for its produce. Some of the most incredible vegetables grow there and their growing season is year-round.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?

I would be a radio DJ. I worked in public radio when I was in high school and had my own show in college. I love radio. But I love cooking more.

The Chilmark Tavern is located at 9 State Rd. in Chilmark. 508-645-9400; chilmarktavern.com.

Joseph Monteiro, executive chef at Atlantic Fish and Chop House in Edgartown. — Photo Courtesy of Joseph Monteir

The Island has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these epicurean wonders and we are presenting our findings in an ongoing series.

You can’t miss it. During lunch, it’s a cool oasis. At night, it dazzles. And it’s right on the water. Atlantic Fish & Chop House overlooks the harbor in Edgartown with rooms inside and out that whisper summer comfort and fine cuisine. They major in steak and seafood, and executive chef Joe Monteiro aces both. Short and succinct in conversation, he’s long on creativity when it comes to his cuisine.

How did you come to be on the Island?

I got pursued by the owner of the Atlantic. He made me a job offer. I was between things. He flew me up here in 2010 and we talked. I cooked for him and I had the job.

How and when did you start cooking?

I started cooking with my mom in the kitchen when I was pretty little. We have a huge family and [there was] a lot of work in the kitchen. My dad cooked also. Both of them. One of my uncles owned a restaurant and I used to work with him when I was 13 or 14. I never really did anything, just helped him get the business started. I started washing dishes [professionally] at 17, then started cooking right after and never left.

I went to Bergen [Community College] in Ridgewood, New Jersey, for 22 months of hotel and restaurant management.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

When I first started cooking, I was in charge of most of the station set-up in the restaurant and making all the soups and sauces. I asked one of my new dishwashers to go downstairs and get me flour. The flour bin was in the same room as the Fryolator cleaner. He brought up about five pounds of Fryolator cleaner instead of flour. I made soup and I put it into the cooler. The next morning I walked into the restaurant and the chef took me into the cooler. He said, “I want you to take a look at this.” I walked in there and the thing was bubbling. It looked like a volcano inside of a five-gallon bucket. I couldn’t figure it out for a good while until I really stopped and thought about it. I grabbed the dishwasher and went downstairs with him. I was like, “So where was the flour?” “Right there!” I was like, “Noooo.”

It put me back in the weeds, because I had to make one soup for that day and another for the following day.

Is there a dish or meal you prepared that was part of a very special occasion?

We did a golf tournament in California for a lot of NFL stars. A lot of Hall of Famers, if you will. I golfed with those guys. It was a lot of fun.

What’s the best single bite you ate in the last week?

I don’t remember, to be honest with you. Everything I ate in the past week was pretty good.

Favorite dish on your menu?

My dishes are like kids. I treat them all the same. I love them all equally. But, probably one of our new dishes. We’re increasing our new menu by about 20 percent. A lot of raw, a lot of cooked, a lot of stuff that people on the Island are really not doing. We like to innovate and go to another level.

What do you cook for a romantic evening with your girlfriend?

You need to ask her. She loves food even more than I do. To please her is fairly easy. We’ve been cooking a lot of different stuff. It’s usually me cooking. She sits on the counter and we share wine together. I cook, I make her taste. We keep laughing.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Salt, salt, salt, and salt, and a little more salt. I’m a firm believer that salt brings up the flavor in everything. Without salt everything is just bland. I don’t believe in people seasoning the food for me. If you come to my restaurant and season the food, it tells me that I’m not doing my job. So, I push my people to season everything we do to the limit. Just to the edge where it’s just perfect. Some people seem to think it’s over the edge, but 9.9 times out of 10, I’m right on the money.

Your favorite kitchen tool?

My pencil — which is always behind my ear. I am a pencil freak. Nine times out of ten, if you walk into my restaurant, I will have my pencil behind my ear. All my notes, if I need to mark off tickets, everything is done with a pencil.

Other than that, I think I use about every piece of equipment equally.

Using local Vineyard produce, fish, game, etc., describe the perfect M.V. feast.

Maybe different kinds of baked oysters with different stuffs. I cook the way my mood is usually. If I’m very hyper you can tell. My food is very aggressive. If I’m mellow, my food is kind of subtle. If I’m frustrated, sometimes it’s darker than normal. For the most part, my food is very happy.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

I don’t have a lot of those. Sometimes a walk on [my girlfriend’s] private beach. I spend as much time with her as I can.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

Maybe Portugal. I’m part Portuguese. [There’s a] lot of seafood influence. A lot of water and stuff like that.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?

I would probably be a car junkie. I love cars. I would probably be a racecar driver or something like that.

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Puppy, owner of Soigne in Edgartown, started his restaurant career at The Seafood Shanty when he was 12. — Soigne

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these culinary wonders and share their stories each week.

Ron Cavallo, known as “Puppy,” is owner-operator of Soigne with partner Diana Rabaioli. The renowned, upscale gourmet market is located at 190 Main Street in Edgartown. Slight and wiry of build, Puppy possesses just the right amount of manic energy to keep the quality of the prepared foods excellent and customers coming back season after season. For more information on Soigne, call 508-627-8489.

How did you come to be on the Island?

I was born here. My grandfather came here in 1938 to open up a kitchen at the [Edgartown] Yacht Club. Every year he would get lonely for his family and bring them down from New York during the seasons. I forget how many months a year he would stay. So, I was born here during one of those seasons because there was a hurricane. We were kind of trapped here. Last day of high school, I came back to the Island, and I’ve been here ever since.

How and when did you start cooking?

I started working at The Seafood Shanty for Bob Carroll when I was 12. I worked there for 11 years. I started as a dishwasher my first year and worked my way up to chef. Bob Carroll was my mentor. He sent me to school at the University of Mass. I took the hotel/restaurant program. Eventually he sold the restaurant, and I went on to be a chef.

How did you come to be at Soigne?

I worked in Boston, Florida, New York. I worked at the Waldorf Astoria, and I worked several restaurants on the Island. I was chef in all of these places, then I decided to open up my own place after so many years. Soigne opened 30 years ago. Isn’t that amazing? I reflect back on it sometimes because it’s just been a blur. Thirty years. I just can’t believe it. I always considered myself to be the new kid on the block. Thirty years later, I’m one of the oldest and longest owner-operated food businesses in town. There’s a handful of us left.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

Of course. Who hasn’t? When I was working at the Waldorf Astoria, the king of Saudi Arabia was having room service up in his suite. I think there were maybe 10 of his subjects with him. The cook in the kitchen made him lamb. The king had no teeth. Don’t ask me why the king of Saudi Arabia, with all his money… I think it was [King] Faisal. This was in 1979 or 80. He had no teeth so we had to purée everything.

It was too salty. The room service captain came down and said, ‘Oh, my God, the king didn’t eat. And if the king doesn’t eat, no one eats. This is going to be an international disaster.’ So I whipped up another dish — lamb — puréed it of course, and put no salt in. The king accepted it, everybody ate, everybody was happy, and the price of oil did not go up.

Was there an occasion when a dish of yours was part of a large, important event?

I made fried chicken for Muhammad Ali during training for Joe Frazier. Do you believe it? That’s what he wanted. Fried chicken. And he was in training!

What is the single best bite you’ve eaten in the past week?

I had curry in India. It was fabulous. The blend of spices they put on there was phenomenal.

What is your favorite dish on your menu?

Occasionally we make osso bucco: braised lamb shank or veal in red wine. So delicious. That’s my weakness.

What do you cook for a romantic evening with your girlfriend?

Broiled lobster. It’s her favorite. I make a stuffing with little pieces of seafood, oysters, and Ritz Cracker crumbs.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Saffron, curry (that I make), Himalayan salt (the pink stuff, the best salt on earth), garlic, shallots.

Your favorite kitchen tool?

A paring knife. I like to make vegetable flowers.

Using local Vineyard produce, fish, game, etc., describe the perfect MV Feast.

Bouillabaisse, using fresh local shellfish, in tomato saffron broth base.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

If I had a day off, I would work in the herb garden.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

Italy. Probably Rome. I have friends in Rome and I know that Italy is up-and-coming in the convenience food world. My cousin was telling us that now his wife wants take-out all the time where everyone used to cook at home. So I think we’d be getting in on the ground floor.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?

A writer. Maybe a poet. I’ve done things like that.

Harbor View Hotel executive chef Nathan Gould loves cooking with Vineyard bounty. — File photo by Eli Dagostino

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these culinary wonders and share their stories.

Nathan Gould is a busy guy. He’s the executive chef for both of the Harbor View Hotel’s eateries and catering. After obtaining a BS in Culinary Nutrition, an MS in Sports Nutrition and Kinesiology, and spending a summer in wine school in Germany, he traveled extensively. Besides employment as chef at many restaurants, he’s worked as a private chef. He arrived on the Island two and a half years ago from Princeton, N.J. His gluten-free Smokey Vineyard Quahog Chowder recently took first place at the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group’s fundraising event.

How did you come to be on the Island?

I was actually called by a close friend who was the food and beverage director [at the Harbor View] at the time. He informed me about the Island and the hotel and how beautiful it was. I started off as the Executive Sous Chef. This will be my third season.

How and when did you start cooking?

I started cooking as a hobby, getting really interested in food at around the age of 11. It was with my mother and grandmother. They were great home cooks, pretty much both from a strong French background. I was intrigued with what they would make — mostly soups and stocks. A lot of old-style French cuisine. I would ask them for the recipes and purchase the ingredients and try to replicate those recipes. My mother and my grandmother let me help around the kitchen all the time. They were very influential people.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

Before this position, when I was younger, I was running a catering company in Princeton, New Jersey. We had a 150-person sit-down dinner — an outside event. Right before the dinner was about to go out our ovens completely went down. We completely lost electricity. We had to light about six or seven charcoal grills and fix mashed potatoes, grill all the meat, and cook all the vegetables on top of the grills. It doesn’t seem that hard, but when you have to feed 150 people, it’s very difficult.

Is there a dish or meal you prepared that was part of a very special occasion?

One of my greatest accomplishments, as far as a celebration for someone, was: there’s a very famous historical man back in Princeton, New Jersey, Dr. Scheide [William H. Scheide, musician, philanthropist, humanitarian, and noted collector of rare books] and every year we would do this grand gala event for his birthday. They would invite musicians and politicians and all these high-end connections. They would fly in an orchestra from Germany and this orchestra would play “Happy Birthday” probably 20 different ways in every style of Bach because that was his favorite composer. We would have this amazing party and this big dinner for him. He actually just turned 99. This is the second year I haven’t been able to be back and do that event for him. It was a great event, very special.

What’s the best single bite you ate in the last week?

A good friend and fisherman brought me some local perch and the perch were full of roe. We smoked two roe sacs, sprinkled on Maldon sea salt — one of the most light and flakey sea salts — and olive oil and ate that with grilled flatbread.

Favorite dish on your menu?

Currently, it would have to be our pork shank, which is a hind shank cut. It’s slow braised for eight hours. We serve it with a cauliflower purée, roasted cauliflower, capers, and a pan pork jus — which is just a reduction of all the beautiful pork stock we have from braising.

What do you cook for a romantic evening with your girlfriend?

She loves tuna, so hopefully I could get some fresh bluefin tuna off the Cape if they’re coming around soon. She loves good sushi and sashimi, which we don’t usually get too much of on the Vineyard. And she loves Thai food. I would probably do something with fresh local tuna for a first course and then do something with homemade noodles with a little Thai influence with the ingredients — she loves coconut milk and lemongrass — for the second course.

For dessert, anything with fresh mangoes. I would probably do a fresh mango sorbet with shaved frozen coconut and tapioca. I don’t normally cook those flavors, but she’s from an island [St. John, VI], so if I were to be making something special, it would be influenced by island flavors.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Safflower oil, duck fat, Maldon sea salt, fresh eggs, and fresh herbs.

Your favorite kitchen tool?

Definitely my knife. I use a 10” Masa Hiro. Without it you’re pretty much lost.

Using local Vineyard produce, fish, game, etc., describe the perfect MV Feast.

I would definitely start the meal off with Honeysuckle Oysters grown by Nick Turner. We use them in the restaurant and we’ve never had a better oyster than his.

For the second course I would definitely take a mixed bowl of greens from Thimble Farms, including mustard greens, micros, and his baby lettuce mix and cover the greens with fresh citrus olive oil, sea salt, and cracked pepper.

The third thing I would do is a slow-roasted chicken from The Good Farm or Cleveland Farm and serve with vegetables and rough greens from one of our surrounding farms like Slip Away or Morning Glory.

For dessert, we made an amazing dessert that we featured in the fall — a Russian olive shortcake.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

Going on a hike with my girlfriend. Usually in the summer when we get a day off together, I like to go spear fishing for sea bass. We go to one of the points off Menemsha or Great Rock and go spearfishing. We actually did one last year where we spearfished and we took the fish to Stanley’s [Larsen’s] fish shop and he cooked it up and we ate it on the beach with a glass of wine.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

Probably in the Monterey region of California. I would love to own a small farm with a 30-seat restaurant — somewhere that would be agriculturally sustainable, hopefully in a year-round growing climate. And access to people who are interested in greatly prepared food and want to support the local movement.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?

A nutritionist and sports trainer, because that’s what my other degree is in. I would be working with clients, training them physically and assisting with their diets. That’s something I’ve always been really interested in.

Chef Merrick Carreiro finds time to cook at home with her son Nolan, age 8. — Bruce Kappel

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these culinary wonders and share their stories each week.

Merrick Carreiro is one of those rare Island chefs who didn’t know from early on that she would end up cooking as a career. And, she took some detours before joining forces with Jenik Munafo and Jenik’s husband, Hocine Khelalfa, to create Little House Café in Vineyard Haven. Now, on the verge of their fifth summer, Merrick cooks for breakfast and lunch, and Jenik handles dinner.

How did you come to be on the Island?

Serendipity. I’m a Canadienne, but I have dual citizenship. I’d lived everywhere I could in Canada and had gone to culinary school [Stratford Chefs School in Stratford, Ontario], so I thought I would try the United States.

I really didn’t know anything about Martha’s Vineyard. My grandmother had a house on the Cape for 25 years and we had an old family friend who had a house [on the Vineyard], so we would come over for day trips. A woman at culinary school would go to Key West every year and her favorite restaurant was Pepe’s. She’d thought she heard that Tina Miller, the daughter of the owner of Pepe’s, was maybe opening a Pepe’s on Martha’s Vineyard and suggested I look into it. Well, there was no Pepe’s and no sign of his daughter being here.

I ended up getting hired at Café Moxie [then owned by Tina Miller] while Tina wasn’t even there. It was April and she was away at the time. I started working there and not even realizing that I was working for the daughter of Pepe’s owner. I was meant to be there, and that’s where I started my career.

How and when did you start cooking?

My first cooking experience was at a tree-planting camp in Canada in the early 90’s. It was reforestation. I was the cook’s assistant.

How did you come to be at Little House Café?

Not too sure how that all happened. Jenik and I knew each other at Café Moxie. I was the chef and she was a waitress. After Moxie I took a break from cooking. I got married. I had two children. I actually was the manager of the design center at Vineyard Home Center for about eight and a half years. I took a long break from cooking, but whenever I created a kitchen, I visualized myself right in that kitchen.

Jenik and Hocine came up with the idea [for the restaurant] and enticed me into doing it with them. It was just a collaboration of time and wanting a change and having the opportunity to buy the building. We opened Little House Café in July 2010. Everything we’ve done since then has been a full collaboration, but the original idea I will not take any credit for.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

My most memorable was actually in cooking school. I was taking an exam and had to make a shrimp bisque and I totally destroyed it and had to think about how to get out of it.

I deglazed with vinegar instead of brandy. I just did the wrong step at the wrong time. My instructor looked at me like, “I don’t know what you’re going to do.” Somehow I pulled it off and all I remember is him saying, “This is stellar.”

That was my first major lesson in learning to roll with the punches in the kitchen. If you make a mistake you have to make something else out of it.

What is your favorite Martha’s Vineyard dining memory?

My first meal with my husband at the Standby Café in 1999 when Joe DaSilva was the chef. The atmosphere at the Standby was so special. It was my first date with my husband-to-be. That was a special place then.

Favorite dish on your menu?

I have a lot of favorites, but I think it’s the Greek Lamb Burger because it’s my mother’s recipe. And there’s something about the smell that I find so rewarding when it comes out of the oven, just before it goes out to the dining room. It just makes me so happy every time. The presentation and everything about it makes me proud.

What do you cook for a romantic evening with your husband?

[She laughs] Yeah, right. His favorite is lamb shoulder chops grilled on the barbecue. Oh, my goodness. He just licks his chops when I make them for him. He’s just died and gone to heaven.

You have two sons [ages 8 and 11]. What do they eat?

They’re at different stages. My youngest doesn’t really eat well at all, but my oldest is starting to branch out a bit more. They’re at that point that they’re eating the same vegetable or fruit (carrots and apples) all the time. They like to cook with me. They do enjoy cooking, but they’re not the most adventurous eaters. They will be someday.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Parsley, garlic, lemon, salt, and olive oil.

Your favorite kitchen tool?

A good sharp knife. You can’t beat it.

Any tricks of the trade that you can share?

Peeling ginger with a spoon is the best way to go. It’s so tedious using a peeler, but if you just use a teaspoon, it comes right off.

Using local Vineyard produce, fish, game, etc., describe the perfect M.V. feast.

Local lamb with local fingerling potatoes, arugula, tomatoes, corn — one of those summer barbecue meals where everything is at its peak. You don’t even have to do anything to it. Just eat it fresh.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

[She laughs again] What’s that? Going to the beach with my family. When I can get to the beach in the summer, I’m having a good week.