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Best dishes of 2014, and what’s up for 2015.

Peter Smyth, chef and owner of Slice of Life in Oak Bluffs. – Photo by Kelsey Perrett.

The end of the year is, traditionally, a time to ponder the past and strategize for the future. We asked some of our favorite on-Island executive chefs to talk to us about years gone by and what they have planned for the next. Here’s what we learned.

What’s the best new dish you made all year?

A basil pesto crusted local codfish elevated on a vegetable fused tri-colored orzo pasta with heirloom tomato ragout and grilled baby summer squash. The basil, tomatoes, and summer squash were from our garden.

– James McDonough, Lambert’s Cove Inn, Farm & Restaurant, West Tisbury

Laksa! A dish indigenous to Singapore. A coconut based noodle soup with fish, vegetables, hard-boiled egg, laced with chili paste.

– Ron “Puppy” Cavallo, Soigne, Edgartown

Seared Edgartown bay scallops with toasted farro, roasted Morning Glory Farm sweet potatoes, and MV Organics sunflower shoots. It’s a nice local seasonal dish we put together to utilize some cold weather ingredients found on Island.

– Justin Melnick, The Terrace at the Charlotte Inn, Edgartown

Judy Klumick of Black Sheep enjoys fishing on a fall day off. — Photo courtesy of Judy Klumick.
Judy Klumick of Black Sheep enjoys fishing on a fall day off. — Photo courtesy of Judy Klumick.

Fun and memorable was the open-faced pulled pork sandwich I had on the Black Sheep Luncheonette menu this winter. I served it on cranberry steamed pudding (brown bread steamed in a coffee can) with avocado and chipotle crema with slaw.

– Judy Klumick, Black Sheep, Edgartown

We introduced a salmon salad this year that we are very proud of. The salmon is poached in mirin and served with baby spinach, avocado, pickled radishes, wasabi peas, and a housemade unagi glaze.

– Merrick Carreiro, Little House Café, Vineyard Haven

The chickpea crepes with eggplant relish. The crepe is savory and warm with a bright citrus relish inside. It is delicious.

– Doug Smith, Lucky Hank’s, Edgartown

An hors d’oeuvre we have butler passed for our Christmas parties and soon to be on the menu:  crispy fried shrimp marinated in Poppin’ Pink lemonade. It’s light and delicate. We’ve had more response about this than any other.

– Tony Saccoccia, The Grill on Main, Edgartown

I’ve been playing around with pizza dough and different dessert ideas.

– Pete Smyth, Slice of Life, Oak Bluffs

Are you inventing anything new for the new year?

When we reopen the week of January 5th, expect to see our newly developed hot cereal on the breakfast menu. This isn’t just your ordinary run-of-the-mill oatmeal or porridge — it is something in the middle, Little House style.

– Merrick Carreiro

We will be reconstructing the traditional Cuban sandwich in honor of the lifting of the embargo.

– Puppy Cavallo

Even when not at his restaurant, The Grill on Main, Tony Saccoccia is often cooking. — Photo courtesy of Tony Saccoccia
Even when not at his restaurant, The Grill on Main, Tony Saccoccia is often cooking. — Photo courtesy of Tony Saccoccia

I would like to work on some healthy and vegan desserts this year as so many ingredients for desserts can be very healthy and delicious at the same time. Ingredients like beets, cocoa powder, coconut oil, and dried fruits, to name a few.

– Tony Saccoccia

We generally stay away from “inventing” too many new things, but rather putting a twist on some of the classics.

– Justin Melnick

What ingredient might you start using that you haven’t yet?

One new ingredient I’ll have the great fortune to create with this coming season is fresh goat milk from our two farm goats, Zsa Zsa and Ava.

– James McDonough

I will start to use rennet to make my own cheeses in-house in an artisanal style. I would like to explore some of the European traditions even though there are great cheeses made in the U.S. today.

– Tony Saccoccia

Galangal — a root in the ginger family. I can use it to make fresh chili paste. I will be incorporating more Southeast Asian dishes in our repertoire.

– Puppy Cavallo

Do you have a culinary New Year’s resolution?

Continue to learn and improve.

– Doug Smith

We are looking to add a packaged food line to our offerings this year: salads, soups, granola, etc.

Slow down my cooking at home. I tend to bring my cooking pace home.

– Merrick Carreiro

To eliminate any product containing iodized salt. For years we have only used sea salt in our own preparation.

– Puppy Cavallo

What are you making for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day?

We are serving a five-course Prix Fixe menu with a choice of options in each course such as house-cured gravlax with osetra caviar, lentils and sausage soup, wild shrimp cocktail. Butter poached sole, beef Wellington. My wife, Emily, will be putting together a vanilla panna cotta as well as her signature chocolate tart.

– Justin Melnick

I will be cooking at home for my family for New Year’s Eve. I’ll be starting with crab cakes with saffron aioli hummus with vegetables and pita chips, lead into a mixed greens salad with a black mission fig vinaigrette, candied pecans, goat cheese, and baby tomatoes and as entrees I’ll make a marinated sirloin roast, Merlot demi, roast turkey, sushi platters, rosemary Yukon gold potatoes, and sautéed mixed vegetables. For dessert we’ll have apple pie with vanilla bean gelato, quad cake, peppermint bark, and a variety of Christmas cookies.

– James McDonough

New Year’s Eve to me screams surf-n-turf and chocolate. I don’t know why but I’m sure I’m not alone. Could be the decadence.

– Tony Saccoccia

Linguine with fresh cockles! It’s a New Year’s tradition.

– Puppy Cavallo

I plan not to cook at all this New Year’s and allow others to cook for me. There is nothing better than sitting back and enjoying a good meal I had nothing to do with.

– Merrick Carreiro

New Year’s Eve is classic and elegant. We’ll be serving beef tenderloin and local bay scallops, profiteroles, and flourless chocolate cake for dessert.

– Pete Smyth

We’ll have a veal dish and duck confit.

– Doug Smith

What was the best New Year’s Eve you’ve ever had?

Two years ago, my friend, Stelianie, came to visit. We had dinner in my new restaurant followed by fireworks over the water near the lighthouse.

– Doug Smith

On the eve of 1981, my wife, Dede, and I were invited to the home of the head CIA operative in the Mediterranean, stationed in Athens, Greece. An American home away from home for two road-weary travelers trekking the continents.

– Puppy Cavallo

I had New Year’s off three years ago. My wife, daughter, and I had a variety of small plates we created together and then watched a movie. At midnight, we woke my daughter and we watched the Edgartown fireworks from our driveway.

– Pete Smyth

I remember when I was old enough to work the line as a cook on New Year’s Eve. It was a time when I was proud to finally be recognized and respected as a cook.

– Tony Saccoccia

The best New Year’s Day was 1994-1995. I was the chef at the time at Hotel 1829 in St. Thomas. We had a great night in the restaurant. Food quality was high, there was a good flow to the service. We finished the night serving over 200 hundred people! But the night kept getting better. Arriving home just before midnight, I kissed my beautiful Mary goodnight and fell asleep. One hour later Mary’s water broke and I called our midwife Linda who arrived in a flash. At 4:38 am, New Year’s Day, our son Patrick was born. What a magical birth!

– James McDonough

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Executive Chefs Daniel Kenney and Nathan Gould visited with students at Our lady of Fatima University in the Philippines. — Photo courtesy of the Harbor Vie
A destroyed house on the outskirts of Tacloban on Leyte, the worst affected by the typhoon. Caritas is responding by distributing food, shelter, hygiene kits and cooking utensils.
A destroyed house on the outskirts of Tacloban on Leyte, the worst affected by the typhoon.

In August 2013, when executive chef Nathan Gould of the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown signed on to travel to the Philippines for a two-week culinary intern recruiting trip, he had no idea that the country would be devastated by a super typhoon and a major earthquake.

But by the time of his departure on November 28, the Philippines had weathered two natural disasters. The October 15 earthquake, followed by the November 8 typhoon — the country’s deadliest on record — resulted in the deaths of nearly 6,500 people and the displacement of more than 16 million others. In spite of the calamities, Mr. Gould and fellow executive chef Daniel Kenney of the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in North Falmouth embarked on their mission as planned.

With both resort properties managed by Nantucket-based Scout Hotels, the chefs’ trip was the result of regional director of operations Clark Guinn’s professional vision: an ongoing relationship with the Philippines’ culinary schools that had turned into a formal training program for interns. Mr. Guinn had lived overseas for seven years and developed an affinity for Filipino culture and cuisine.

“I had the pleasure of working with gifted culinarians from different parts of the world,” he explained, “particularly the Philippines. I took such an interest in their culture and way of thinking that I wanted to share my experience with others at home.”

Nathan Gould (left) and Daniel Kenney speak with a student at the International Culinary Arts Academy Cebu.
Nathan Gould (left) and Daniel Kenney speak with a student at the International Culinary Arts Academy Cebu.

Mr. Guinn launched an official program for Scout Hotels in 2011, opening up a cultural exchange between Filipino culinary students and Scout’s U.S. food and beverage professionals. “These young people have a tremendous amount of passion and skill and are an asset to our hotels,” he said.  “Ultimately the program works, and more importantly, it is fun.”

While the late autumn journey would be Mr. Gould’s first, Mr. Kenney had made the recruiting trip on two previous occasions. He would serve as an informal guide to his younger compatriot, introducing him to culinary school administrators and to the rich culture of the country.

Over the past several years, Mr. Kenney explained, the intern program had grown. With culinary school personnel and students expecting them at seven locations across the Philippines, the chefs agreed to adhere to their schedule, understanding that the areas they would visit were not those that had been directly devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Upon arriving in Manila, however, the chefs discovered a city working feverishly to absorb a large influx of homeless individuals.

“It was a shocking experience,” said Mr. Gould, 27. “There are already 12 million people in Manila, plus the homeless who gathered from both disasters. The population, pollution, and poverty were overwhelming.  But,” he added, “the culture is so strong.”

Nathan-Gould_Daniel-Kenney_Our-Lady-of-Fatima-University-Philipp
Nathan Gould and Daniel Kenney at Our Lady of Fatima University in the Philippines.

Mr. Kenney, 41, the veteran of the duo, looked at his return to the Philippines as an opportunity to strengthen ties with the academic culinary community, with working chefs, and with former interns now working as professionals in their own country. “I knew interns from last year whose families were at the center of the typhoon,” he said. “They lost family members and businesses.”

But with culinary schools growing in attendance throughout the sprawling country, both chefs were eager to build new relationships, experience the varied foods of the culture, and choose a new crop of interns for the 2014 season. Visiting seven culinary schools and universities across the country, Mr. Gould and Mr. Kenney interviewed 100 students for just 32 total positions — 24 for the larger Sea Crest Beach Hotel’s Red’s Restaurant and Lounge, and 8 for Mr. Gould’s Water Street Restaurant and Henry’s Hotel Bar at the Harbor View Hotel. The screening process, according to Mr. Gould, is rigorous. Starting with one-on-one interviews, each candidate is given up to three hours to prepare and present a dish to the chefs.

“We ask five to 10 questions of each student,” Mr. Gould said.  “’Why did you choose to make that dish?’ ‘Why do you want to come to the U.S.?’ We try to get a grasp on who they are and what they hope to gain from the program.” He added that even if a dish comes out poorly, if the student demonstrated great creativity, they’re not demoted. “We look for attitude, passion, and creativity,” he said.

Cantabugon Beach near the town of Aloguinsan, in Cebu province.
Cantabugon Beach near the town of Aloguinsan, in Cebu province.

One of the forays from Manila included a trip to the Cebu Province in the Central Visayas region of the country, an area harder hit by the natural disasters. While in the process of interviewing students, as well as visiting a new restaurant opened by former interns of the Sea Crest and dining with the family of a current intern, Mr. Gould and Mr. Kenney learned of an overcrowded orphanage nearby.

“We spoke with our guides and with the culinary school staff about trying to help in some way,” Mr. Kenney said. “They explained that the orphanage next door normally housed 15 children but that the storm had left thousands without families. They had 70 children living there, many displaced by the typhoon.”

Explaining the institution’s plight to Scout Hotels, the chefs were given the go-ahead to purchase diapers, toys, food and water for the children, aged six months to two years. The potential interns from the neighboring school decided to join Mr. Kenney and Mr. Gould on their visit to deliver the donations.

“We didn’t ask the students to come with us,” Mr. Kenney explained.  “They just volunteered. There’s a culture of helping one another in the Philippines, of staying together. They’re unbelievable people.”

With new toothbrushes and clothing in hand, the entourage visited the orphanage and was treated to lunch and a serenade by the children.  “It was heartbreaking and inspiring,” Mr. Gould said.

“It was the highlight of the trip,” said Mr. Kenney. “It humbles you to go from the U.S., to feel the emotion and happiness of the people. They may not have two cars and a flat screen TV, but with food, faith and family, they seem to be content. It humbled me to be there.”

Students_International-Culinary-Arts-Academy_Cebu-Philippines.JPBy hand-selecting prospective interns for the busy upcoming season, both chefs feel confident that they will be well equipped for the inevitable onslaught of diners. The program seems like a win-win, with Filipino students learning every aspect of running a major food operation, from butchering to preparing desserts, and touring as much of the U.S. as their spare time allows. Returning to the Philippines with a prestigious certificate and personal recommendations, they are poised for success in their native country — or anywhere in the world.

Mr. Kenney is already talking about his next trip. “I plan to return this spring for a major chef event in Manila,” Mr. Kenney said. “It’s an opportunity to gather former interns and help them make new contacts.”

Although the five 50-pound freshly roasted pigs they were given as gifts were memorable, Mr. Gould says it’s the overall impression of the country and its people that has stayed with him. “The experience has challenged me to do more,” he said.