The Red Cat Kitchen in Oak Bluffs is always looking for new ways to utilize the fresh and wholesome ingredients available right here on Martha’s Vineyard.
Chef de Cuisine at Red Cat, Dan Kelleher, has been in the food industry for decades, and was inspired to cook when he took a trip to Greece with some of his friends who owned a restaurant. “When I was out there I immediately fell in love with the food. Seeing people cook, using all these different methods, and the fresh ingredients — that’s one thing I really appreciated,” Kelleher said. “I knew this was something I wanted to do for a career.”
When Kelleher started coming to the Island from his hometown of Belchertown, Mass., in the early 2000s, his first job was at Pomodoro Pizza in Oak Bluffs. But he said he’s worked all over the Island at Alchemy, Black Dog, the Charlotte Inn, The Town, and has always been interested in experimenting with various locally sourced ingredients. One of Kelleher’s favorite parts about working at Red Cat is the close collaboration with other chefs who also work alongside Ben DeForest, who owns Red Cat, the Cardboard Box, and Oyster Bar 02557.
“It’s a lot of fun. We go over what we have for fresh produce and fish and everything, then we try to draw up a menu based on what we have available to us,” Kelleher explained.
Some of the delicious ingredients Red Cat mixes into their regularly shifting menu are fresh corn, tomatoes, and other vegetables sourced from Island farms. These materialize into beautiful and creative meals, like Red Cat’s Island Fresca, with tomatoes, corn, sweet corn broth, parmesan cheese, and basil oil. They get greens from North Tabor Farm to fashion into colorful, healthy plates.
Kelleher said the chefs from all three DeForest-owned restaurants, including DeForest himself, meet up each week and discuss their options. For Kelleher, it’s a great opportunity to exercise his creativity in putting together meals and a comprehensive menu, but it’s also a chance to learn from his peers. “Everyone has a different eye, a different talent, a different set of taste buds. The collaborative effort is really important — it’s definitely everyone coming together and bringing something to the table,” he said.
Some of the main courses represent Kelleher’s creations, and others are inspired by his fellow chefs. In the end, it’s all a team effort, and the unique and varied menu items are the final result. With options like fresh lobster, bluefish, and scallops from Island waters, it’s clear Red Cat has honed in on their specialty — seafood. “Our logo is a cat,” Kelleher laughed. “So people come in all the time and they say ‘Wow, this menu is really seafood-oriented.’ I jokingly say ‘Well look at our sign, it’s a cat holding a fish.’”
The restaurant works closely with Mike Holtham of the Net Result in Vineyard Haven to keep tabs on the freshest catches that come into the fish store. “He’s a total rockstar,” Kelleher said of Holtham. “It’s really nice to be able to call him and be like ‘What’s fresh, what’s beautiful?’ Because that really supports the local fishermen as well as the big commercial fishermen.”
Kelleher said he is excited to get some fresh striped bass (which he said is some of the best in the world) on the menu, and work more local oysters and clams into the mix. He added that Martha’s Vineyard Mycological puts out some of the best shiitakes he’s ever eaten, and those will be incorporated into a number of menu items.
“We are so lucky to have this kind of ocean bounty here, and that’s definitely something that Red Cat takes advantage of,” Kelleher said. “We really pride ourselves on that fresh, incredible produce and fish that comes from right here on the Vineyard.”
The Red Cat Kitchen is located at 14 Kennebec Ave., in Oak Bluffs, and is open for dinner Monday through Saturday starting at 5:30 pm. Head to redcatkitchen.com for more information.