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5.1.08

Island Chefs Celebrate the Vineyard’s Bounty

Like clockwork, each Thursday afternoon before dinner service begins, Chef Christian Thornton greets West Tisbury grower Krishana Collins at the back door of his restaurant. She’s carrying in her freshly picked arugula, baby bok choy, and microgreens that will appear on Atria’s menu that night.

“There’s something special about 5” when Krishana arrives, says the Edgartown chef and owner. “The restaurant is about to fill up with all these fancy rich people, and here comes Krishana, with rubber boots and overalls, just in from the field picking these greens that people are about to enjoy. Often they don’t know how good they have it.”

Getting produce this fresh and meat right off the farm, as well as pristine local seafood, is a “chef’s dream,” says Christian, who has owned and operated Atria for the past nine seasons with his now-wife, Greer. He is among the Vineyard chefs who each year continue to expand their contacts with the Island’s farms and fisheries.

Christian loves to get calls from Vineyard charter fishing captains like Jennifer Clarke or Buddy Vanderhoop, who run out of Menemsha. “I get phone calls from people on a boat saying, ‘This is what I have; I can be there in two hours,’ which is wonderful. They’ve just pulled it out of the ocean.”

He especially enjoys the relationships he can forge with a grower like Krishana, who is attuned to the special needs of chefs. “She comes to us and asks, ‘What do you want us to grow?’ For a chef, that’s great. It’s beautiful and works to size specification.”

Chef Kevin Crowell of Détente in Edgartown describes his restaurant menu as “locally driven with Mediterranean influences.” On given days, Kevin receives deliveries of mixed salad greens from North Tabor Farm in Chilmark, shiitake mushrooms from Down Island Farm in Tisbury, owned by Heidi Feldman, and baby bok choy and other greens from Krishana Collins’s Bluebird Farm.

For a chef, he says, “A good relationship with a farmer is just as important as any relationship with a contractor or a mechanic. People should put more emphasis on their relationship with farmers, especially since eating is so much a part of your life.”

Daniele Dominick is into her fourth year of owning the Scottish Bakehouse in Tisbury, which specializes in bakery goods and takeout meals. “If I could supply my whole restaurant with local food, I would,” she says. “Sometimes I get apples that come from Washington State. Why? We have apples in Massachusetts. There’s no reason why I should get my garlic from China, even if they say it’s organic. Isn’t it Maine where they have the garlic festival?” Working to change that and to support the Island community, Daniele gets eggs and produce from Blackwater Farm in West Tisbury, produce and chicken from the FARM Institute and Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, and yogurt and milk from Mermaid Farm in Chilmark. “It’s amazing; it’s got that cream on top,” she says about the milk.

On Saturday afternoons, Daniele buys any produce that Lisa Fisher of Stannard Farms in West Tisbury did not sell that morning at the Farmer’s Market. “She drives her truck up to the Bakehouse and unloads,” and Daniele creates a menu around it. She has two menu boards, one with the regular menu items, and a second for specials of the day. “I change that according to what’s going off the farms,” including favorites like the goat cheese quesadilla with
arugula and beets.

Daniele says it took her time to cultivate relationships with farmers, and to find the time in her day to visit farms. Often, she says, “farmers can’t
do delivery; they’re farming and a lot of chefs are busy cooking.”

The first few times she visited farms – coming from a fast-paced, coffee-fueled restaurant environment – she wanted everything. They got overwhelmed, and she left with nothing.

“I finally learned to relax a little. I understand that I had to build these relationships. I started getting small things, letting them see my face, and showing them I was really trying to be consistent.”

Now, she says, “I love being on a farm. I had no idea I liked farms.” Last fall, she harvested tomatoes one afternoon at Mermaid Farm with Caitlin Jones, who specializes in growing heirloom varieties. She’s asked Caitlin to grow leeks and beets for this coming season.

“With local fresh food, compared to conventional food that comes from who knows where, picked before it’s ripe, the taste is more real – the energy is still there,” Daniele adds.

Elizabeth Germain is the president of Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard, an Island group active in the worldwide farm-to-table movement. “The farmer-chef relationship is such a symbiotic one – they both benefit from developing a relationship that serves each of them, which then becomes so visible to the public,” she says.

The chefs have both buying power and “because chefs are so passionate about the highest quality, best tasting food, they are very powerful spokespeople to promote local food,” Elizabeth says. “And that’s why it’s so important that we support chefs that are supporting local.”

Atria’s steak salad with Island arugula, summer corn, and Gorgonzola

This steak and arugula salad from chef Christian Thornton at Atria in Edgartown is a showcase for the simplicity of summer Island dining. All of the prep can be done ahead of time, and the salad can be assembled in just a few minutes. The steak can be grilled the moment it is to be served, or it can be grilled ahead of time and served chilled.

Serves 4
 
• 1/2 pound (approximately 8 cups) Island arugula
• 1/2 red onion, sliced thin
• 1 summer heirloom tomato, chopped into bite-size pieces
• 4 ears of corn, steamed or grilled, then corn cut off the cob
• 4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
• 1 large russet potato, julienned and fried until crispy (optional)
• Candied garlic vinaigrette, recipe follows
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 1 1/2 to 2 pounds New York strip steak or steak of your choice, seasoned and grilled to desired temperature

1. In a large bowl, combine the arugula, red onion, chopped tomato, corn, half of the crumbled Gorgonzola, and the crispy potatoes. Gently toss the salad with enough vinaigrette to coat the greens. Season the salad with salt and pepper.

2. Transfer the salad to a large serving platter. Slice the steak crosswise into thin pieces and arrange on the top of the salad. Top the salad with the remaining Gorgonzola and more vinaigrette, if desired.

Candied garlic vinaigrette

• 2 cloves fresh garlic
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
• 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
• 1 cup canola oil
• Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Combine the garlic, sugar, vinegar, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce in a blender. While blending at a low speed, slowly add the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate any remaining vinaigrette.

Détente’s baby bok choy salad with local lamb Milanese

Chef Kevin Crowell of Détente in Edgartown gets his inspiration from the Mediterranean countries of Spain, France, and Italy, and from Island ingredients like baby bok choy from grower Krishana Collins and lamb from Allen Farm. Krishana’s baby bok choy is sold weekly in season at the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market, and lamb is available from a number of Vineyard farms, including Allen Farm and Mermaid Farm, both in Chilmark, and Flat Point Farm in West Tisbury.

Serves 4
 
• 1 full rack of Island lamb or 8 lamb rib chops
• 2 cups bread crumbs
• 1 teaspoon cumin
• 1 teaspoon cardamom
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
• Flour for dredging
• 3 eggs, lightly whisked
• Vegetable oil for cooking
• 3/4 pound Island baby bok choy
• 1 lemon, juiced
• 1 orange, juiced
• 1 tablespoon cilantro, roughly chopped
• 2 tablespoons sesame oil
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 1 piece (approximately 3 ounces) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Divide lamb into 8 equal portions by cutting along each bone of the rack. Cover lamb pieces with plastic wrap and hit with a mallet to thin out the meat. Mix bread crumbs with the dry seasonings. Dredge the lamb in flour, then egg, and finally the bread-crumb mixture.

2. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat and add a layer of vegetable oil (approximately 1/4 inch). Add half of the lamb and cook to a golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Place on paper towels. Continue the same procedure for the remaining lamb. Add more oil if needed.

3. While lamb is cooking, separate leaves of the bok choy. Slice lengthwise into long thin strips (julienne). In a bowl, combine citrus juices, cilantro, sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Toss the bok choy until lightly coated.

4. To serve, lay 2 pieces of lamb on a plate, top with bok choy salad and freshly shaved Parmesan.