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Alison Shaw

11.1.18

The Look, 1979

She wasn’t the first to embrace the delicacies of the Vineyard – that tradition dates back to the Wampanoags, of course – but Canadian-born, Paris-trained chef Louise Tate King ranks among the first to have found widespread success working with Island ingredients and elevating them to gourmet preparations.

Her career spanned three restaurants in Chilmark, North Tisbury, and Edgartown, and earned her accolades in national magazines. Yet it was her 1971 collection of recipes, The Martha’s Vineyard Cookbook (Globe Pequot), that cemented her place as the grande dame of the Island culinary scene.

The book went through seven printings and two reissues, each time undergoing slight modifications – pesto was added, butter subtracted and replaced with olive oil per the whims of the moment – yet the majority of the book’s 250 recipes remained unchanged. A timeless and time-tested feast of clam, oyster, and scallop chowders, venison roasts, cranberry conserves, poached fish, and beach plum chiffon pies, the cookbook still has a place in many Vineyard homes.

Seated in the copper pot–lined kitchen of her North Tisbury house, kerchief around her neck, her cat Minou on her lap, King looked relaxed yet elegant, equally at home in the kitchens of the Island or the Île-de-France. She was talking to the Vineyard Gazette about her first summer of retirement – or partial retirement, at least. King was still smoking fish on demand for anglers and selling soups and breads at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market, but the last of her restaurants had recently closed.

“I tried to think about why I keep doing it and loving it and experimenting with it, and the answer I came up with is that the motivation is no different from being involved in the arts or the theatre,” she reflected. “I think you have to have a strong sense of theatre when you cook. The curtain goes up every night. So I guess I feel like a retired artist or an actress. You don’t just stop.”

And indeed, she looked the part of a living Vineyard legend, albeit one now ready to play to a more intimate crowd.

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