Farm to Table

Easy Entertaining Showcases a Homegrown Thanksgiving Rooted in Rhode Island

By Johnette Rodriguez / Photography By David Dadekian | September 01, 2013
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As an English and communications major in a small South Carolina college, executive chef and founder of Easy Entertaining Kaitlyn Roberts felt sure she was headed to law school. But after the third fire violation in her dorm from her cooking experiments, her dean said, “Maybe you should go to culinary school!”

And so she did, moving to Italy just six months after college to attend a master’s program at the Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence. It was there she realized what her life’s work would be and what her food philosophy would be based on: local ingredients, seasonal dishes, keeping things simple.

“I learned to never overcomplicate things,” Roberts emphasizes, during a conversation at her elegant yet rustic catering and café space at the Rising Sun Mills complex in Providence. “In Italy, the ingredients were always minimal, and we live by that. Our BLT has only four items—our own bacon, local tomatoes and lettuce, our own mayo.” “With other chefs, we love the fuss, the plates decorated using tweezers,” she continues, her gentle humor sparkling in her eyes. “But it’s just not how we do things.”

Roberts and her executive sous-chef Ashley Vanasse try very hard not to serve things out of season or imported from outside the United States—no caprese salad in December.

“I really picked that up in Italy, even though tomatoes are almost always available there,” Roberts reflects. “That’s our thing—local products. It’s never been just a trend for us.”

Roberts started her culinary career as a personal chef, and her clients kept asking her to cook for special events. Before she realized it, she and a few staff were catering to 40, then 60, then 100 people at a time. They worked out of The Grange in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, for roughly a year, then out of a kitchen in Eagle Square for almost two years before coming to Rising Sun Mills last November.

For Roberts it was a homecoming. Her father’s company, Victorian Creations, had been in the very same mill when she was growing up in Barrington, and sometimes she went to work with her father. In 2006, when she established Easy Entertaining, she felt she’d come back to “where everything started.” She’d gained a thorough appreciation for Rhode Islanders’ fascination with food, their support for farmers’ markets and the network for farmers to reach restaurants.

Roberts and crew get fresh produce from Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Market Mobile—they’ve also made a point to go to the farms to meet the farmers. They buy beef, pork and eggs from Blackbird Farm; chicken and eggs from Baffoni’s Poultry Farm; oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm; sodas from Yacht Club; coffee from New Harvest and coffee syrup from Dave’s Coffee.

“We were lucky that people here had developed such an awareness of local products,” she adds. “And they realized that seasonal foods taste better.”

She encourages her staff to travel and gather new ideas. “I always keep a flavor notebook with me when I travel,” Roberts says, “so that I can come home and figure them out [the dishes and flavors] in some fashion. Being open to other cultures and how other chefs do things makes me a better chef.”

Roberts is proud of being a largely female-run organization—her management staff includes Vanasse plus event coordinator Erica Lukas. Together they plan the events, classes and keep the café running smoothly.

Another aspect of Easy Entertaining’s cooking style is their do-it-yourself approach, not only making dishes, sauces and desserts from scratch but also grinding and smoking their own meats. They grind their porkand beef coarsely—or “steaky”—like the chunky texture in their black bean burger that benefits from some beans left whole. They smoke bacon over apple wood; pork over pecan; and brisket over Merlotsoaked wood, for the distinctive flavors each wood imparts.

An important factor that sets their business apart is their dedication to sustainability, be it more efficient equipment and lighting in the café, repurposed furniture pieces or recycled items on their catering tables—vintage wine boxes, vintage slate tiles, burlap coffee bags. Even tables by Providence-based Lorimer Workshops were made from slabs of pine from Newport, dried several years and then stained dark.

“That way, we don’t have to use linens,” Roberts explains. “And putting plates on the raw wood tables looks beautiful.”

A big plus they can offer catering clients is rentable space, utilizing both the outside patio and the inside café, with its lofty ceilings; its classy tones of brown, tan and gray in walls and tables; a large crystal chandelier over the bar and smaller ones around the room. There’s even an alcove that can hold up to 18 for business lunches.

“The whole idea behind catering is celebrating,” Roberts points out. “Every day for us is celebrating something for someone—weddings, baby showers, anniversaries, birthdays—it’s a lot of fun to do that.”

As for holiday celebrating, Thanksgiving is Roberts’s favorite— even when she spent them in Europe, she always made a Thanksgiving dinner.

“It’s so quintessentially American and it’s a very sensory-driven holiday,” she notes. “Regardless of culture or religion, being focused on this meal together is what we all have in common.”

Easy Entertaining has been offering Thanksgiving dinners for the past three years, either à la carte or the entire feast: herb-roasted turkey, seasonal sides—carrots, sweet potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash—Foremost Bakery rolls, Rhody Fresh butter, apple-cranberry relish, a choice of pies, and stuffing—ah, stuffing!

“Stuffing is so personal that sometimes people order everything but that,” Roberts says. “We want to develop some signature dishes that become a new tradition for them.”

From the care that Easy Entertaining lavishes on everything they do, that’s a sure bet.

 

Signature Sausage Stuffing
Kaitlyn Roberts, executive chef/owner, Easy Entertaining Inc., Providence

 

Pecan Pie

Pastry Team, Easy Entertaining Inc., Providence
We add local flavor to this Southern favorite with Rhode Island whiskey and quality pecans procured at Providence’s Virginia & Spanish Peanut Co. We love to use the pecan filling in a tart pan in place of a pie dish to garner a thinner dessert. Either way, top it with a dollop of cream cheese frosting—heaven!

 

Brussels Sprouts & Bacon

Kaitlyn Roberts, executive chef/owner, Easy Entertaining Inc., Providence

 

 

Rustic Mashed Potatoes
Ashley Vanasse, executive sous-chef, Easy Entertaining Inc., Providence

Cranberry Apple Relish

Kaitlyn Roberts, executive chef/owner, Easy Entertaining Inc., Providence

Chef Kait’s perfect adaptation of her grandmother’s cranberry relish recipe is designed to use crisp apples to cut the bite of the cranberries. It will hold for up to one week in the fridge or one month in the freezer. 1½ cups (2–3 medium apples) local apples (McIntosh, Gala or Ida Red)

Find it

166 Valley St. Building 10
Providence, RI
401.437.6090
Article from Edible Rhody at http://ediblerhody.ediblecommunities.com/eat/easy-entertaining-showcases-homegrown-thanksgiving-rooted-rhode-island
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