Observing the Scene at Oberlin
A Day of Prep and a Night of Service at the Sister Restaurant to birch
Ben and Heidi Sukle of the much loved birch restaurant in Providence recently opened a new spot, a more casual eatery called Oberlin—”casual” meaning à la carte with an emphasis on pasta, small plates and the freshest local seafood and produce they can provision or forage. It’s more than just birch for the people, it’s birch by the people—and with a palpable enthusiasm for Providence and Rhode Island as a whole.
I was allowed to document the Oberlin team during both prep and service. My presence as an outsider was novel for a brief moment but I quickly became part of the kitchen landscape as staff went about their tasks.
During prep the kitchen had a quiet monastic quality. Quiet with deliberate movements of cooks within the space, the moving and shifting of people around each other was made in harmony with gestures big and small, of plucking herbs or breaking down fish.
During service I spent my time as an authorized voyeur in the kitchen and as a diner out front. Both the kitchen and my dining table were distilled into a sequence of turns and trades of the small deep bowls and shallow plates that played host to Sukle’s thoughtfully but confidently constructed dishes. The pots and pans, the dishes and plates were shuffled and exchanged from cook to cook and from eater to eater in a larger context that prefers sharing above all else.
The open kitchen emphasized what felt like a communal cooking and eating experience. While the kitchen staff was concerned with construction and layering, as architects of the experience, the act of discovery was isolated to the table. Diners were begged to deconstruct and almost literally dive into the broths and pastas concealed beneath garnishes of herbs, citrus peel and showers of cheese.
Adriana Gallo is a designer and illustrator living in New York with roots in Rhode Island, the Berkshires and Milan. Usually splitting time between the studio and the kitchen, she can also be found online at AdrianaGallo.com.