Homegrown Cooking From My New England Roots
I’m a New Englander. Maybe the deep-rooted love I have for this place took hold when I first walked down Yawkey Way to see Carl Yastrzemski play his last game at Fenway. Or maybe my formative years are to blame, when I lived with my mom in a second-floor apartment in the middle of a triple-decker home in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood in Boston, watching the community activists march down Adelaide Street and, later that same afternoon, visiting the Dominican markets for fresh empanadas.
Of course, it could have been my time at culinary school in Vermont or mornings spent foraging in the woods for chicken mushrooms that sealed the deal and made me love this great region like no other. It might have been the annual visits to my aunt’s house on Great Cranberry Island off the coast of Maine, the summertime clambakes featuring the season’s first ears of Silver Queen corn and the last of local tomatoes in a salad with basil from the garden, bookended by a big pot of steamer clams on one end and grilled bluefish smothered with mayonnaise, dill, and gin—a favorite family recipe—on the other. Or maybe it was those summer evenings fishing for squid in the jet-black night off the end of a Nantucket pier, or winter evenings eating my mom’s meat loaf by a roaring fire while the snow blew sideways outside.
It doesn’t matter, really.
What matters is how connected I feel to New England. I have moved away and lived in other parts of the country—even the world—for stretches of time. Though I grew up in New England—in fact, probably because I grew up in New England—I have tried to leave it behind many times. I spent a few years in California, a couple more in the Northwest. I gave Italy a shot, cooking, eating, and drinking my way through Tuscany and Piedmont. But every time, I came back home. There is a magnetism to this place that I can’t deny, no matter how hard my adolescent and twentysomething self may have wanted to try. Some of it has to do with our four seasons, which provide a pattern by which we live our lives (and, some contend, contribute to our character). A great deal of it has to do with the physical landscape of this great region, where coast, pasture, deep forest, and booming city are all within a few hours’ drive of one another. And of course, there’s just something about the place where you grew up, the physical backdrop to your first life experiences, that always makes it feel like home.
I returned to New England for the last time about a decade ago. I started building a life here. I married a woman who was raised in Vermont, and together we bought our first home. We opened an artisan specialty foods shop, then a restaurant, in Providence, Rhode Island, and had two sons, who, like me, will grow up visiting apple orchards in the fall and dipping their toes in the icy Atlantic on hot summer days. More recently, we moved our family from Providence to Boston, because I had an opportunity I couldn’t resist: to open the restaurant of my dreams, Townsman, in the heart of the city. This time, I think I’m home for good.
Join Edible Rhody for a special evening at New Rivers with author Matt Jennings!
Sunday, October 29, 2017
The former owner of Farmstead restaurant and cheese shop in Providence, Matt Jennings, will be cooking with his old friend Beau Vestal, chef/co-owner of New Rivers. Tickets include a multi-course feast and a signed copy of Matt's cookbook.
It’s going to be a delicious evening!
For reservations and information call 401.751.0350 or visit NewRiversRestaurant.com.
Signed copies will also be available for sale at Stock Culinary Goods in Providence. Visit StockPVD.com.