What’s Cooking with Richard Allaire of Metacom Kitchen
Local Ingredients and Modern Technology Converge at a Restaurant in Warren
Metacom Kitchen is a “modern American bistro” on a busy one-way section of Route 136 in Warren, just up from the old Parker Mill. Transformed from a rundown Irish pub, the restaurant celebrates its third year this year, with satisfied customers and a dedicated staff, many of whom have been there since its inception. The creative force behind its success is a soft-spoken, innovative chef named Richard “Rick” Allaire.
It wasn’t until Allaire, raised on 1980s convenience food, spent time in France in his 20s that his eyes were opened to the depth of cooking through the lens of French cuisine. Its flavors and international influences ignited a spark in his young mind and, from there, French cuisine became Allaire’s guiding light as he rose up as a chef. Never formally trained in culinary school, Allaire has worked at Chez Pascal in Providence, Radius in Boston and the Spiced Pear in Newport, among other fine restaurants.
In 2004, Harold McGee published his revised book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (Scribner). Allaire devoured the information on food science provided by McGee and thus began to understand not just the workings of the restaurant kitchen, but why things happen when ingredients are handled and combined in certain ways. It fascinated him. When molecular gastronomy began to enter the mainstream and chefs like Ferran Adrià and José Andrés were celebrated for their science experiments, Allaire quietly stood by, watching and learning.
“Seeing an everyday ingredient used in different, creative ways is what drives me,” he says. “It’s the MO of this restaurant, and why I do what I do.”
It’s also part of what keep his kitchen staff engaged.
Sous chef Nicole Tuell met Allaire while working at 22 Bowen’s and has been at Metacom Kitchen since before it opened. She says, “I love that each day in the kitchen with Chef is different and presents a new opportunity to learn. It’s a great feeling to be gaining knowledge in that environment—going beyond places you would normally go with food.”
Allaire takes technology and equipment pretty seriously.
Unlike in most restaurant kitchens, there is no grill station or salamander broiler at Metacom Kitchen. Allaire finds open flames distracting and works at eliminating them in his kitchen. He is a master of the sous-vide method and it is on the plancha (a large, smooth, stainless steel griddle top) where all his meats are seared, sauces are heated, vegetables are warmed and eggs are poached. His CVap (controlled vapor technology) ovens run at low temperatures, allowing him to control and maintain internal temperatures well.
Allaire embraces technology to push the boundaries with his food.
“There is a resistance to technology in the kitchen,” he says, explaining that cooks have a hard time letting go of the romance of cooking over a rustic fire. It tugs at our caveman instincts. But to Allaire, technology in the kitchen is where we should be looking to become better cooks.
Last spring a freeze dryer was added to the Metacom Kitchen equipment list and it has completely changed his team’s ability to innovate. “Amazing things happen every day.” For example, Allaire took smoked mushrooms soaked in the liquid from French brandied cherries and put them in the freeze dryer. The result had a distinct roasted coffee scent that blew him away.
Getting that new flavor element on the menu is a process that involves going back to past experiences, dishes, flavor combinations and pulling all the puzzle pieces together.
“Then I flip the pieces, and turn them until it fits, and a new dish is created.”
The freeze-dried mushroom powder eventually went into Allaire’s spaetzle, a mushroom and cherry barley, and a warm apple and duck fat vinaigrette this winter. (The dried concentrate is whizzed into a powder that rehydrates when added to liquid.)
Each week, Metacom Kitchen presents a Monday night mystery menu. Three courses for $30—all a mystery. It began as a way to test culinary experimentation on actual customers but “it’s become one of our busiest nights,” says Allaire. “So we really have to deliver.”
With only a few hired cooks on the staff, Allaire is in the kitchen every night keeping close tabs on what’s coming in and out, as well as labor costs. “When you’re here all the time you intuitively know what’s happening.” Allaire attributes a lot of the restaurant’s success to his wife, Sue Allaire, who takes care of budgets and behind-the-scenes details. “She is very patient with this endeavor,” he says.
Metacom Kitchen is also slowly developing its own arsenal of spice blends, including a signature salt blend, curry blends, a sumac blend and the Togarashi blend, made of mostly seaweed, that he uses on fish. What you will not find a lot of is black pepper. Allaire is not a fan of it universally, finding it intrusive and, more often than not, getting in the way of other flavors. The spice collection is an ongoing project with continual development and experimentation. In the future, Allaire would like to create a line of spices for the retail market.
“Rhode Island is a great place to cook because of the easy access to nearby farms,” he says. And Allaire feels that, because of this, diners should expect great ingredients, handled with care.
Spring is an especially exciting time, as our farms and seas awaken after a long winter. Some of Allaire’s favorite spring ingredients are ramps—he claims that pickled ramps are one of his all-time favorite foods. He also loves tautog, a super-collagen-rich local fish that comes available in the springtime. Fiddleheads? Not a huge fan. “I think they taste like dirt.”
In year three, things are starting to gel at Metacom Kitchen. Even on a one-way street, far from Warren’s quaint Main Street and waterfront and with questionable parking, Metacom Kitchen is filling the seats nightly.
“But we need to keep the effort high and prove ourselves everyday. We continue to grow all the time,” says Allaire.
322 Metacom Ave. • Warren, Rhode Island
401.245.1193 • MetacomKitchen.com
Please join Edible Rhody with Chef Richard Allaire for a Hands-On Cooking Class!
Wednesday, April 18, 2018 • 6–8 pm
Boost your kitchen confidence with the chef/owner of Metacom Kitchen. Learn cooking tips and tricks, plus delicious seasonal recipes from Chef Allaire in the brand new demonstration kitchen at Gil’s Appliances in Bristol.
Spaces are limited! For more information, and to reserve your spot, click here.