Jan 15 Sustainable and locally sourced foods
have been at the forefront of American cooking trends for at
least a decade, but the approach takes on a fresh set of
challenges when the locality is a small island off the coast of
Nantucket chef Michael LaScola has found the approach
widening his culinary talents, which champions regional American
cooking, while also boosting the sense of community so integral
to small island life.
Several years ago, LaScola switched from a regional concept
to a menu based on local sourcing, which means seasonality,
ushering in a unique set of opportunities and challenges at
Nantucket's 25-year-old American Seasons restaurant, which he
has owned since 2004.
"It gives us more freedom to go crazy," he said.
LaScola talked to Reuters about the challenges of living and
working on an island and local sourcing.
Q: What motivated you to abandon the regional concept in
favor of a local, sustainable approach?
A: "We used to have to try to force things to fit the
categories like Southwestern, which is really not my style.
Especially being up in New England, it was a challenge. It
limited creativity. But now we change things constantly, as soon
as things come into or go out of season. The menu used to
change three times a year -- now we can change it on a weekly
Q: Has it made things easier or more difficult?
A: "It's so much easier this way. When something pops into
season I can make a dish out of it and just put it on the menu."
Q: Are there particular challenges of using the sustainable
concept on a small island, versus, say, chefs working in the
California salad bowl?
A: "It's challenging, but what's going on here is pretty
special. We're a small island out at sea, but there are four
different farms here growing vegetables. We have a mushroom guy
who cultivates mushrooms. We have Nantucket cranberries, oyster
farmers, scallopers and in summer lobster, flounder, fluke and
clams, all stuff that is found locally.
"Even the pig belly is from local pork raised on Nantucket
and fed with Nantucket products. It's finished on blueberry mash
after they make the blueberry beer. So it's a small chain, and
what we can't get, we get on the boat from as far up as Maine,
the Cape (Cod) and New England. We're not totally sustainable
yet, but people have backyard gardens, they keep bees for honey
and chickens. There are so many people doing eggs out here now
you don't have to buy an egg off-island, and they're fantastic."
Q: But does it really matter to diner's taste buds if an egg
comes from Nantucket or an equally fine egg guy on the Cape?
A: "A good egg is a good egg. But when I get my eggs around
here, I know those chickens are happy chickens, they're running
around having a cool time. Now, would an egg from a small farmer
off-island taste the same? Yeah, it might, but it's also a
matter of supporting the people out here -- and them supporting
me as well."
Q: Do you think it's possible for sustainability and local
sourcing to go too far? Are there limits?
A: "Being completely sustainable on an island is very, very
hard to do. We're not there yet. I think it's possible, but
there's only so much room. To have a cattle farm out here would
be really expensive and there's no room for it. But people are
talking about setting up a slaughterhouse so we don't have to
send our livestock, lambs and pigs off-island to get slaughtered
and brought back, which gets really expensive."
Q: What about the challenges of New England's relatively
short growing season? In the dead of winter you can't just serve
potatoes, apples and root vegetables -- or can you?
A: "That's easy for me because we close down the second week
of December until early April. But having three seasons, and
it's like, you can't wait for tomatoes and corn, then you're
over that and can't wait for apples and squash and cranberries.
By the time we hit December we're over that and can't wait 'til
spring. Whatever is in season, you're just flooded with it, and
during those times of excess the challenge is making different
things with those ingredients and making it exciting and new for
you, and also the customer who says, 'Wow, I've never had it
prepared in this way.'"
Q: Where do you think American cuisine is headed now?
A: "It's hard to say, because we're in such a great spot now
because it's so diverse and people are pushing the envelope.
Everybody in this country is trying to get the best ingredients
they can now. No matter what style they're doing, it's all
focused on the quality of ingredients, which is just pushing
producers in this country to do a better job.
"The change in the last 10 years has been incredible, with
things going back to where they used to be. People want little
butcher shops now or cheese shops or small bakeries. They're
done with going to supermarkets that are the size of an airport
hangar. They want to discuss the products, and that's huge."
Seared Day Boat Scallop with Cauliflower Veloute, Golden
Raisin and Almond Butter:
2 pounds day boat scallops (under 10 per pound)
1 head cauliflower cut into florets
1 clove garlic fine dice
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon each salt, pepper, sugar
In a medium pot, add 1 quart water, garlic, salt and pepper,
bring to a simmer, add cauliflower and simmer for 30 minutes.
Strain, puree in blender, slowly add cream and puree until
smooth. Season to taste, with salt, pepper and sugar.
Brown butter vinaigrette:
1/2 pound (two sticks) butter
1/4 red onion, small dice
3 tablespoons sherry vinaigrette
3 tablespoons golden raisin
1/4 cup toasted almonds, sliced
1 teaspoon capers
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
Place butter in a medium pan, brown over a medium heat.
Place all other ingredients in a bowl and whisk in brown butter.
Scallops, clean and dry:
Warm oil in a pan until hot. Place scallops in pan and allow
to caramelize; turn over to warm through. To serve, spoon
veloute onto plate, place scallops over veloute and sauce with
vinaigrette. Yields 4 to 6 servings.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)