Scott Herritt is a 25-year veteran of the restaurant industry, with two successful Boston ventures, Marliave and Grotto, under his belt. Scott's newest endeavor is Kitchen, which opened in the South End last week and which takes a historical approach to its recipes. After perusing some centuries-old cookbooks, Scott became interested in how today's dishes originated and how cooking techniques have evolved over time. He spent over $15,000 on cookbooks from as far back as the 1700s, looking for the earliest mention of certain dishes and for pivotal moments in the history of cooking. Eater spoke with Scott to see how things are going thus far.
How was the first week? It was good. We were fairly busy. We started with a limited menu and gradually worked up to a pretty full menu. We now have seven appetizers and nine entrees. We haven't started dessert, [we'll] probably start in the next couple weeks, as we get our feet underneath us.
What's the most popular dish? For appetizers, the scallops wrapped in bacon are very popular as are the frog legs with house-made cayenne pepper sauce. We just added a mock turtle soup and that's starting to pick up momentum. In terms of entrees, the sole, inspired by Julia Child, is selling well.
How is the sole prepared? It's Sole Meunière. A sole fillet is lightly floured, sauteed, and then finished with browned butter-parsley-lemon sauce. It's served with parsley potatoes and pan-roasted summer squash. All of our dishes have dates next to them. The date for this one is November 2nd, 1948. The story goes, Julia Child and her husband Paul ate Sole Meunière on this date after arriving in France. In her book, My Life in France, she talks about this dinner at that restaurant as a pivotal point in her life. It was this dish that made her want to dedicate her life to cooking and food. Thus this was a very important date in the food world.
What drew you to using historical recipes? I was doing research on some recipes and I came across a dish called The Grand Sallet that was dated 1638. The salad had a lot of dried fruits and I presumed this was because, at that time, that was the sort of thing they needed to do to preserve food. That really got me thinking about how dishes originated and how they play a role in what we eat today. I ordered more and more old cookbooks and I started to think about how much cooking is a part of us and something that makes us human. Cookbooks offer snapshots of us at different times. You look through them and see how fonts change, pictures change, names change. At a certain point, people started using measurements and you can pinpoint when certain ingredients start popping up. For instance, you start seeing tomatoes in the late 1800s. Up until then, tomatoes were widely thought of as some sort of poisonous apple. I've been doing this for 25 years and many of these dishes I've never made. I call this my mid-life crisis of cooking.
Knowing what you do now, if you could have given yourself advice for the opening, what would it be? No particular advice. In the first two to three months after opening a restaurant, you have to come to terms with where your ideas match with what the customers want to eat. You see what the staff sells and what the customers are interested in. I think the downfall of many restaurants is that people become too in love with their idea and they're not willing to change.
Any menu changes so far? None just yet. I have a couple dishes I'm probably going to switch up pretty soon. There is a chowder dish that I'm going to lighten up. I find it too heavy the way it is now. Sometimes you have ideas in your mind of how dishes are going to look and it doesn't match the reality of the finished dish. Overall I'm not happy with it. It hasn't translated well from my thought to the plate.
How is this different from Marliave and Grotto? They're similar in that the food tends toward being rich. No one who eats at Marliave and Grotto would come in to Kitchen and be surprised. It follows suit with what I've done. The atmosphere is comfortable, relaxed and the food approachable. I do like to reinterpret classics. I'm always trying to develop myself as a cook and and hopefully take my clientele with me as I do.
Any plans for the future? We're just going to continue with our plan from the start. I like the idea of exploring cuisine through old cookbooks. I'm not trying to be gimmicky. I'm more trying to bring to light what cooking and recipes are all about. They're important. They define a time period. This is the third restaurant I've opened and this represents me at this moment.