Welcome to Chef Faves, a new Eater Boston series where local chefs share some of their current favorite dishes, ingredients, and more. Here's Josh Lewin, executive chef at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro.
[Photo: Josh Lewin/Katie Chudy]
What's your current favorite dish in Boston?
Well, there are a lot of new ones, but I live in Somerville's Inman Square, so I go home through Kendall often and stop at West Bridge. They've been doing some really fun stuff — you know, the small plates thing — and they have a late-night menu. Last time I was there, I had a fantastic sandwich, the liverwurst sandwich, around midnight. It's just a really fun place to pop in for dinner and have small plates. Recently I had this savory corn flan that had Tasso ham and black beans that was great, and there was also a seafood noodle dish that he [Chef Matthew Gaudet] presented as a ramen dish, which had all of this cut-up squid in it. The flavors were just really good. I'm really excited to have them in my neighborhood, and that's one of my common stops.
What's your current favorite ingredient to use? [Note: Lewin chatted with Eater a few weeks back, so some of the dishes he mentions below have already disappeared with the last shreds of summer. The following answer is preserved in order to trigger sweet thoughts of next summer.]
Ha, that one's impossible to answer, but right now, tomatoes and corn. The tomatoes are getting sweet right now, and the weather is starting to get colder as we're hanging onto summer. We have a lot of corn on the menu — corn cakes, grits, and chilled corn soup with pickled clams. We also have a dessert, and we use corn four different ways — we do a custard, sorbet, and roasted corn griddle. We're just all about corn right now, and tomatoes too. We have a few different tomato dishes as well, like tomato consomme with swordfish and tomato salad with African Blue basil vinaigrette, mozzarella cheese from Westport, the Shy Brothers, pickled green beans. You know, your basic tomato, basil, mozzarella, but we've added a couple of twists to it.
Basil is another ingredient we're using a lot right now. A little bit of sweet basil, you know, your common basil. Then we use Tulsi and African Blue basil, two basils that are pretty unique to our restaurant, at least in the way that we feature them as very different ingredients. Tulsi is whole basil common to India, where they use it religiously and medicinally, and it's just a fantastic sweet basil. We do a lemon-Tulsi sorbet with that, and we use a Tulsi vinegar for our salt and vinegar potatoes. African Blue basil is really pungent and camphory, which all basil has a little bit of. In its raw state, if you bruise it, it smells like a locker room. But if you treat it right, you can really take basil over the top, and it gives you something that you weren't really expecting. We also use all of these ingredients in our bar program as well. So yeah, you could say we're really into tomato, basil, and corn right now.
Where's your favorite places to go for food inspiration?
The dining room. I mean, I'm reading three or four books at a time — two of them might be a cookbook, one a service textbook, and one totally unrelated to the business — but there's a lot of inspiration in all of that. I've also been writing quite a bit and have done a couple of posts for The Huffington Post, and I find working with words to be really inspiring as well as the editing process. Because I work in food all the time, my context for the drafting and editing process is food, and I like to slow down and take a thoughtful approach to food. I draw a lot of inspiration from reading and writing but then also just being in the dining room.
We do a lot of semi-formal French service here, like cheese-plating and roast-carving tableside. We also butcher all of our meat here, so we feature something called "The Butcher's Cut" almost every night, which is always something different. It's fun because there's literally only one of them and not something you'd ever see at the retail counter because it's not merchandisable, but it's a point of conversation. Also, about four or five times a night, I'll stop into the dining room to have direct one-on-one communication with our guests to see what they're excited about. Our menu has definitely been influenced by these meetings, because it's one thing for me to be in the kitchen thinking up all of these ideas — but to stop and ask people why they like coming here and what they don't like, I can make their experience more enjoyable.
What is one of your favorite food memories?
My grandmother has always been very important for a very specific reason, not just because she's my grandmother but because my family split up when I was fairly young. We all stayed close, so we wound up with an aunt and uncle and had visitation with my father and seeing with my mother. My family was always close but not necessarily cohesive, and we didn't have those traditions — except nearly every weekend we would spend with my grandmother, Ruth. She was a great cook and did everything by hand. I have this fantastic image of her and this hand-cranked meat grinder that she had, and it had a suction attached to it and the counter top. It was small, maybe a two-pint capacity, and she'd use it for nuts more often than meat. I mean, sometimes she'd grind meat, but she was grinding nuts, mainly for the haroseth, and she would do that all by hand, just like her baking.
You know, just like all of our grandmothers, she did use mixes, but it was that act of going to that place and always knowing what to expect and being around the preparation of food. I guess it was more about the approach then a specific eating experience, and it just felt good to be around food and eating and in this secure environment that always comes back to the dinner table.
What are your favorite dishes on menu currently and most looking forward to doing in the near future?
We're currently reworking our menu actually. [Note: Here's a look at it.] We're very seasonal, and we change our menu every six or eight weeks. We have this tradition of totally flipping the menu, but we're doing things a little different this time and not just flipping it but reformatting it for people who have been coming here for the past 12 years (we're about to turn 13 this winter.) I've been going on two years as executive chef and two years prior.
We're essentially going to give a few solid nods to the history of the restaurant and some things that have always been here and that we know are very popular. We're not trying to do away with that. But more than just recreating it and paying homage to it, we're also going to be playing off of my history and the owner's history in a stronger way, more than just recreating and flipping over seasonally, like we've always done. We're just going to be going a bit deeper to share that history, and we're excited to be moving in that direction.
What is your favorite thing to cook at home in your (limited) spare time?
Simple. Honestly, I may only be able to cook at home once a week, but when I do, it's usually on Mondays, which is my day off and also the day of the farmer's market in my neighborhood. On a recent Monday, I made game hens, and I kept it really simple with tomatoes and kale salad. I stuffed the hens with chicken of the woods mushrooms, more kale, and husk cherries.
Oh! Husk cherries are a really great ingredient. I also like to experiment — like, with tomatoes, I'll prepare them a couple of different ways and play around with things. I made a tri-color gazpacho one week, tomato jam, and sweet and savory tomato desserts, and sometimes those things work their way into the menus here. It's just fun. I go to the farmer's market and just have snacks throughout the day, and if anything particularly fun comes out of that experience, I bring it back to the restaurant with me. The other half of the time I drink two bottles of wine and forget everything I did.
— Katie Chudy
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