Pat Spencer, an East Coast Grill alum, has just taken oven as executive chef at Church. Yesterday he unveiled his new, revamped menu, which highlights plenty of fall and winter vegetables — and "fat kid food." Eater chatted with Spencer about his changes to the menu, what it's like to cook for the Fenway crowd, and more.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what drew you to the position at Church?
I started off young. My family had this pizza place in Abington, and I was making pizzas there until I was about 21, when we sold the business and I had the opportunity to work with Jimmy Burke at Riva [in Scituate]. He was actually a friend of my mother's. I was going to go to culinary school, and he told me not to because he would teach me everything I needed to know. That went well, and I worked there for three years before I moved out to Las Vegas and worked there. That wasn't my cup of tea so I moved back and worked with Chris Schlesinger at All Star Sandwich Bar and East Coast Grill. Then I parted ways with them and worked all over, wanting to get experience in very different restaurants. I was at Abigail's for a while and worked with Jason Lord, and he taught me a ton of stuff. After Abigail's, I left restaurants for a year, just to see what I wanted to do, and I ended up coming right back. Then I started worked at Union Fish in Hingham, and then I heard about this opportunity and came up here.
I'm just very happy to be back in the city, especially with the Fenway crowd. It's just a totally different atmosphere. I get to do stuff a little differently than down in Hingham, so this is great for me. It's been so awesome to come up with a new menu and work with everyone in the kitchen to work out some new stuff. It's just really exciting.
There's also a show in the club part every night, and between the restaurant and the club, we do about 200 covers a night. We're open 5-11, and we've been pretty steady all night. We also get a great late-night crowd since the kitchen stays open until 11 PM. We also do food in the club part, and I find it's been sort of a chain reaction over there; one person will order food and then they all do. On Fenway game nights, we're doing burgers and steak tips all night long. We've also been doing a lot of pulled pork sandwiches.
What are you most excited about on the menu?
I'm just excited about the fact that it's fall. There are braises on the menu, winter greens, squashes, etc. I changed things up a bit; I'm doing a cider-braised pork shank with mustard spaetzle and winter greens. I'm sort of going across the board with the menu and doing a duck liver mousse with warm spices and then doing fried sticky wings with sweet soy and chili. I just want to appeal to every part of the crowd, and I wanted this menu to be very approachable. It's just stuff that's fun and things that I enjoy eating. I like to say jokingly that it's "fat kid food." I'm also really excited about the dessert. One of my favorite things in the world are Drake's snack cakes, and we're going to be doing a "funny bone" dessert with flourless chocolate cake and peanut butter mouse and chocolate ganache. So stuff like that, really stick to your ribs type of food.
Did anything stay on from the old menu or did you totally revamp it?
It's totally revamped except for the staples, like the Church Caesar and the steak tips.
Tell me more about your cooking style and how that fits in with Church.
This is a little bit different than what I've done before. I've gotten the opportunity to work with some really talented people, and I've learned so much from them. I wouldn't say that I have a specific cooking style, necessarily; instead, I just cook food that I like. It's just easy-to-eat food. We've got a classic poutine on the menu, and we've got a burger with gouda, bacon, and red onion chutney. It's just real simple food that you don't have to think that much about.
Are there any specific experiences from your past that you've brought with you to Church?
I got to do the Mohegan Sun festival with Jimmy Burke and Chris Schlesinger and just seeing that level and volume — it was so amazing to watch people get so excited about them and their food, and that's always stuck with me as something really memorable and something that I strive for. Also, because I've worked in so many varied restaurants, I got to learn lots of different cuisines. For example, I learned about Equatorial food, and whenever I need some inspiration, I look to some of those sources. I mean, I don't stray too far from the path but it's nice to have those influences.
— Katie Chudy
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