Welcome to Chef Faves, an Eater Boston series where local chefs share their current favorite dishes, ingredients, and more. Here's Michael Scelfo of Alden & Harlow.
[Photo: Michael Scelfo/Katie Chudy]
What's your current favorite dish in Boston?
I recently had dinner at O Ya for the first time, and I was pretty blown away by that experience. There was a piece of chicken skin nigiri that I thought was really good. There were several bites that were mind-blowingly good, actually, and what I really liked about that place is that Tim and Nancy [Cushman] are such great hosts and so welcoming and inviting. They've been to Alden & Harlow a couple of times, and they seem to appreciate what I'm doing here, and it's great to have that mutual respect. I just really enjoyed everything that I had there — absolutely delicious.
What's your current favorite ingredient to use?
Probably the Italian fish sauce Garam Coloratura. I use that in a few dishes, and I like the flavor. It's a little bit mellower than an Asian-style fish sauce, and I think it goes really well with my style of food. I find myself using that a little bit here and there. I also really enjoy using bergamot oranges and playing around with different types of citrus as well. It's such a good time of year right now with new things popping up every day — it's the best time of year for ingredients in general.
Where's your favorite place to go for food inspiration?
For me, it's just traveling. I recently went back to Portland, Oregon, and that was inspiring. Anytime I go to New York, that's really inspiring. I just think you can get inspired by going to a little mom-and-pop restaurant. You have one little bite, and you didn't realize that it was going to hit you in a certain way, and that leads to another type of inspiration. Also, just being with friends can be inspiring — going out to dinner with people who enjoy food and like food the way that you do. I always have my iPhone on me, and I'm jotting down notes. Sometimes ideas just pop, and I want to write that down so that I'll remember it. I have this weird stream of consciousness in my iPhone of random stuff that at some point I want to do different things with and play around with. But I think you can get inspired anywhere, for sure.
What is one of your favorite food memories?
I have a ton of really great food memories. Going back to my childhood, anytime we had a family gathering, they were always centered around big meals. I remember going down to Virginia when I was like 10 or 11, and everyone was there, all of the cousins too. My grandparents lived on a lake, and it was the middle of the summer, and we were on the back porch. My uncle showed up with big bags filled with steamed blue crabs that were just doused in Old Bay, and he dumped them onto newspapers, and the whole family just gathered around and started going at it. I just have so many memories like that. Even going back to that same trip, I remember sitting down for lunch at a table that was like 12 feet long, and it was just food from one end of the table to the other with not even room for plates — and that was just lunch! And we'd eat while dinner was cooking in the background. To me, that's what family and eating is all about — this nonstop bounty of food that everyone's just gathering around. That's why food is so special to me, and that's sort of what we're trying to do around here, trying to develop that vibe a little bit.
What are your favorite dishes currently on the menu, and what are you most looking forward to doing in the near future?
Coming up, we have some really fun stuff. That's the nice thing about Alden & Harlow because things are constantly in flux. There's always new stuff coming up. We just put octopus on the menu, and we're pickling some lamb, things like that. I think right now my favorite dish on the menu is probably the broccoli. I just love the simplicity of it. It's just a couple stalks of broccoli, charred nicely on the grill, and it's got basically a hummus underneath, with smoked cashew tahini. It's super simple and very humble, and I think it just embodies everything that we do here. Going back to O Ya, that's what they do — it's all about flavor and texture and exciting people in that way and it can be done with a small number of ingredients.
What is your favorite thing to cook at home in your (limited) spare time?
You know, it's been so long since I've been able to do my "dinner at home" hashtag that I love doing [on social media]. But for me, it's not about what I cook; it's just being at home cooking for my kids. I love to be there with them and just hang out with them, so any meal that I get to cook for them is a special one in my mind. Now if they had a choice, they'd probably want me to make spaghetti and clams. That's their favorite dish.
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