Four up-and-coming chefs each have a presence that will be the center of their restaurant’s success.
Photos by Jay Elliott
To be known as a chef on Cape Cod, it takes a good amount of time building up your reputation. Most of the heavy hitters have paid their dues at various restaurants. But if you have a certain air of confidence, you certainly have a leg up on your peers in how your career unfolds. We shine a spotlight on four chefs who will undoubtedly shake up the scene with a combination of chutzpah and innovation not only tasted in their food but felt in their strong, but very different, characters.
You might not expect the chef of an upscale bistro in Osterville to rock a plain tee shirt in the kitchen, cook with only a fork, and boast some wicked tattoos. But that doesn’t mean Five Bays executive chef Michael Crowell doesn’t present anything short of elegant and original in each of his new dishes.
You have to be a little on the daring side to turn blood oranges into a garnish that looks a lot like fish roe, resting the tiny juice-infused gelatin balls on top of a tower of roasted scallops and fois gras, set upon a smoky white bean puree. “Ninety-five percent of chefs are a little bit crazy,” says Crowell, his left forearm inked with a large fork, representing the basic tool he learned to cook with.
Daring? Yes. But Crowell takes pride in finding balance, in both his food and personality. Combining local produce, shellfish and popular Cape Cod fish like striped bass, he conjures up his own interpretation of a classic dish that highlights unique and familiar flavors. Crowell uses citrus, lavender, honey and smoked paprika to surprise diners, leaving them both nostalgically and curiously pleased. Don’t expect to see a seasonal dish reappear on the menu after its original stint. And don’t think that most menu items will include the standard protein, starch, and veggie. The unexpected variety of Crowell’s food is part of his allure.
Crowell admits to not being so focused in his early years. But he worked his way up in the kitchen, learning from even the dishwashers and salad makers, until he earned himself the spot beside some notable chefs around Cape Cod. “I did it for the experience, not the money,” he says proudly. And his brand of fearlessness goes for taking chances and learning from an occasional mistake. “The day when I don’t think there’s anything left to learn as a chef, I’ll quit cooking,” he says.
Just passing her year mark as the executive chef at Lyric,
Melissa Allen does what most would not. Before acknowledging her own success, she begins to credit everyone in her kitchen for the hard work they’ve put in to help her visions come to life. Her food speaks loudly with the same sense of heart.
Making sure she gets her bread dough to that perfect texture and elasticity, Allen lights up as she kneads and rolls, remembering how her grandfather used to do the same. When a chef lights up while creating what is likely to be the single most underappreciated part of the meal—the dinner bread—you can only expect to taste some flavors of love in each entrée.
What exactly are the flavors of love? Well, they come from a chef who shows care in every step from start to finish, and is inspired by memories. “When coming up with dishes, I think along the lines of things I enjoy on Cape Cod,” says the Barnstable native. “In summer, I love clam bakes.” This memory translates into an alternative version—with little necks and lobster placed upon a sweet corn risotto.
Being the food mechanic that she is, Allen takes an ingredient like arugula and gives it almost something of star quality in an arugula pasta, or with just a few pancetta crisps and a light layer of pecorino romano cheese in a straightforward salad. “I want it to taste complex, but look simple,” says Allen. Avoiding the impulse to add dozens of elements onto the plate, like a poet carefully choosing words, she selects ingredients that are going to sing. “As an executive chef, you have a chance to create what you want,” says Allen. But as a long-time sous chef herself, she knows it takes a team to make it all happen.
If you’re lucky enough, you’ll get to meet
the new guy behind the kitchen line at the Brewster Fish House—the one whose humor and smile will show you the real reason why some courses are not only satisfying to the palate, but challenge your expectations with playful irony.
In his breakout season, executive chef Shereef Badawy serves up a plate of “pork and beans,” only it’s a lacquered pork belly with haricot verts surrounded by a tiny forest of other garden treasures. “Next I’ll do frogs on lily pads,” he says, joking about placing frog legs on top of minor’s lettuce, which looks like baby lily pads.
But his food is no joke when it comes to flavor and execution. Applying technique learned at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan to what he knows of the Cape’s resources, Badawy casts underutilized delicacies like local Jonah crab and sea urchin as stars of a plate, chilling the meaty claws and pairing the raw echinoderm with a citrus vinaigrette.
“Simplicity’s the key to elegance,” says the chef, who focuses on trying not to blow out the palate with flavors. “I want people to say, ‘I want another bite of that,’ not, ‘I can’t take another bite of that.’”
Growing up as a Cape summer resident, the Syracuse native spent the last six years at the Fish House. He started out shucking oysters, then learned beside former executive chefs Jeremiah Reardon and Martha Kane, who helped him gain the confidence needed to be the leader in the kitchen. Now, he shares that confidence with customers through his food. With a few sprinkles of his cherished salt collection—from pink Himalayan to black lava—cutting through some braised roasted meats, he proclaims a dish “perfect.” Or “winning” in the words of Charlie Sheen, says Badawy as he flashes his signature smile.
During his first week as a Cape Cod resident, James Hackney stood with his four-year-old daughter looking out over Pleasant Bay from the Wequassett Inn in Harwich. They watched men out on the flats, pulling quahogs from the thick wet sand and plopping them one by one into their wire baskets. Witnessing the sourcing of shellfish wouldn’t usually be so inspiring an experience, but for this Englishman, the peaceful nature of the scene actually sparked up ideas for the new Twenty-Eight Atlantic menu.
Don’t be fooled. The new chef is definitely no stranger to what the Cape has to offer. He comes from L’Espalier in Boston’s Back Bay, where he spent the last ten years alongside owner Frank McClelland, a renowned chef himself. Hackney’s fusion of French and New England cuisine mixes in nicely with his newfound Cape Cod inspirations and whimsical approach.
As if taken out of a Dr. Suess book, baby beets sit on a plate of smoked salmon looking like burgundy rain drops. Beside them are a menagerie of capers, Japanese seaweed, a half-sliced soft boiled egg, and a roasted beet crème fresh with spoons of caviar to top off the dish. Reminded of his roots in England, Hackney is also hoping to offer unique style of fish and chips, coating a fresh catch of haddock or cod with a tempura-like batter, infused with a local stout beer.
Hackney understands that memories go hand in hand with food and its presentation. “If there’s one thing in life you remember, it’s where you’ve been and what you’ve eaten,” says the chef, reflecting on a particular time in France eating clams at a beautiful hotel. With his classic English wit, diners will find Hackney to be the perfect successor to the former chef, the personable Bill Brodsky, and just as charming as the waterfront restaurant itself.