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Worcester’s Food Wrap-Up: November

Restaurant juggernaut Danny Meyer is noted for his adage: “Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple and that hard.” Here at Mass Foodies, we couldn’t agree more, which is why November marked the start of a new column by contributor Veronica Van Jura dedicated to Atmosphere and Appetites. As an abstract painter, Van Jura has always maintained vast appreciations for both interior design and the culinary arts. This month brought her to the new home of The Queen’s Cups, which she found sleek, classy, and marvelously inclusive. Van Jura also visited VIA Italian Table where she effectively located the “best seat in the house” – a rear nook containing a privately commissioned painting of Florence and a custom engraved table. She also notes that the bar was constructed in a shape which beckons for “love at first sight.” VIA is all about feelings.

Van Jura wasn’t the only Mass Foodies correspondent to visit VIA this month. I also had an opportunity to enjoy the hard labor of Corporate Executive Chef Mark Hawley for his first suckling pig dinner. Hawley has begun tinkering with family style experiences for small groups. “Tidy plates can be very nice, but sometimes I just want to eat like a family,” Hawley explains. Every eye in the restaurant followed the platter as General Manager Keith Carolan made an ornate presentation of the suckling pig, which took Chef Hawley an entire day to prepare.

Sonoma also made its Chef’s Dinner debut at the Beechwood Hotel with a well-attended media event featuring the likes of sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi with pancetta and escargot, mushroom and goat cheese strudel, and char-grilled Korean short rib. Chef Bill Brady commented on the transition from his former outpost in Princeton, noting the weight of adapting from a “five day dinnerhouse” to a “six o’clock in the morning to midnight, seven day a week, yearlong operation.” Beechwood Co-owners Dr. Charles and Jane Birbara were on hand for the evening. During an opening toast, Dr. Birbara recalled his strong instinct that Brady would be the only chef capable of elevating the one-of-a-kind boutique space to an entirely new plane.

White Hut Cheeseburg (via Facebook)
White Hut Cheeseburg (via Facebook)

Mass Foodies was proud to publish Chris Rassias’ first on-the-record remarks about his new venture, Josephine at the Hanover Theater. Rassias is the owner of Fairmont Grille in Boston’s Hyde Park. As a Worcester native, Rassias is excited to launch a new concept in his hometown inspired by the panache of 1920’s theater. For every new restaurant, it seems like another one falls. This time, it was The Chameleon at 166 Shrewsbury Street – a storied space marked by the arrest of its former owner earlier this year.

Still, other new additions to the area’s culinary landscape are faring well. The Worcester Foodies visited Kummerspeck where they enjoyed an homage to some American classics like chicken pot pie, and shrimp and grits. Robyn enjoyed chatting with head butcher Erin Hockey who has since departed to join the team at deadhorse hill on Main Street in preparation for an impending high profile opportunity looming on her horizon. Chef Jared Forman of deadhorse hill will cook at the James Beard House this week in New York City with his team, a tremendous culinary milestone.

Contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores continued her quest for an idyllic #SundayFunday, indulging in the likes of Union Square Donuts and White Hut burgers. Rivera also sat down with the director of Julio’s Liquors Toni Deluca who set out to debunk wine’s pompous reputation. “Wine is for everyone,” she assured readers, adding, “my job is to educate both novice and advanced wine drinkers into exploring new flavors, regions and, grapes.”

Union Square Donuts (Source: Facebook)
Union Square Donuts (Source: Facebook)

I couldn’t agree more after my visit to UxLocale in Uxbridge where the staff led me to the perfect pairing. I ordered the Sausage in Vodka Sauce with the Sasyr Sangiovese and Syrah blend, a wine possessing supple tannins. The Italian wine’s inky density and earthy aromas complemented my savory red sauce and the Tuscan roots of the dish’s pecorino romano attested to a fine artisan union. I met another unlikely pairing in the last week of November at Bull Mansion in the form of KrafTea Kombucha and Cricket Creek cheese. I was surprised to find that the potent and funky properties of kombucha brought out curious dimensions of my artisanal farmstead cheese plate.

If what Meyer says is true, then hospitality put simply is how the delivery of a product makes us feel. Central Massachusetts certainly has no shortage of a heartfelt, passionate, and sentimental service industry. Among the atmospheres, appetites, exclusives, openings, closings, pairings, and pinings – hospitality is alive and well in Worcester.

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New Addition to the deadhorse hill Team Presents a Welcome Challenge

deadhorse hill's culinary team: Chef de cuisine Robin Clark, Executive Chef Jared Forman, Nathan Sanden, and new addition, Erin Hockey

Another familiar face just joined deadhorse hill’s impressive culinary team and Executive Chef Jared Forman feels certain that his job is about to get more difficult. “Taking people on never makes our lives easier, it advances our agenda for better food and a better menu,” Forman explains.

The team, including latest addition Erin Hockey, has gathered around a long table in the back of the restaurant for a ritual pre-service meeting. They sit beneath the watchful eyes of an old sea captain who hangs over Forman’s right shoulder. A collective gaze falls on Hockey, the expectation being that with a new meat manager on board, deadhorse’s already ambitious repertoire will continue to grow.

Hockey grew up hunting and fishing in her hometown of Quincy. “My uncle owned a big game and taxidermy shop, so I broke down my first deer pretty early in life,” she recalls. After accepting a full ride to the New England Culinary Institute, she went on to intern at The Butcher Shop, working for the famed restaurateur, Barbara Lynch. Hockey’s arrival in Worcester coincided with the opening of Kummerspeck on Water Street, an endeavor to which she played an integral role.

For deadhorse hill, welcoming Hockey means the start of a true charcuterie program and another step toward achieving full potential as a seasonal American restaurant. For Hockey, the move opens up a host of spotlight opportunities as an accomplished female butcher. Her debut with the deadhorse hill team took place at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston at the end of October, a star-studded affair.

“I’m not actually good at anything,” Forman jokes from his seat at the head of the table.
“At least you’re funny,” his chef de cuisine Robin Clark fires back before adding, “Jared can see the talent behind him. He empowers us all to let our passions and skillsets shine.”

Chef Clark is living proof. Described by owners as “the heartbeat” of the kitchen, she offers the organized mind of a pastry chef along with a savory intuition. Early experience at Mill’s Tavern, a Providence institution, taught Clark to play with fire, make pasta by hand, and prepare classic dishes at volume. From there, she gained fine dining experience at T.W.Food in Cambridge where she mastered the intricacies of a meticulous modern French bistro. At deadhorse, Clark is free to marry both of those experiences, bringing her aptitude for the elaborate to an exceedingly busy kitchen. She favors recipes that involve a lot of patshke like the tiny tortellinis she has been fussing with all morning, as only a perfectionist could.

Conversely, Clark’s daytime counterpart, a.m. sous chef Nathan Sanden, is an idea-man. Sanden proved his dedication when he drove to Worcester in the throes of an April snowstorm for his interview at deadhorse hill. He feels he has landed a sort of dream job in that he spends his days exploring the distinct techniques of other cultures. Sanden is a dedicated study of Forman, who has outright lied in his assertion that he is “not actually good at anything.” Forman has gleaned his own wisdom from the greats at Per Se, momofuku noodle bar, Marea, and Gramercy Tavern before playing an evident role in the success of Strip T’s and Ribelle.

At the end of the meeting, Hockey, Clark, and Sanden dart off to the kitchen while Forman moves the long table back into a corner. He tucks the chairs neatly into place in preparation for dinner service and eyes the captain over his shoulder. “Some chefs think that you’re only as good as your last dish, but the truth is, you’re only as good as the people you have working behind you.”