Ask a Chef: Chris Fischer of Martha's Vineyard's Beetlebung FarmHilary Deutsch
January 05, 2016
Chris Fischer earned his culinary chops in Babbo’s bustling kitchen, but he’s found his true calling on idyllic Martha’s Vineyard, which his family has called home for 250 years. Inspired by Beetlebung Farm, the five-acre farm that once belonged to his grandfather, Fischer has written a nationally-acclaimed cookbook, and now, will treat Beard House diners to a winter feast dedicated to the heritage of the land. In anticipation of his upcoming dinner, we spoke to Fischer about his family's culinary legacy, his yearly post-Thanksgiving feast with friends, and his idea of a quintessential New York City night.
What is your inspiration behind the menu for this Beard House event?
I’m very proud to be from Martha's Vineyard and this menu is meant to both showcase and celebrate ingredients from the island that raised me. I'll be providing ingredients for the meal that represent the best that the Vineyard has to offer this time of year, including products from our farm, the woods, and the surrounding waters. I strongly believe my connection to the food that surrounds me shows in my cooking. I try and honor each exquisite ingredient with simple flavors.
What's a dish on your Beard House event menu that you're especially excited about or proud of, and why?
I love the combination of raw oysters and pork sausage. We’ll be serving a dish combining the two as guests arrive along with some bubbly provided by my friends at Thirst Merchants in Fort Greene. The sausage will come from our herd of Berkshire pigs, which we’ll wrap in grape leaves and gently poach to keep them moist and tender inside. They are meant to be chased with an oyster from island waters. The whole dish should be washed down with our paired sparkling wine made from Chenin-Blanc grapes, which have strong notes of melon and will bring everything together.
What’s your guilty-pleasure food?
Fish. It’s hard to consume fish responsibly since their stocks are in desperate shape. It sounds a little odd to say, and I understand it's not the sexiest answer, but the best way to eat fish is always by doing as much homework as you can while keeping in mind how your dollars can effect an industry as a whole.
Tell us about the last great meal you ate.
We've started an annual tradition with friends from all over to cook together the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This was our third year doing so at Krishana Collins flower studio at Tea Lane Farm and it only seems to get better with each year. This year we slowly cooked a whole goat, four guinea hens, a whole beef neck, and cotechino sausage in bone broth in large vats over a wood-burning fire. We served it to about 45 friends alongside tons of seasonal vegetable sides and a delicious salsa verde. It’s a whole day spent cooking and takes a big effort to clean up the next day, but this work adds seasoning to our appetites. The festivities are always great with friends huddling around the fires to stay warm deep into the night, and as usual, I was too busy hosting and organizing to eat a proper meal on the night of the party. This year, I took home the tender boiled meats and ate them alone in my living room the following night, in front of my fire, having said goodbye to all those who made the trip up to the island.
Who's been your biggest inspiration, and what dish would you cook to thank them?
My grandfather has been my biggest inspiration. His commitment during his lifetime to his family and community inspired many. His curiosity never stopped and he worked until he was 96 years old. His love of agriculture and a shared meal continues to drive me to work harder. I would cook him asparagus from his garden, poaching them gently in butter and serving them over a slice of toast. That was one of his favorite dishes, since anticipation was always his favorite aspect of farming, and enjoying this dish meant he'd made it through another long winter into spring and that there was a glorious growing season to look forward to.
What are the best places to eat in your city these days?
I had breakfast at Okonomi last week and it was divine. Very simple, traditional Japanese food served in a very pleasant, small place off the beaten track in Williamsburg. Il Buco consistently serves fantastic food. It makes me feel like I’m in Italy whenever I’m there. Café China in Midtown was terrific for lunch recently. The shredded potatoes were superb.
I always have great food at Marco Canora’s Hearth and April Bloomfield’s spot, the Breslin. Canora and Bloomfield are so technically skilled yet really focused on taste. I had the seafood sausage at the Breslin recently and it really changed my mind on the merit of this dish. I had always thought of seafood sausage as something that sat in the case in the fish market for too long, turning into a blended, fishy mass. Bloomfield’s version was texturally divine, succulent, and coated in a lemony-butter glaze that brought the whole thing to the next level. (Also, it should be noted that Bloomfield was working the line during a mid-week lunch service.)
If I were hosting someone in town for one night I would take them to Mission Chinese and finish the night at Minetta Tavern after walking through SoHo. That’s my idea of a quintessential, modern New York night.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?
"Do your best with every opportunity you are given and they will keep coming." Michael Van Valkenburgh, the brilliant and prolific landscape architect told me this a few years ago on a cool fall evening spent on his porch.
View all upcoming Beard House events and book your seat at jamesbeard.org/events.
Hilary Deutsch is editorial assistant at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram.