The Farmer and the Chef
Chef Anthony Cole strolls along the pathways that bisect the neatly planted fields at the Chatham Bars Inn Farm (CBI Farm) in Brewster. Afterward, he will drive the short distance to his post as executive chef at the Chatham Bars Inn (CBI). At the venerable resort, he oversees the back of the house staff of the four restaurants, the combined number of which swells to approximately one hundred employees during peak season. Right now, however, all his attention is focused on some delicate aromatic flowers blooming to his left. He gestures to farm manager Joshua Schiff and inquires, “Are these on the list?” Schiff responds that he has not added them yet, as they have just “started popping.” Chef Cole notes that these minty edible florals would be “perfect in a crudo.” Schiff promises to add these agastache blossoms to the next CBI order and the two continue walking, sharing ideas and surveying and sampling the surrounding bounty.
The two men work closely together throughout the year. The crop list is the result of an ongoing dialogue between the two. Cole has introduced Schiff to some exciting local crops like the Eastham turnip. Schiff, in turn, has brought in crops from his past farm experiences, like the popular New Zealand spinach. The farm is a huge source of creative inspiration for Cole when he is menu planning and he credits Schiff for the magic he has accomplished during his almost four years tending this land along Route 6A.
Chef Cole had a vision. He had been pushing to erect a giant greenhouse on the lawn at Chatham Bars Inn to supply some of the produce for the inn’s restaurants. Providentially, in 2013 the opportunity presented itself for CBI to purchase the former Fran’s Farm Stand in Brewster. The eight-acre property consisted of an agricultural center, an arena for pony rides, a pick-your-own blueberry patch, and a one-third-acre garden. The bulk of the land was hilly, wooded and full of scrub pines. After the novice year of ownership, the inn advertised for a farm manager on goodfoodjobs.com. Joshua Schiff responded. He had just come off a particularly brutal season at the farm he managed in Wisconsin and was eager for a change of scene. He was receptive to a job where he would have more human contact. A prior stint at the kitchen garden for the prestigious Michelin 3-star restaurant, Manresa (Los Gatos, California) gave him a taste of combining his passion for growing with the social interaction of working directly with chefs. Intrigued, he traveled to the Cape for interviews, including one with Chef Cole. Cole was impressed with Schiff ’s energy, knowledge and enthusiasm.
Four seasons later, Schiff remains as the manager at CBI Farm with almost five acres of land now under cultivation using organic-style practices. The farm does not use any genetically modified seeds or materials. The current version of CBI Farm stands in marked contrast to what formerly existed here. Last year they grew over 100 varieties and seventy percent of these crops went directly to the Chatham Bars Inn. They also sell to a few smaller restaurants like Clean Slate Eatery (Dennis) and Sunbird (Orleans). Full and half CSA farm shares make up the remainder of the sales. To say this farm is the culmination of a dream for Chef Cole is an understatement. Although many restaurants have a working relationship with a farm, having proprietary rights and a hand in planning what grows there is still a relatively unique situation.
Cole is appreciative of the work that Schiff and his crew have put into transforming this once challenging soil into one that is slowly becoming nutrient rich. Midwesterner Schiff appears undaunted by the task. He explains, “I think I know by now what it takes to make this work. We bring in tons of compost and chicken manure and try to deplete those weed banks. The fields we started in the first year are now doing well. Some of the newer fields are still a bit of a struggle, but we keep working at it.”
Schiff is also up to the challenge of growing the crops that many Cape growers shy away from, and he has had success with vegetables that are usually affiliated with warmer locales. Over the last few years, Schiff has spent a fair amount of time on an excavator, leveling the land to boost available acreage. The results are impressive: rows of lush specialty crops now exist in what was once sandy soil. The farm boasts a staggering array of vegetables, herbs, ornamental and edible flowers, and even blueberries from a portion of the original patch Schiff retained. Beneficial flowers are interspersed between the rows of vegetables. The flowers, which are edible, also attract insects that kill pests. For example, sweet alyssum attracts the hover flies that, in turn, kill aphids that destroy plants.
One glass greenhouse alone houses tomatoes with sprawling vines that are trained to grow the length of the house. Schiff says the yield from one house alone could total a staggering 8000-10,000 pounds. In season, the farm produces 100 percent of the tomatoes needed by the resort. The long fall season on Cape Cod has allowed tomatoes into November. A processing center for packaging with a newly-added refrigeration unit occupies the lower level of Schiff ’s caretaker’s cottage. The farm also boasts a chalet-style Slovenian beehive that Schiff hopes will produce about 100 pounds of honey this year. All of this makes Chef Cole a very happy camper.
To fully appreciate the journey from farm to table, I head up picturesque Shore Road in Chatham to meet up with Chef Cole for a tour and some tastings. Cole, a Connecticut native, attended Johnson & Wales culinary school. After graduating, he remained on campus as a teaching assistant before accepting a post with Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. For nearly twelve years, he traveled and worked for the Ritz in Atlanta, Naples and St. Louis. Along the way, he married and became a father. Wanting to live closer to family and friends (his wife hails from Marblehead, Massachusetts) and raise his daughter in a New England environment, Cole landed the job at CBI where he remains more than eleven years later as executive chef.
The resort, with its epic sweeping ocean views, houses four distinct venues that individually showcase the offerings of CBI Farm. STARS is the more highly-detailed, refined dining spot. Through September, CBI is partnering with James Beard Award-winning chef Jody Adams (Rialto, Porto, TRADE—all in Boston), who has curated the dinner menu for a pop-up restaurant concept. Cole and Adams first teamed up a year ago while working a charity event for Future Chefs. Chef Adams has since extensively trained the STARS staff to execute her approachable take on Cape Cod cuisine. Fish from Chatham pier and New England-sourced beef and poultry are complemented by fare from the CBI Farm including peas, turnips, eggplant, radishes, heirloom tomatoes and baby bok choy.
The breakfast buffet at STARS offers a dazzling selection of hot and cold dishes. Three times a week during the summer season, the buffet room converts into a space to host culinary workshops. Classes offered include pasta, lobster, and cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Chef Cole hopes to continue the series over the winter months along with other off-season programs.
The Veranda is another water view venue. Like STARS, it offers an unparalleled vista of the comings and goings of the local fishing fleet. It is a relaxing place to sip a cocktail and enjoy some casual eats featuring the same commitment to the freshest of farm-to-table ingredients during the warmer weather.
The Sacred Cod offers a more informal, pub-style menu. In the cooler months, lunch service switches from the open air Veranda to the Cod. The warm, cozy tavern also offers a menu that Chef Cole describes as “based around the farm: organic, natural, with a classic New England theme.” The mussels and littlenecks are from Chatham, calamari from Point St Judith (Rhode Island), meats and poultry sourced from around New England, and of course lots of greens and vegetables from the CBI Farm. Cole states, “I believe our guests still want good solid food with great execution that features regional products. That’s what we strive to do here. The menu here really evolves with the season. We keep a couple of dishes on all the menus that are flexible throughout the property. At the Cod, we like to change two or three dishes weekly to keep it contemporary with whatever Josh is currently harvesting.”
The Beach House, with comfortable wicker seating and striped umbrellas, offers a more casual alternative with ocean-side lunches. The menu here is more coastally-inspired with a profusion of selections offering locally caught seafood. Open seasonally, the Beach House offers clam shack favorites: lobster rolls, steamers and fried scallop rolls are some classics that make the list. As tempting as those sound, I focus my midday visit on the items that highlight goodies straight from CBI Farm. To start, I have a white bean and piquillo pepper hummus paired with an array of farm fresh produce: a rainbow of baby carrots, peppers and thin-skinned, sweet Sungold tomatoes. The house-made flat bread is a delicious accompaniment. The Roots and Shoots salad showcases the farm’s gorgeous roasted heirloom beets, matched with shaved root vegetables, delicate herb shoots, crunchy sunflower seeds and lemon-mint yogurt dressing. You can top any salad with local pan-seared scallops, lobster or a serving of the daily catch. Today, the ever changing “local catch and harvest” features pan-seared striped sea bass served over a bed of pancetta, frilly kale and Swiss chard, adorned with a quinoa beet salad. My favorite snack is the chilled lobster ceviche with a refreshing blend of coconut, mango and jicama, topped with some crispy yucca chips and colorful farm flowers. A taste of the Caribbean on Olde Cape Cod! During the summer evenings, the Beach House is also the site of CBI’s legendary clambakes. This popular summertime treat features many farm fresh salads, platters of raw local shellfish and lobsters cooked in an open pit.
No matter where you choose to dine at the resort, Chef Cole promises that he and his chefs have designed a menu with an emphasis on the specialty crops they grow at the farm. “The focus is always on ingredients that are non-commodities, rather than traditional ones like onions, carrots and celery that you chop up for use in soup. We always feature vegetables that will be accented or highlighted on a dish. Things like the beautifully sweet Tropea onion that can be braised and even made into a jam. We grow interesting vegetables: baby carrots in a variety of colors, more than thirty varieties of heirloom tomatoes, different types of heirloom beets. Over the last year, some of the unique crops included Middle Eastern zucchini called “koosa”(very tender and sweet), tromboncino squash, and cucamelons (looks like mini watermelons but with a sour taste), and New Zealand spinach. These are the types of crops we are passionate about.”
In addition to frequent visits, Cole stays abreast of what is available at CBI Farm via computer. He shares a file with Schiff that is updated every few days. New recipes appear when produce is added to the sheets. On Sundays, Chef Cole often visits the farm to pick and then play around with ingredients to try new dishes. Deliveries occur between farm and resort about three times a week, ensuring a steady supply of fresh herbs and produce to the kitchens.
A back-of-the-house visit is an eye-opening revelation into the inner workings of the CBI kitchen. The sprawling space is a culinary complex with lines that shift focus or venue depending on the time of day. For example, the line that currently prepares breakfast items will later switch focus and do dinner service for STARS. The designated line for the Sacred Cod boasts a hearth oven that gives their housemade pizza dough a crispy crust.
Evidence of the farm’s bounty is rampant everywhere. Throughout the massive kitchen, rolling racks hold a multitude of trays with live microgreens ready to be plucked and used. Shipping them from the farm to restaurants this way certifies the chefs access to an ever-present supply of fresh product. Clamshells containing a variety of edible and garnish-worthy flowers are also in abundance. Vibrant nasturtiums, violas and marigolds are used to garnish and enhance stunning plates throughout the inn.
At the rear of the kitchen is the space shared by the bakers and pastry chefs. One of the numerous support staff I meet is head baker Kevin Curtin. Four years ago, Kevin and then-girlfriend, Patti Anne took summer gigs at the CBI after meeting as students at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. The summer job evolved into year round careers for the couple. Recently married at the CBI, Patti Anne is assistant pastry chef to executive pastry chef Brennan Froeschner. Kevin and his crew arrive between midnight and 2 a.m. to begin baking all the daily breads: three different varieties for STARS; flatbreads, focaccia, pizza dough and Parker House-style rolls for the Tavern, Veranda and Sacred Cod; and up to fourteen varieties of breakfast pastries and doughnuts for the breakfast buffet. The specialty donut of the week this time is square, with passion fruit curd and fondant drizzled with chocolate. Trays of Anadama rolls await a turn in the ovens which are currently occupied by giant Bavarian pretzels and homemade power bars used by the spa at the CBI. This space is always a hive of activity, and bakers and pastry chefs work staggered shifts to give each crew a few hours of unshared oven time and elbow room.
Chef Cole and staff prepare almost everything in house. “Well, except we don’t mill our own flour,” amends Cole. “Of course, all sauces, soups, stocks and dressings are house made.” He leads me down a back staircase to further emphasize his commitment to producing whatever he can on site. Two giant casks, donated by Truro Vineyards, contain red and white wine vinegars in progress. “Every year we host a huge Ruby Wine tasting event and end up with gallons of high quality left over wine. There is only so much we can use for cooking. We thought, why not take those leftovers and put them to good use. It takes a year but we end up with a really good product.” In the same vein, a lot of food waste generated by the CBI is used in composting, mainly outsourced to a larger operation that can handle processing the volume involved.
Fall is an extremely important time of year. Chef Cole and his chefs (Cameron Rahtz [STARS], Caleb Laura [Sacred Cod], Richardson Pata [Beach House]) gather for their yearly powwow with Schiff. Crop lists will be refined based on what worked best in both the kitchen and garden. They have found the most success with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and generally anything in the brassica family. Less successful have been items like melons (grow well but sugars don’t develop as well as in warmer climates) and sweet corn (pest issues). They will determine the quantities needed for the coming year to enable Schiff to purchase his supplies.
Fall at the CBI revolves around the cold weather crops: broccoli, rutabaga, cauliflower, beets and carrots. Chef and farmer are especially proud of their Eastham turnips, the seeds of which come from a Nickerson family original source. “The fall is the best time of year,” states Schiff. “Not only do we have the brassicas and other fall produce, but we have summer and spring crops coming around again.” Chef Cole adds, “This past year, we were able to use product from the farm until March. We do a fair amount of canning and preserving at the resort during October and November to help extend the season. Items like green tomatoes are great for pickling. Plus, we have crops that over winter really well. Watermelon radishes if kept at high humidity and cold temperature have a really long shelf life if kept in a root cellar-like environment.”
The focus on farm to fork cuisine was the theme of the late August “Outstanding in the Field” multi-course dinner at the Chatham Bars Inn. A quick sellout, the event cohosted by guest Chef Cole and farmer Schiff featured varieties of tomatoes, peppers and baby root vegetables. If you weren’t able to snag a seat to this coveted meal, a visit to the Inn’s restaurants will satisfy your urge to savor the same farm fresh flavors. The views and the ambience are an added bonus.