Tripveel sat down with Chef de Cuisine Erin Bevan of Artisan Restaurant at Four Columns Inn in Newfane, Vermont.
Where did you grow up and/or where have you traveled to that has helped inspire and shape your cooking philosophy?
I grew up on a small family farm in southwestern Massachusetts. We raised just about every farm animal you can think of, and also had vegetable gardens, orchards, even berry bushes. My family would also go out foraging for black caps and wild concord grapes, and went fishing often. I was raised with an incredible sense of connection to the land, and every day I lived the reality of the hard work that goes into preparing food. My mother cooked simply, but with the absolute best ingredients, and I didn’t really know what artificial flavors were. I ate fruits off the vine, warm goat’s milk with my breakfast cereal, bacon with hair on it, and we always waited until the meal was mostly prepared before we would go and pick the corn, for fear it would lose one iota of its sweetness. This is absolutely what shapes my values as a chef: the best, freshest local ingredients treated simply, and elevated to showcase the beauty of the farmer’s hard work.
Tell our readers an interesting fact or two about yourself.
The first time I ate at a real fine dining restaurant I was 26 years old, and I had no idea what people were creating with food until that moment. I never went to culinary school; my first creative medium was fine art and I was a sculpture major in college. When I realized that my background in food could be combined with my passion for creating, suddenly my life made sense to me. That restaurant was Lydia Shire’s legendary Biba in Boston, and evidence of the impact that a simple meal can have on a life.
Tell us about your absolute favorite food and why readers should try it if they haven’t already.
I must admit that I am terrible with favorites, there are so many foods that I love. Current passions are borage and cinnamon basil, but that’s just because I love gathering them from my own on-site garden. My favorite food, absolute favorite thing to make is pasta. But who hasn’t tried pasta?!? I am endlessly fascinated by the different shapes, their names and histories, and their sauce pairings. Making pasta appeals to the sculptor in me, and there is no better way of showing someone you care then making a comforting bowl of pasta for them. I would like people to know there is so much more than spaghetti and meatballs. We do a pasta special every Thursday, and in two years time, I have never repeated the same pasta twice.
What are three ingredients that you simply couldn’t live without?
Onions, herbs, and citrus zest.
We love the art behind plating. What do you love about designing the perfect dish?
Plating is so similar to sculpture, but with the added dimensions of time and taste. There’s, of course, the layers of textures, the vibrantly colored purees to swoosh or drag or dot, the flowers or microgreens that add delicate flavor and some precious quality. But also very important is deconstructing some of the flavor profiles so there’s a component that is maybe spicy, or sweet, slightly off to the side to encourage the diner to play with different flavor combinations. And then there is the restriction of time. If it takes 20 minutes to plate a dish, you have lost all your crispy textures, the food is no longer hot, and the dish is ruined. Maybe still beautiful, but totally unservable. So time is a crucial aspect of the art of plating that is little mentioned.
Tell us about one of the most creative dishes you’ve created?
I did a version of the classic Cremonese recipe, Marubini en Tre Brodi, inspired by the old traditions where they would use the meat from animals heads and even brains as a stuffing for pasta. I used meat from the heads of a goat, a sheep and a pig to make an incredibly rich and flavorful ragu which I turned into a pasta filling. I poached calf brains and put a small nugget, surrounded by the ragu, and stuffed each one into a plump ravioli. Then it was served in a consommé of duck, pork and chicken broths flavored with a few slices of salami that permeated the brodi. I was worried that a brain ravioli would be a tough sell, but they sold like wildfire in Boston where diners are less intrepid than Vermont.
Share your most recent awards and accreditations with us!
Artisan Restaurant, Tavern & Garden is one of the very first “true” farm-to-table concept restaurants and has received the 2018 Gold Barn Honor.
What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing in top restaurants across the globe?
The trend I find most inspiring is the hyper focus on using local sources, and even using the limitations of one’s environment as a launching point for creativity.
What’s your favorite cocktail or liquor?
I have actually been sober for over ten years, and I love to advocate for chef’s leading a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. There’s an insidious stereotype about kitchen culture that many cooks and chefs fall into, and I was one of them. Certainly not all chefs go down that road, but I hope show those that do struggle with the pressures of kitchen life that there is another way.
What do you love about being Chef de Cuisine at Artisan Restaurant at Four Columns Inn?
Finding myself as the chef of one of the oldest farm to table restaurants in the country is one of the proudest moments of my life. When I forge a new relationship with a local farmer, a small family run business like the one I grew up on, my life comes full circle and has a meaning much greater than putting delicious food on a plate. I love empowering my community and improving the environment through my choices as a chef. I love providing my guests with the same freshness, healthiness and intensity of flavor as I experienced with the foods I grew up eating. It’s a privilege to cook in Southern Vermont where the bounty comes from the diversity of ingredients I have access to in such a small area, including the precious wild fruits of the forest like mushrooms, chaga and ramps. It is truly a chef’s playground here, and continuously pushing me to the next menu change.