Eleven years after moving to Providence, Rhode Island, to open Farmstead, Inc., a cheese shop turned cult favorite restaurant (both now closed), chef Matt Jennings is back in his native Boston. For his highly anticipated new project, Townsman, Jennings and wife Kate, who is also the restaurant's pastry chef, have set their sights on the Radian building, a new residential tower downtown. Here, three-time Cochon 555 winner Jennings talks about his favorite new ingredient, his love of cheap beer and the only knives you really need.
Favorite ingredient to cook with: I find such pleasure in perfectly cooked seafood—clams steamed open and dripping with aromatics, a beautifully seared piece of bass, the infinite possibilities with crudo. The list goes on and on.
One cooking school rule that every home cook should know: Buy great ingredients. The quality you begin with will ultimately dictate the quality of the dishes you create. That doesn't mean it has to be expensive—there are some great ethnic markets with pristine ingredients for a fraction of the price of organic grocery stores.
One cooking school rule that every home cook should ignore: That you need a huge knife kit. You need maybe five knives: An 8-inch chef's knife, a small paring knife, a bread slicer, a cleaver and a boning knife. Besides that, get a fish spatula, a few spoons and some chopsticks and you're set. Leave the garlic press and mini whisks at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Secret weapon: Right now it's wild Sichuan pepper oil. I've been working it into a new sauce to serve with some of the raw bar items at Townsman—it's insane. It has this eucalyptus and menthol aspect, but also a green and peppery flavor. It numbs your mouth a little, but it's so good.
Favorite dish to cook at home: My kids, believe it or not, actually love greens, so I'm always making some sort of grilled or braised green. If I do a batch of broccoli rabe, I'll char it off, dress it gently and store it in an airtight container all week, so I can pull it as a side, add it to a salad or even fold it into mac and cheese.
Perfect day of eating around Boston: Start with breakfast at Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe—which is sadly now closed, but we could go back in time to sit at the counter and eat their turkey hash. Lunch would be a big bowl of bun rieu at Anh Hong, a hearty Vietnamese tomato-broth soup with shellfish paste, ginger, lemongrass, crab legs and pork ribs. For dinner, oysters on the half shell at Row 34, then I'd walk off my oyster buzz on the way over to Coppa for charcuterie and small plates. We'd finish in Cambridge for a small cup of Coffee Hydrox ice cream at Toscanini's, and we'd end up at Highland Kitchen in Somerville for some cold Miller High Lifes and Jameson shots. Yup. I'm a townie like that.
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