Things at America’s Test Kitchen are busier than ever. Between the excitement over our new digs in Boston’s seaport (Curious to preview the new space? Watch Jack give a tour in this Facebook video!) and the buzz over our first-ever food festival, Boston EATS, to be held on October 27 and 28, there’s even more activity than usual to keep our staff busy.
In the midst of all this craziness, a few of us were able to sneak away for a special dinner at Puritan & Company in Cambridge, where chef Will Gilson introduced us to his version of farm-to-table cooking. Will is a longtime champion of local New England food, and is one of the featured local chefs for the Taste of Innovation event on the first night of the food festival. We were lucky to snag some time with Will to talk about the upcoming event and his philosophy on cooking over a truly memorable meal.
A native of Groton, Massachusetts, Will established his culinary reputation at local spots such as the Herb Lyceum and Garden in the Cellar before launching Puritan five years ago, but his commitment to locally sourced, farm-fresh foods comes in large part from growing up on his parents’ farm.
Seasonality is clearly a factor in Puritan’s offerings. The burrata appetizer felt like the last of the late-summer holdouts as the menu headed into fall (despite the 80-degree weather we experienced in the second week of October). The creamy cheese sat atop a salad of endive, toasted pine nuts, figs, and salsa verde for a great balance of sweet, bitter, and tangy flavors.
Next was my favorite dish—the swordfish pastrami. I’m embarrassed to say that a childhood dislike of sauerkraut made me a latecomer to the cult of the Reuben sandwich and smoky, salty pastrami. This deconstructed take on the famous sandwich was clever and fun. Thin slices of cured, smoked swordfish replaced the pastrami, and an intense brown drizzle—pumpernickel puree—packed a caraway-flavored punch. Sea beans and a smattering of pickled carrots added great crunch, but the surprise star of the dish was the quenelle of mustard gelato on top. Creamy, sharp, and ever so slightly sweet, the gelato was unexpected but worked with the other ingredients to create something really interesting. According to our server, the dish has been on the menu since the restaurant opened, and I can understand why.
We ordered a number of shared plates to maximize our tasting experience, and Gilson sent out a few of his favorites. He hand-delivered a plate of fresh-out-of-the-smoker kielbasa that was so juicy it formed its own sauce. . . which mingled with the runny, orange yolk of a perfectly cooked farm-fresh egg.
He also explained the raised eyebrows he receives when he tries to source hay for cooking his Hay-Roasted Carrots. Any incredulity he faces from purveyors is worth the trouble: the carrots are unlike any I’ve ever eaten. They lose their sweetness and become intensely savory. Gilson plates them with ancho butter, crunchy pepitas, and creme fraiche. I could have eaten the entire plate myself.
Will sat down with us over individual bowls of fideos. His version included a deeply flavored sauce made from an assortment of roasted chiles; toasted noodles; a combination of calamari, lobster, and just-tender cauliflower; and a lemon parsley aioli for some bright relief from the earthy sauce. The chef was quick-witted and eager to talk about the evolution of Puritan & Company, the challenges of running a successful restaurant, and the ever-present question: “What’s next?”
We left the restaurant resolved to return again soon and eager to repay the hospitality we experienced when we welcome Will Gilson to America’s Test Kitchen later this week.