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“I knew this would happen if we put five chefs together in one kitchen,” said chef Karsten Hart.
The executive chef of Castle Hill Inn in Newport was about to host some of his colleagues to collaborate on a dinner using local, sustainable ingredients. It was the first ever Rhode Island Guest Chef Dinner, held November 18.
Hart’s prediction, which came true, was that all the chefs would create a dish using the same ingredient, namely pork. The reason was a testament to the brigade’s ability and how well-versed they all are at charcuterie – the art of making sausages and other cured, smoked and preserved meats. “When you get all of us [chefs] together, we will eventually start talking about salami,” Hart joked.
They did more than talk. They prepared and served it too. The five-course tasting menu began with chef Beau Vestal’s tasting of charcuterie: cured and smoked pork loin ham with torchon of rabbit and cranberry (pate poached in a towel) followed by 40 day saucisson sec (dry sausage, essentially salami) of pork and fennel pollen with homemade mustard and pickles. Vestal, the chef of New Rivers in Providence, had collaborated with Hart at a recent event with Farm Fresh Rhode Island, the cooperative supplying the state’s restaurants with fresh produce from the state’s farms.
It was there that the idea for the all-star dinner came. Selling it to the management of Castle Hill was the proverbial no-brainer. Daniel Braun, general manager of Castle Hill Inn said, “Rhode Island is home to some of the best culinary talent anywhere, and bringing these great chefs to Castle Hill made for an unforgettable evening.”
The menu also included Baked Matunuck Oysters with Maine crab, spinach, and gruyere béchamel; Creamy Soup of Native Orchard Fruits; Dry-aged native Blackbird Farm Beef with Schartner Farm cauliflower, roasted onion, and anise jus; and Tiramisu prepared by Castle Hill’s pastry chef, Jonathan Marston, served with black garlic ice cream and wafer cookies.
Hart is passionate about local and sustainable foods, declaring, “We have an abundance of great chefs and great farms in Rhode Island.” He has an abiding appreciation of our state’s attributes that seems to come more readily to transplants than it does to natives. “I’m from Baton Rouge, La.,” he said. “I started out catching and cooking redfish and speckled trout.”
He went to culinary school in California and learned to get closer to his ingredients by foraging, as well as developing relationships with local farmers. “I got into this industry because I’m passionate about food, not pencil-pushing,” he declared.