Fisherman, gardener, chef

Published online: Aug 19, 2010 News Linda Matchan - www.boston.com
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Q. You spend weekends on a houseboat fishing, blog about it (www.rendezvouscentralsquare.com), and bring the bounty back to your restaurant. When did you become a fisherman?

A. It happened progressively. I started out by sharing a rental for a week in Westport. Then in 1995, I bought a boat and that's when my appreciation for Westport moved way beyond the beach to the entire watershed. The Westport River is in actuality an enormous saltwater estuary, which means it's tidal, and ocean water comes in and out. So you've got fish and shellfish - bluefish, striped bass, fluke, tautog, as well as oysters, clams, blue crabs. It's a lot to choose from.

Q. Are you a good fisherman?

A. I used to fish more than I do now. When I was in between restaurants in 2003 and 2004 - between the Blue Room and Rendezvous - I spent two full summers on the Westport River. I fished a lot, so I could keep track of the tide charts and where the fish were. I was pretty good at it. But my restaurant has cut into my fishing quite a bit. It's hard to just plop yourself in and catch fish.

Q. Tell me a dish you serve with fish you caught?

A. "Stuffed cherrystone clams, hand dug in the Westport River,'' on the Monday night tapas menu.

Q. What lessons have you learned on the water that help you as a chef?

A. I developed a greater appreciation for fish and their natural habitats. It's just like gardening. You learn about their seasonality, their life cycles, and you can appreciate their qualities more and take advantage of what they have to offer. What's best about bluefish, for example? For me, it's freshness: To see a fresh bluefish butchered on the houseboat just as I bring it back from a fishing expedition - you won't find anything like it on fish displays, even really good fish displays. A day or two makes a big difference with bluefish.

Q. You tend a rooftop garden above your Central Square restaurant.

A. I was a gardener before I was a fisherman. My story goes back to when I was a kid in Mount Vernon, Ohio, where my grandfather had a huge garden. I loved traipsing around with him; we'd go visiting in the summertime and take baskets of fresh vegetables to neighbors. My grandfather was a very popular man. What I saw there was the joy of gardening, the flavors and aroma, and the joy and the pleasure that come from the giving. I think that is at the heart of just about every cook or professional chef - the ability to give pleasure to others through food.

Q. Do you have a garden at home?

A. I live in Cambridgeport with a postage-stamp yard. I can't garden there, but I can at the restaurant. It's got a one-story flat roof with sun exposure and a water source which is the water that trickles out of the air conditioning unit on the roof. I've got a whole funky routine going on there.

Q. What's the next funky thing you want to tackle?

A. Another 25 years of this would be great.

This interview was condensed and edited.

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