An Interview with Chris Fischer, author of ‘The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook’
Chris Fischer is a veteran of New York City’s Babbo, London’s St. John Bread and Wine, and the River Café. He’s studied under Rome’s best food scholars and cooked alongside world-renowned chefs like April Bloomfield, and yet the soul of his cooking exists on an 88-square-mile island off the coast of Massachusetts.
The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook is part journal and part recipe collection. Chris Fischer spent a year cooking on his beloved Martha’s Vineyard and tilling the land on his grandfather’s Beetlebung Farm. This homage to nostalgia, family, and subtle refinement of new American cooking comes through in his thoughtful introductions and careful use of ingredients.
The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook/The Hachette Book Group
We had the opportunity to catch up with Chris Fischer and learn a little bit more about the cookbook, and his thinking on food, and what he wants his readers to learn from his cookbook.
The Daily Meal: Can you tell us a little bit about your philosophy on food and cooking?
Chris Fischer: My philosophy is simple: Get your hands on the best food that is grown, raised, or harvested nearby, then cook it simply. Seeking out food in your community is a pleasure because of the relationships you form. You learn from producers about ingredients through the stories they share and wind up guided to greater understanding of what you are cooking and where it comes from. Paying food producers directly is always my preference because it helps support people who work at caring for and finding beautiful food. It sustains them and in turn makes me a better, smarter cook. And operating this way is much more fun than going to the supermarket — I find it translates into cooking in a magical way.
And how does that influence the recipes in this book?
My desire to cook what’s at hand simply means that the recipes, for the most part, are just that — simple seasonal combinations that most anyone can have fun with. I wanted to share cookable food that I hope will lead to smudged, well-used pages. I also set out to tell the story of our small farm and its supportive community, and included stories about how foods made the journey to the plate, because this is what stimulates and motivates me the most.
The introduction to your book talks a little bit about the importance of tradition, family, and place. How does that nostalgia for the island and family affect the story you are telling through your recipes?
Growing up on Martha's Vineyard for me meant meals were generally much more than cooking, then gathering around the table. We largely ate food we all harvested: we picked vegetables alongside my grandfather and caught fish and shellfish with my dad. In the wintertime we ate from the freezer and from the wild: venison, squirrel, rabbit, clams, oysters, and scallops. The act of gathering food for each meal was part of the fun of the occasion; it still is. My grandfather taught me the value of all we had. I am very thankful for that. I treasure the life he showed me how to live and wanted to celebrate it, through stories and recipes for the kind of food (straightforward but with a little flair) that I know he would have enjoyed.
How would you want readers to approach — and use — this cookbook?
This is a diary of a year of cooking on this island. We began just after Labor Day, when work slowed down and the gardens were fullest. The book is divided into six broad seasonal sections and then details 17 meals we cooked. The menus capture a moment, exactly what was available on a particular day in a particular year. One way to approach the recipes is to aim at the season you’re in and take a look at the menu and see what appeals — cook the whole thing or a dish or two you like. Alternatively, you can flip to the list of conventionally organized recipes at the end of the book — see what works with what you have available. Either way, I hope people think of the recipes as starting points and inspiration for creating dishes that suit their circumstances and tastes; that’s what I do. I wanted to create a good recipe book, but I also wanted to tell the story of my family and the place where we’ve lived for 350 years. The stories support the recipes but exist for me independently as well. I hope people will read them and enjoy them and see my world through my eyes and those of my friends who illustrated this book, taking beautiful photographs and designing and letter-pressing the menus which begin each new group of recipes.
What’s the takeaway for readers? What do you hope they’ll get from this book?
I hope that others like the food as much as I do and that the recipes are so good that people integrate them into their cooking, as is or adapted. I hope that people will find a little trick or two that they can use in their own ways — these days I tend to season with herb blossoms rather than dried spices in the summer — it’s something worth trying. And I hope that a reader who dives into the essays, gathering snippets of information about my family and this island, will have a deeper appreciation for what it means to bring food to the community.
Anything else you want to tell us about the book?
The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook is a record of one year of cooking. A lifetime of experiences led me to this point, as well as a heritage in this place. This book is a chronicle of a large family that exists in a tight-knit community on this little island that holds food in very high esteem. I wanted to share what I grew up with and enjoy.
Want to try a recipe from the book?
Asparagus on Toast
Chris Fischer tops the asparagus with gribiche, a French sauce, traditionally an emulsion of hard-boiled egg yolk and oil perked up with pickles and herbs. Fischer uses homemade pickled carrots, but you can substitute the pickle of your choosing.
Roast Chicken with Mushrooms and Baby Arugula
This isn't your ordinary roast chicken. The sneaky secret to this roast chicken recipe is salting the bird the night before to make the skin extra-crsipy.
This is an old-fashioned English dessert, both simple and refreshing. Mixed berries, whatever looks best at the market, are layered with toasted bread then weighted to form a cake (an English “pudding”).
Angela Carlos is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Find her on Twitter and tweet @angelaccarlos.