At the beautiful Wequassett Resort and Golf Club in Harwich, Mass., resides one of New England’s most esteemed restaurants, Twenty-eight Atlantic. Part of the AAA Four Diamond and Forbes Star Resort, this restaurant has been a huge attraction to visitors as it features the local bounty of spring, summer, and fall. The head of the kitchen is chef James Hackney, a talent who has seen the scene all over New England. He shared with us the details of his first head chef position, and the contrast between working on the Cape in the high season as opposed to in the colder months, and — as a veteran of one of Boston’s iconic fine dining establishments — the future of fine dining in Bean Town.
How do you feel working at the helm of Twenty-eight Atlantic compares to other restaurants you have worked at?
The most exciting part of running twenty-eight Atlantic is this is my first restaurant with my name at the helm. Twenty-eight Atlantic has a lot more diverse clientele than other restaurants that I have worked at before. This is because of the seasonality of the resort, as we caterer to the locals on the shoulder season and then in season it is a good mix of people from all over the world. This challenges me and my team to ensure we produce menus that are creative but also relevant to what the guest is looking for. Having the restaurant closed for several months over the winter also gives us an exciting time to play in the test kitchen and plan menus for the following season.
Your profession has also allowed you to experience the food scene in many cities and towns in New England. What would you say are the strengths of Cape Cod's food scene?
The seafood and shellfish are by far the most exciting point of the Cape Cod. Boston does indeed have a good seafood connection, but living and working by the ocean gives the Cape that added bonus. Digging for clams and oysters on my days off with the kids is so inspirational. Serving lunches and dinners on our outside dining venues makes the food and the experience dramatic and memorable. The local fishermen and farms are smaller and more independent, and that fosters a closer bond with the chefs.
Having worked at Boston's fine dining institution L'Espalier, what are your thoughts on the future of Boston's fine dining?
There are some great new restaurants that have opened up in the past few years, and Boston is growing in popularity. The city now offers a wide range of restaurants with very different styles, all concentrating on the grassroots of local and sustainable food, but incorporating each chef’s own personality and flare into it.
Fine dining is tough to start up as you need somewhat of a captured audience, a big bank balance, or a big name behind the stove to meet the high level of expectation. I do believe there will always be a demand for fine dining, but as chefs we need to keep ahead of the ever-bending culinary curve.
With the busy summer now behind us, how do you anticipate the fall season to affect your menu and dynamic in the restaurant?
The fall is a great time for us on the Cape. The local tuna, halibut, and swordfish really start fattening up and the local shell fish is at its best; also my favorite Taylor Bay scallops come into season. We do have many of these local fish on the menu through the season, but it’s nice to see the fish at its peak in these times. Not to forget that fall in New England offers some of the very best pumpkins, apples, and pears that offer those sweet notes and warm spices to the dishes.
Finally, what do you do with your time away from Twenty-eight Atlantic in the off season?
I try and spend as much time with my wife and two young girls as I can. Cooking is a passion for me at home as it is at work. Having the evenings and weekend s off to play in my kitchen is a great way to relax and socialize. We also travel a lot to different parts of the world, which gives me the opportunity to see and taste different styles of food.
With fall being their final season before they close their doors for the winter, there is no better time to head to the Cape for an autumnal trip. Experience the breathtaking colors as the leaves change, book a trip with Wequassett Resort and take advantage of their fall features, notably the Harvest Package (valid through October 31) and the Wellfleet Oyster Festival (October 18 and 19).