|LIS Interviews Chef Keenan Langlois|
|Features - Chefs and Restaurants|
|Written by Jon Ross-Wiley|
Winning Boston Magazine's "Best New Restaurant" and "Best Bartender," Improper Bostonian's "Best American Food," and Open Table's Top 10 "American Restaurant," Union Bar and Grille in Boston's South End is no stranger to accolades. And with good reason.
The Aquitaine Group, which proudly consists of three Aquitaine locations, Gaslight Brasserie, Metropolis Cafe, and Union Bar and Grille, points to Union as its signature fine dining destination, and believes that dinner at Union is "what going out to dinner used to be -- not a culinary education, just good food that you want to eat." Diners from all over agree and flock to the SoWa area of the South End to enjoy Union's menu, which shows a commitment to serving fresh, local, and sustainable ingredients.
Excellent ingredients are just one of the keys to the success of any restaurant, or dish for that matter, but they must be cooked to perfection to complete the picture. Fortunately, Union has Chef de Cuisine, Keenan Langlois, on its team.
Chef Langlois brings an Oak Bluffs childhood, family and professional cooking training, and a deep love of cooking and food to work with him each day...and diners at Union singing his praises.
Local In Season had the chance to speak with Chef Langlois earlier this month to ask him about what makes food at Union Bar and Grille shine.
What of your upbringing on Martha's Vineyard do you bring with you into the kitchen at Union?
A lot of seafood. I learned a lot from watching my parents. Every week my father would head down to South Beach to fish for bluefish and stripers. So I love working with bluefish because it's attached to fond memories of my father. The things I cook generally have fond memories embedded in them. My hope is that that translates onto each plate.
Union is an American restaurant, but what is your cooking style?
I really just enjoy cooking food simply and not overworking it. I bring French technique in, use humble ingredients, and treat them cleanly. I respect food a lot, it needs to be treated well.
What is your approach to "whole animal" cooking?
Well, I think it goes hand in hand with treating food well, and we do what we can to maximize the ingredients. We get whole ducks, for example, and use the livers for pate we confit the legs, use the breasts in entrees, the bones for stock, and then keep the fat for later use.
Tell us a little bit about how Union goes about sourcing local ingredients.
We get most of our utility produce from Lowell Brothers (Chelsea, MA), and then source items like mesclun greens, garlic, and chives from Verrill Farm (Concord, MA). We also use FarmFresh.org which is a consortium of farms. We get everything from scallops to mushrooms to sprouts to farm eggs from FarmFresh. The order sheet gets completed every Monday, and the ingredients are delivered on Thursday. Sometimes the sous chefs don't tell me everything that has been ordered, so it's like Christmas opening the boxes in the delivery.
How does your menu evolve through the seasons?
We lighten up the menu for the summer season, so you'll see items like pork, pea greens, and heirloom carrots. In the fall we move to the heartier greens…chard and kale, and we do more stews and braises. In the winter, I'd say we get a little heavier, and we start toasting some of our ingredients to warm things up. Then, once spring rolls back in we get excited to brighten things back up and feature the early harvest vegetables.
Seasons aside, I imagine your dishes must evolve from concept to customer.
It happens everyday. I look at things like customer comments, and also just rethink dishes and ask, "What other notes does this need?" Sometimes a dish needs something added, needs more balance, or needs to be calmed down a bit.
Can you walk us through this process?
Sure. We had a wild salmon dish during the winter that incorporated toasted quinoa, shaved Brussels sprouts, and a charred orange salsa. Over a six month time period, this dish evolved to a dish which is currently on the menu. Now, the wild salmon has fried Brussels sprout leaves, which give a nice, dark caramel flavor, red quinoa, and a gooseberry gastrique. So, elements of the previous dish are definitely there, but the flavors have really developed.
What are you most excited about right now in terms of local ingredients?
Tomatoes! August is terrific for tomatoes in Massachusetts and the corn is out of sight. I use the tomatoes in a lot of places…some garnishes, salads, I make a panzanella, then the ugly heirlooms usually find their way into a pureé. The heirloom flavor is amazing.
There is a lot of discussion abbot what "local" means to different people. What does it mean to you?
Essentially, all of New England, and even into New York. I grew up all around here, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, I lived in Hudson Valley…Rhode Island, so it all feels like home. If I can drive to it in a few hours, that's local.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with Local In Season.
Be sure to check out Union Bar and Grill for dinner, cocktails, or brunch. You won't be disappointed.
Union Bar and Grill, 1347 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02118 (617) 423-0555
Photo credits: Izzy Berdan