Archive for November, 2012

Friday Nights at Elmer’s

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Elmer’s Store on Main Street in Ashfield, Massachusetts, is a bright, friendly place. Owner Nan Parati and her staff smile as they sell food and gifts. The walls are painted vibrant colors mixed by Nan herself; she is an artist and set designer as well as a storekeeper. And on Friday afternoons and evenings irresistible smells emanate from the small, well lit kitchen.

On a recent Friday afternoon when I stopped in, kitchen manager Jane Goodale, assistant chef Michael Hulbert, and chef Son Tremé were chopping, washing, and peeling local vegetables and meat for Elmer’s weekly Friday dinner. They joked and chatted as they worked, clearly at ease in the kitchen and with each other.

The Gang at Elmer’s, from left to right: Michael, Nan, Son, and Jane

Son Tremé is an assured 28 year old with a warm smile. Nan Parati told me that she has known him since he was six. “I met him when I lived in New Orleans, in the Tremé section of the city,” she explained. “He and his little brother came over and just kind of wouldn’t go away.”

I asked Nan about Son’s name. “’Son’ was his nickname growing up,” she informed me, “but he made it his legal name.” He apparently added “Tremé” to his legal name as well. Who am I to cavil at a name? I assure you that “Tinky” doesn’t appear on my birth certificate. Son’s name suits him.

Nan added that she became a godmother of sorts to Tremé, so much so that when her own mother died recently “the grandchildren decided that Son should represent them at the service.”

Son began working in the restaurant business in New Orleans, he said, although he didn’t plan at first to cook as a career. He enjoyed the rich food of his native city, but it wasn’t until he moved north and started cooking more healthily that he knew for sure he was going to be a chef.

He worked at a number of restaurants in Massachusetts, ending up as a breakfast chef at Elmer’s before taking time off to work on a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University. He has finished his coursework and is scheduled to graduate in 2013. “As you can imagine, I am extremely proud of him!” beamed Nan Parati.

Son Tremé explained that he combines all of his food background in his work at Elmer’s. “My home training is all pot stuff. I do it the way I want to,” he said. He added that his schooling taught him to be more precise in his cooking. His practical experience has made him even more responsible.

“In school you have five people on one soup,” he said. “In the industry it’s YOUR soup. And it’s your butt if it’s good or bad.”

Son does his best to respond to the desires and needs of his patrons and to the agricultural abundance in our area. He sees the relationship among farmers, restaurateurs, diners, and home cooks as a “circle of support.”

His home circle is also important to him. He is planning to create special food soon for the little baby girl to whom his partner gave birth in early October. “She’s my inspiration these days,” he said of little Belle-Soleil Tremé.

Nan and Son hope to expand the culinary offerings at Elmer’s, which currently serves breakfast and lunch every day (with special brunches on the weekend) and dinner on Friday evenings only. Soon another Louisiana chef, Charles Neville, will cook on the first Saturday evening of each month.

Meanwhile, Son Tremé plans future menus and enjoys the spirit in the kitchen. “My style is basically international fusion, which is Creole, my native culture,” he said. “All those indigenous cultures merged together in New Orleans. It says a lot about me. We cook. We sit down and eat—and we talk.”

I’d cook, talk, and eat with Son any day of the week. (He is the only chef who has ever kissed my hand at the end of an interview.) I was particularly taken with the seasonal, slightly sweet pork dish he served that evening at Elmer’s.

Son served his pork with potatoes au gratin, fresh broccoli, and sautéed apple slices.

Son Tremé’s Apple-Cider Braised Pork Roast

When I made this for my family, I cut the recipe for the marinade in half and used 2 pounds of pork tenderloin. We had enough for eight people. Obviously, Son is a generous chef! (I didn’t have to cook the smaller amount of meat quite so long.)


1/2 pound shallots (about 3 to 4 shallots, plus a few more if you love shallots), peeled and chopped
1/2 cup minced garlic
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 bunch fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 quart apple cider
5 pounds picnic pork shoulder
1/4 cup canola oil


Gather all your ingredients and equipment.

In a blender mix the shallots, garlic, vinegar, parsley, salt, and pepper. Add the cider to this combination. Place the pork in a pan, and marinate it in the liquids (refrigerated) for 24 hours.

The next day, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Remove the pork from the marinade, saving the marinade.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven, and sear the pork to brown it.

In a saucepan bring the marinade to a boil. Pour it over the pork, cover the Dutch oven, and place it in the oven. Bake the pork until it is fork tender, 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Transfer the pork, moistened with a little of the liquid and tightly covered, to a cooler oven (250 degrees) or to the oven you have just been using turned off. Strain the cooking liquid. Discard the solids that come out in the straining (the garlic, etc.).

Skim the sauce, and bring it to a simmer. Let it simmer and reduce until it is slightly thickened and glossy. (Start checking for this after about 15 minutes.)

Slice the pork, and serve it with some of the sauce and thinly sliced, sautéed apples.

Serves 10.

Nan and Son

Cranberry-Apple Crisp

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Some days it’s hard for a chanteuse not to quote  musical comedies. I was reminded recently of a line from The Sound of Music to the effect that when God closes a door he opens a window.

Here’s what happened: I became annoyed with myself a couple of weeks ago. I had been eyeing my neighbor Dennis’s patch of rhubarb with an eye to making rhubarb-apple crisp. (Dennis is always very nice about my incursions into his rhubarb.)

Unfortunately, I waited a little too long to harvest the rhubarb. When I lifted up the rhubarb leaves, I found that the stalks had finally given up the ghost and become soggy. The rhubarb door was closed for this year.

And then … I went to the grocery store and saw my window: the first cranberries of the season! So I decided to pair them with the apples instead of rhubarb. Personally, I think this is an even better combination than the rhubarb-apple one. The color is deep and appealing, thanks to the cranberries. And the apples tone down the cranberries ever so slightly; the crisp is tart but not too tart. The cranberries still dominate since three cups of them are denser than three cups of apples.

Of course, I imagine God has better things to do than entertain me with fruit. But I’m thanking him/her/it anyway, just in case. Come to think of it, this would make a lovely dessert for Thanksgiving Day……

Ruby had never encountered cranberries before.

The Crisp


3 cups (12 ounces) cranberries
3 cups sliced apples (core but don’t bother to peel unless you’re fussy—use a fairly sturdy apple; I used Baldwins)
3/4 cup white sugar plus 1/2 cup later
2 pinches salt
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup oats (regular, not steel cut or quick)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl toss together the cranberries, the apples, 3/4 cup sugar, the first pinch of salt, and the lemon juice. Spread them in the bottom of a 1-1/2- or 2-quart baking dish.

In a small bowl combine the flour, the remaining white sugar, the brown sugar, the oats, the cinnamon, and the second pinch of salt. Cut or rub in the butter until you have coarse crumbs. My preference is rubbing it in since I’m a tactile cook. Gently spread this combination over the fruit mixture. (It will be a little messy!)

Bake the crisp until it is brown and bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with the topping of your choice—cream, whipped cream, ice cream, or frozen yogurt. Serves 6.

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