For “By the Shore” (season 2, episode 7), Weekends with Yankee visited Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod for a New England farm-to-table dinner featuring local fish, lobster, and fresh vegetables from the inn’s nearby farm. Here, we take a look back at Amy Traverso’s 2015 visit to Chatham Bars Inn Farm for NewEngland.com.
Located at “the elbow” of Cape Cod, halfway between Falmouth and Provincetown, and approximately 90 miles from Boston, Chatham has long been a destination for East Coast day-trippers and summer visitors alike. Chatham Bars Inn, originally developed in 1914 as a semiprivate hunting lodge, is a longtime favorite coastal getaway thanks to its seamless blend of old-world charm and updated amenities. While promoting the July/August 2015 Yankee travel feature “Sandcastles by the Sea,” senior food editor Amy Traverso had a chance to visit Chatham Bars Inn and tour the inn’s own farm — aptly named the Chatham Bars Inn Farm. Here’s a look back at her visit.
A VISIT TO CHATHAM BARS INN FARM
Farm-to-Table Bounty on Cape Cod
When Arrows Restaurant opened in Ogunquit, Maine, in 1988, the idea of a fine-dining restaurant supplying its own fresh produce was a novelty to most New Englanders. There were small garden-centered restaurants at the time, like New Hampshire’s Pickity Place, but Arrows changed the game by bringing the ingredient-driven New American cuisine of California (where owners Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier got their start) to Maine. Farther up the coast, Melissa Clark brought a similar sensibility to Primo, which she opened in Rockland in 2000.
Today, most diners expect to find some locally grown produce on their menus, at least in summer. And more and more chefs are partnering with local farms or even running their own farm operations. I got to see a remarkable example of a farm-restaurant partnership during a recent visit to Chatham Bars Inn and the nearby eight-acre Chatham Bars Inn Farm on Cape Cod.
The farm has been a work in progress since 2012, when the inn purchased a former berry farm in nearby Brewster and set about enriching the sandy soil with layer after layer of compost and bringing additional acres of land into production. It’s an ongoing project. “You need to augment the soil,” says farm manager Josh Schiff. “It really takes a motivated party. But with a lot of work you can turn Cape Cod soils into productive soils. Eventually the soil will be self-sustaining with cover crops and leguminous crops.” Fortunately, the resort has a motivated party in owner Richard Cohen, a New York–based real estate investor, who has been a strong supporter of Schiff’s efforts.
The effort is already paying off, with the farm yielding enough produce to supply the inn’s restaurants with thousands of pounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, herbs, lettuce, squash, carrots, and other edibles, as well as additional farm shares for members of the community.
Each winter, Schiff meets with the inn’s executive chef, Anthony Cole, to plan the lineup for the upcoming season. The two are always experimenting with new varieties. Schiff introduced us to Sakura cherry tomatoes, an antioxidant-rich, Dutch-bred plant that produces some of the most flavorful tomatoes we’ve ever had: sweet-tart and juicy, more like berries than beefsteaks.
To really enjoy the fruits of Schiff’s labor, it’s hard to beat a meal at the inn. It’s a pricey treat, to be sure, but Cole’s team coaxes maximum flavor out of these supremely flavorful ingredients, combining the farm’s produce with local seafood, game, and prime and grass-fed beef. One section of the menu, titled “From the Farm,” is a great place to start.
Schiff enjoys a lengthy tomato season, thanks to his savvy use of a greenhouse and high tunnels (unheated, covered structures), and Cole pairs the fruits with aged balsamic vinegar, local sea salt and Massachusetts-made Great Hill Blue cheese. His hand is gentle: the flavors enhance, but the tomato still shines through.
Likewise with a Stars signature dish: Chatham lobster poached in butter so that the meat cooks gently and its sweetness plays against the richness of the sauce.
Across the main lobby of the inn, you can find more of Schiff’s produce on the menu of the more casual Sacred Cod restaurant (named after the four-foot carved wooden fish that hangs in the Massachusetts State House). Each day brings a “Local Catch & Harvest” special based on whatever is fresh from the farm and waters that day, as well a variation on the tomato-blue cheese salad and plenty of fresh greens, herbs, and other vegetables.
Cole oversees it all. When I saw him earlier in the day, he told me that he came to the inn after many years working at Ritz-Carlton properties around the world. But he thinks he’s found his dream job. What more could a chef want? A view of the sea, fresh fish from down the road, his own farm to help plan and savor. He may never leave.