Chef-owner Evan Mallett of Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Photo Credit : Courtesy Photo
Among today’s crop of New England chefs, Evan Mallett stands out for his dedication to showcasing regional flavors and seasons. At his renowned Black Trumpet restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire—as well as at his new Ondine Oyster + Wine Bar in Belfast, Maine—Mallett celebrates local ingredients and the people who produce them. We recently caught up with this chef and award-winning cookbook author, who is featured in season 2 of Weekends with Yankee.
Q&A with Chef Evan Mallett of Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Many see you as a champion of New England and its foods. How has working and living here influenced what you do?
If I am a champion for anything about our regional food system, it is a love of its ingredients and the people who make them available to us. Fishermen, farmers, foragers, historians, aquaculturists, scientists, and yes, chefs—these are the friends I’ve made over the years in my attempt to restore responsible, healthy ingredients to a supply chain that has been broken for 70-plus years. I’ve seen positive change in our food system, both locally and nationally, since I got involved in this crusade, and I can say that I only see it getting better.
You’ve said Belfast, Maine, could be New England’s next “it” food destination. Why so?
Belfast is a little like the town that time forgot. There are multiple farmers’ markets, two independent hardware stores, boatbuilding structures that line the working port, and the not-so-distant history of Belfast being New England’s poultry processing and shipping capital. Plus, its young mayor and the town council are very sensitive to the kind of unchecked growth that leads to gentrification, so I think Belfast will remain a refreshing departure from the midcoast Maine towns that have been glamorized for wealthy summer residents. Local hangouts, such as Rollie’s and Three Tides, and a good variety of restaurants that include Mexican, Italian, and even Lao influences collectively make Belfast a delicious destination.
With spring now under way, can you tell us a bit about how the season plays into your cooking?
Perhaps more than any other season, spring brings dramatic changes. In the early part of the season, we begin with nothing. Then, as a reminder of nature’s power over our diets, when we are feeling as rugged as hungry Vikings, the first green sprouts emerge—ramps and fiddleheads—and maybe a pheasant back mushroom or even the elusive morel. I forage these with relish. Not long afterward, farmers begin to deliver spring produce, beginning with asparagus. Right now, we have garlic scapes, baby courgettes, radishes, peas, and lots of tender young greens.
What’s your favorite springtime ingredient?
In my book [Black Trumpet: A Chef’s Journey Through Eight New England Seasons], I wrote an ode to rhubarb in which I refer to the great hardy perennial as a mistress of sorts. Over the years Black Trumpet has featured rhubarb in a staggering number of dishes. I guess that makes rhubarb my favorite—although there are so many ingredients to love, I hate to play favorites!