Chef Lydia Shire

by Michele Pesula Kuegler | May 7th, 2012 | Chef Interviews

As our spring menu series draws near to its end, we arrive close to home.  This week, our first stop is in Boston.  Only an hour away from where I live, it is one of my favorite, local culinary destinations.  The array of foods available is just amazing.  One example of excellent dining in Boston is Scampo, home to the best polenta my husband and I have ever had.

I was able to speak with chef and co-owner, Lydia Shire, to learn more about the spring menu that she is offering at Scampo. With a bounty of fresh ingredients at her disposal, it is sure to excite your palate.

TT:  How many new dishes have you added to your spring menu?

CS:  We have added 24 new “for spring only” dishes to this year’s Spring Menu at Scampo.

TT:  Out of these dishes which is your favorite spring menu item?

CS:  This is a tough choice! Of course, we always look to have soft shell crab in the spring. Our new dish is Crisped Soft Shell Crab with White Almond Romesco, Radishes & Bitter Orange. Then, there is asparagus. I love the Grilled Jumbo Asparagus with Rocket Salsa Verde. My absolute favorite, on a more personal level, is the new chicken wing dish that I am doing: the Primo Chicken Wings with Vietnamese Crisp and Bruleed Japanese Yam Sformato.  I am only using the two front sections of the wing without the drumstick. This part of the wing with the two bones encloses the most tender and succulent piece in the entire bird. Also, the skin on that part is particularly delicate and crisps beautifully. We use Vietnamese fish sauce in the marinade. I talked my meat purveyor into selling me just that part of the wing.

TT:  Are any of the ingredients in this dish locally sourced?

CS:  Massachusetts grows wonderful asparagus in Hadley, MA.  Soft shell crabs are from the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, and are fantastic. We look to Maine for their poultry farms. Most of the fish on our menu is caught locally: haddock, lobsters, fluke, swordfish, clams and oysters.

TT:  Being located in Boston, is it more challenging to plan a spring menu, as it can be a cold season in New England?

CS:  I believe that’s an “old wives tale.” You have to keep in mind that our true growing season does not get fully started until May-ish, so we rely on excellent purveyors from all over the country to ship foods in. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that. I remember going to Delta Airlines late in the evening to pick up my “real” Kentucky Bibb Lettuce, grown by the Korfage brothers in Louisville, Kentucky. It had been picked just that morning! Pretty darn fresh if you ask me.  So no, I don’t see any different challenges in our location in the country. Look at how close we are to George’s Bank for fishing!

TT:  For how long will these spring items be available?

CS:  We will change our menu to summer dishes towards the end of June.  That in itself is actually a bit of a problem because true local summer tomatoes don’t get started until mid to late August.  Local corn is the same way. So, once again, we will need to rely on some “imports” until our own is fresh.  Mmm, I cannot wait to bite into a ripe local peach!

TT:  What makes your spring menu unique?

CS:  To me, spring marks the beginning of the year food wise. This is the time when greens awaken. We have fresh peas and soft shell crabs. I will not serve asparagus at Christmastime; I wait until the spring to partake.  I have always changed my menus with the season. At Scampo and Towne Stove + Spirits, we have no fear of fat or correctly seasoned food.  Our approach is having bold, memorable foods with REAL FLAVOR. I believe in generous portions and dishes that withstand the test of time. I loved adding a classic Lobster Stew, which I did at Locke Ober’s for 10 years (with extra sherry). This time, I put a puff pastry lid on top of the soup, homemade with white truffle butter in the pastry…YUM.  We watch it puff and get buttery crisp in the oven.  I believe each and every menu we write is memorable; hopefully others will think that as well!

Photo credit:  Eric Levin of Elevin Studios

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