Chefs Go Hog (and Fish) Wild on Nantucket

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L to R: Executive pastry chef of Harvest Brian Mercury celebrates FishPig 2016 with barbecue master Brendan Burek, Robert Sisca, executive chef of Providence’s Garde de la Mer, the Rooftop at the G and Providence GPub, Chris Himmel, FishPig host and owner of Grill 23, Post 390, and Harvest, and Michael Seznec, senior vice president of operations for the Himmel Hospitality Group

This past weekend, a slew of service industry leaders flocked to Nantucket, the island known for seersucker togs and red pants, to celebrate the 20th annual Nantucket Wine Festival. Vineyard, terroir, and tasting experts worked alongside some of Massachusetts’ best chefs to represent their respective companies at lectures, tastings, and buttoned-up soirees. A few wharfs down the harbor, there was something slightly more casual coming together. Chris Himmel, owner of Post 390, Grill 23, and Harvest, and Mike Geraty, owner of Wulf’s Fish were preparing to host their 3rd annual FishPig event at Slip 14 restaurant.

This 150-person shindig was a veritable feast of pork and fish (hence the name) at the seaside restaurant; intended for all, but primarily attended by people who cook, serve, or manage in restaurants almost every other day of the year.

“You know, we don’t really get a chance to get together in a social setting that often,” Himmel said, “and here everyone is not stressed about their restaurant because they’re on an island and can’t get to it. I felt that with it (FishPig) not being a (official) part of the festival, they (industry people) could come and really enjoy themselves.”

The Dirty Water crew and I sailed by fast ferry and disembarked on the island at Noon to film the FishPig festivities. A little early for the 4:30pm start time, we ambled to Slip 14, steadying our footing with each step on the cobblestone-lined streets. Once there, we interviewed the hosts before everyone started tipping back Cisco Brewers’ Whale’s Tail Pale Ale and cocktails made with Triple Eight Vodka. “Rocky” the wild boar rotated on the spit behind Himmel and Geraty, perfuming the air with a sweet smelling smoke.

Rocky

Brian Mercury, Executive Pastry Chef of Harvest, appeared through the haze with slicked hair like the shiny ganache glaze on a Sachertorte. He was surprised by the cameras but got the thumbs up to pass. Later in the evening he would serve his spin on devil’s food cake with salted caramel popcorn, quinoa shortcakes with macerated strawberries and chamomile scented whipped cream, a refreshing grapefruit curd, and bacon toffee cookies.

Following the interview, Geraty invited us out on his boat “Hit & Run” for a harbor cruise since food production was making headway at full steam with most hands on deck. Michael Seznec, senior vice president of operations for the Himmel Hospitality Group, was grilling bread and vegetables near the dock, and several other team members were dicing, mixing, and seasoning in the upstairs kitchen of Jonas Baker’s restaurant. We twirled around the lighthouse kicking up the only waves on a particularly calm afternoon and decided to head back to check on the party’s progress.

Standing on dry land again, we noticed smoke billowing from the spit roaster. The hosts and their team of culinary and barbecue professionals were already calmly attempting to remedy the potential demise of “Rocky”. I love crispy pork skin as much as the next chubby kid, but poor “Rocky” overheated way past seared towards the charred, unsalvageable dark side. He was mourned and celebrated throughout the evening.

By the party’s start time no one but the organizers and the Dirty Water team knew that something was missing from the vast array of platters. Tables at every edge of the restaurant were piled high with cured and smoked meats, cheeses and fruit, refreshing scallop and squid ceviches with vital acidity and crunch from bell peppers; beautifully plated crudos with a simple herbaceous dressing and olive oil, raw Nantucket Oysters on the half shell with accoutrements, Seznec’s grilled bread and vegetables, and a remarkable mountain of lobster rolls from the team at Snappy Lobster. Did I mention this was just the cocktail portion of the night?

In the back of the restaurant the smell of melting nutty fat squeaked out of a China box where another hog was slow roasting for the entree buffet, and whole fish were searing on the grill before they received a blanket of luscious and vibrant chimichurri sauce.

As the sun set on the water and guests mingled on the porch of Slip 14, the buffet was arranged. Beyond the most tender black sea bass and slices of roasted hog, the table was brimming with summertime favorites: black bean salad, cole slaw, red skinned potato salad, macaroni and ham salad, Chris Himmel’s Asian-inspired kale salad, pickles, tortillas, guacamole, and several sauce options.

Like a woman gets dressed to impress other women, this spread was built to impress fellow chefs, cooks, and industry insiders.

Among the guests, we ran into: Will Gilson, chef/owner of Puritan and Company, Molly Kravitz, senior public relations manager at Connelly Partners, Louis DiBiccari, chef/owner of Tavern Road, Alexis Cervasio, general manager of Doretta Tavern & Raw Bar, personal chef Mike Betts, Holly Finigan of Nantucket Blackbook, Jason Harman, Cisco Brewers’ chief executive officer, Robert Sisca, executive chef of Providence’s Garde de la Mer, the Rooftop at the G and Providence GPub, Kate Heffernan of Julia B. couture linens, “man about Nantucket” Mike Sullivan and his wife Jenn Smith Sullivan, and Michael Ratty, director of communications at MCPHS University.

Rumblings: We hear that Grill 23 might be opening two new locations; one in Washington D.C., and another at Hudson Yards, in New York City. Robert Sisca, formerly of Bistro du Midi and Le Bernardin, will open Garde East on Martha’s Vineyard next month.