Oak Bluffs, MA: Ben DeForest's 'Island Fresca,' Corn and Tomato Soup
This is the summer of comebacks.
Specifically, I'm talking about two chefs on Martha's Vineyard, Raymond Schilcher and Ben Deforest. In their mutual heydays (roughly a decade or two ago), these guys were (separately) running some of the best restaurants the Island has ever seen: The Oyster Bar, The Red Cat, Balance, The Captain's Table. They were cooking ahead of the curve; their food was gutsy and inventive, but smart and always well executed. As a coming-of-age food nut, I was awestruck.
Sadly, each of these places eventually shuttered, and both chefs more or less fell off the Vineyard restaurant radar. Until recently. In a glorious, coincidental fine-dining turnaround, both Schilcher and DeForest have landed back on the Vineyard this summer, each running his own kitchen in Oak Bluffs: Schilcher at Lobsterville Bar and Grille, DeForest at The Red Cat Kitchen at Ken 'n' Beck.
The first impressions: really impressive. My preliminary intel on Lobsterville comes via a very trusty source: my mom, who's a tough a critic as they come. I hope to get there ASAP; expect a follow-up report later this summer. In the meantime, we ate at The Red Cat Kitchen last weekend, where DeForest is reviving some of his greatest hits from over the years—namely, his Island Fresca ($11), a dish he's been making for 16 years.
Its foundation is about as humble as it gets: corn broth, which DeForest makes by simmering stripped corn cobs in water for a good 90 minutes. From there he strains the broth, adds chopped fresh tomatoes and the reserved corn kernels, melts in a little butter, and seasons with salt and pepper. A generous glug of sweet, verdant basil oil and a handful of high-quality Reggiano are last-minute—but crucial—additions.
Even in late June, when local corn and tomatoes are still several weeks away from hitting farmer's market stands, DeForest manages to coax remarkably lush, full flavor from these late-summer staples. I can't wait to see how much brighter and sweeter it tastes in August, but I also can't imagine how it could get any better.
(As luck would have it, former Boston Herald restaurant critic Mat Schaffer profiled DeForest in 2003 and printed the recipe here (see page 2). Enjoy.)
The Red Cat Kitchen at Ken 'n' Beck
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.