Pros create entertainment poetry
By JOHN CARAFOLI 
CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Have you ever wondered how restaurant owners entertain?

I decided to find out, so I asked Gilbert and Kolleen Pepin, owners of the wonderful 902 Main Restaurant in South Yarmouth, to come to my house and create the kind of dinner they themselves would host.

 


John Murelle, far left, reacts as chef Gilbert Pepin and columnist John Carafoli cook scallops. 
(Photo by Matt Suess)

These two creative, talented, high-energy restaurateurs - the Fred and Ginger of the restaurant world, as I call them- danced into my home at 3:30 on a balmy Sunday afternoon last month and choreographed a festive and special dinner party.

 

After a short tour, Gilbert and Kolleen swung into action. We put on some lively music, Kolleen poured us glasses of Lindauer Brut sparkling wine from New Zealand and offered a toast to the evening to come. Then we got busy. Out of their car came a steady stream of plastic boxes and containers filled with food, wine, cutting boards, knives, and racks of glasses and dishes from their restaurant.

As they do at the restaurant, both partners took over familiar territories and tasks, with Gilbert in the kitchen and Kolleen in the dining room. Gilbert was immediately at home with my six-burner, two-oven Garland range, complete with grill and broiler.

Kolleen took over in the dining room, setting the table with my grandmother's white damask tablecloth and napkins and my one-of-a-kind Sandwich goblets she found in the cellar while scouting around for other things she could use. She completed the table setting with a unique centerpiece of seasonal berries, small gourds, candles and clusters of glass grapes that came together in a festive and artistic arrangement.

''Entertaining, for me, has to affect all your senses, not just your belly,'' Kolleen told me as she put the finishing touches on the table. ''When people come over for dinner, I aim to create a theatrical stage setting that involves the people dining with us. The ambience includes the food, music, candles, flowers and a special centerpiece, but it is really about the people. They are the center of the evening.''

Kolleen went on to say, ''There are always glitches in entertaining, as there are occasionally in our restaurant, and you have to roll with it and keep things in motion. Things do not have to be perfect. I think people put such high pressure on themselves trying to make things perfect. If something goes wrong, you need to be able to improvise and turn your mistake into a positive experience for you and the guest.''

Our guest list that evening included my partner John Murelle, a concert performer and voice teacher, who took care of the music, as well as Arlene and John Carter from Yarmouthport. Arlene, a creative pastry chef, brought one of her special Apple Cheese Tortes, while John, owner of Green Hill Farm in Yarmouthport, brought a gift of special wine.

Since Kolleen and Gilbert strive to have guests feel a part of the event, I was recruited as Gilbert's sous chef. This was a new experience for me (in my own kitchen, no less), and a real treat, in as much as I respect and admire Gilbert as a creative chefwith a good knowledge of food. Each of the other guests was assigned preparatory tasks as well. Coming together in my kitchen set the tone and mood for the rest of the evening.

 




Music for entertaining

Singer John Murelle says, "It is important that the music you choose blends in and remains in the background. It should add to the party, rather then drowning out the conversation. I like to select music that people are not familiar with. Beginning with fun, upbeat eclectic music (and moving) to quiet vocal and light jazz as the evening progresses."

A few of his recommendations:

Pink Martini's "Hang on Little Tomato" and "Sympathique International" . Perfect for the start of any occasion.

Lee Wiley sings the songs of Rodgers and Hart

"Paris by Night," a compilation of classic French songs and singers from 1929 to 1964. This is a favorite at 902 Main Restaurant.

Ella Fitzgerald, "The Cole Porter Songbook"

Bill Evans Trio, "Portrait in Jazz"

Tord Gustavsen Trio, "Changing Places"

Tomasz Stanko Quartet, "Suspended Night"

 



Standing around the large chopping block while jaunty music played in the background, Gilbert and I shucked and garnished the oysters three different ways. Kolleen opened a wonderful chilled bottle of French La Chablisienne Petit Chablis and poured everyone a glass while we nibbled on tasty goat cheese crostini and sampled the fresh briny oysters.

 

Next, Gilbert fired up the stove, handed me one of the pans, and we sautéed fresh bay scallops in small batches, cooking them fast and easy with fresh thyme and butter. Ladled out onto preheated plates, the scallops were rushed to the table and served with a Clos Du Val Chardonnay from Napa Valley.

While the playful and highly interactive experience leading up to dinner is fun, once you sit down to dine you realize that Gilbert's cooking is serious. He spent four years in France, and some of his dishes reflect his training there. The chef uses fresh, local ingredients of the highest quality and believes in supporting local farmers, growers and providers. Everything at 902 Main Restaurant is made from scratch, including the breads.

The dinner at my house was much like what I experienced dining at the Pepins' restaurant.

We eagerly sat down for our second course, which included a salad of local fresh winter greens with a balsamic dressing, topped with Great Blue Hill cheese, and garnished with Cape dried cranberries and spiced nuts.

The third course consisted of a grilled Wolfe's Neck Farm Rib-eye Steak with a sauce of caramelized shallots reduced with Pinot Noir, and served with braised red cabbage Alsatian-style and fingerling potatoes. Kolleen selected yet another perfect match: a French Domaine du Pesquier 2001 Gigondas.

As the evening progressed, the music changed, matched to the mood of the course, and conversation ran the gamut (everything but religion or politics - neither a good topic these days). The grand finales to a memorable meal were Gilbert's Pumpkin Brulee and Arlene's Apple Cheese Torte, accompanied by espresso, tea and after-dinner drinks.

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Here are some of Gilbert Pepin's recipes, along with some notes from him. The last dessert is from Arlene Carter.

Cummaquid Oysters, Three Ways

Chilled Champagne Mignonette

4 cracked black peppercorns

1 minced shallot

4 tablespoons champagne vinegar

Combine above ingredients in a small bowl, mix and divide among the opened chilled oysters and serve.

Horseradish Cream

2 tablespoons fresh grated horseradish

1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Salt and pepper

In a small bowl, fold the horseradish into the whipped cream, add salt and pepper to taste. Place a dollop on each opened chilled oyster and serve.

Baked Oysters 902 Style

12 oysters

4 cups washed baby spinach

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 minced shallot

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 slices pancetta, rendered until crisp and finely chopped

Sauté the spinach in the olive oil and shallot until wilted; strain to remove excess liquid and place in a bowl to cool. When cool, add the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and pancetta. Mix well to combine.

Open oysters, place on a cookie sheet and top each with a tablespoon of the spinach mixture. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

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''For my restaurant, I purchase goat cheese from the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company. It is organic, creamy and quite delicious.''

 

Vermont Goat Cheese Crostini

8 ounces of Vermont Goat cheese

1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped

Toasts made from a French baguette, cut into small rounds, brushed with olive oil and lightly toasted

Shape goat cheese into small balls about 1/2 inch thick and the diameter of a quarter. Roll goat cheese in almond and place on crostini. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for five minutes until warm. Serve immediately. Yields about 16 pieces

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''The key to cooking this delicious, sweet, seasonal delicacy is to use a hot skillet, sauté quickly and serve immediately on warm plates garnished with a sprig of thyme.''

 

Sautéed Nantucket Bay Scallops with Lemon Thyme Butter Sauce

As an appetizer, 3 to 4 ounces of scallops per person

As an entrée, 6 to 7 ounces of scallops per person

Salt and white pepper to taste

Olive oil

Juice of two lemons

1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme

2 tablespoons butter

Season scallops with salt and white pepper.

Heat a cast-iron skillet or heavy gauge sauté pan. Add olive oil to pan, just enough to coat the bottom. Add scallops and shake pan to prevent sticking. The scallops only need about 30 seconds; add lemon juice and chopped thyme. Turn off heat and swirl in the butter until melted. Serve scallops immediately.

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I buy most of my organic beef from Wolf's Neck Farm in Freeport, Maine, and like serving it with the caramelized shallots, fingerling potatoes, and the Alsatian-style red cabbage. Many of the vegetables I use come from Tim Friary's Cape Cod Organic Farm in Barnstable.

Caramelized Shallots

6 to 8 shallots, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups of Pinot Noir

1 cup chicken broth

In an iron skillet or saucepan, melt the butter over medium high heat, add the shallots and cook until the shallots turn a rich brown. Add the wine and chicken broth and reduce to a thick consistency. Yields about 1/2 cup. Serve with the rib-eye steak.

Red Cabbage Alsatian Style

4 ounces chopped bacon

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

1/2 head red cabbage, also thinly sliced (do not use core of cabbage as it is tough)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup red wine

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup golden raisins

In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the red cabbage, vinegar, sugar and red wine and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes over low heat until tender and liquid is reduced. Season with salt and black pepper and mix in the raisins. Serves 4. This dish can be cooked in advance and reheated at mealtime.

The lettuces I used for this special occasion came from The Seaweed & Codfish Herb Farm of West Dennis. The combination of Great Blue Hill cheese, dried cranberries, spiced walnuts and assorted greens makes a beautiful looking salad any time but it is especially festive this time of year.''

Salad of Local Winter Lettuces

1 pound bag assorted salad greens

Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 shallots, minced

1 tablespoon grain mustard

4 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar

8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine the shallots, mustard and balsamic vinegar. Slowly whisk in the oil until well combined. Yields about 1/2 cup dressing.

To serve, coat greens in vinaigrette.

Place on plate, set a wedge of about 1 ounce of Great Blue Hills Cheese on side of greens and add warm walnuts and dried cranberries around salad.

Spiced Nuts

1/2 pound walnuts

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon sugar

Melt the butter in a sauté pan.

Add spices and sugar. Toss until well-coated, then place on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Shake pan frequently. Makes enough for 6 salads.

Pumpkin Brulee

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup light cream

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon allspice

4 eggs

Sugar for caramel topping

Mint for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until well combined. Pour mixture into 6 (1 cup) individual ovenproof dishes.

Set a rack in the bottom of a flat pan large enough to accommodate the 6 cups (a roasting pan works well).

Place the dishes on the rack and put the pan in the oven. Immediately add scalding water to the pan so the water comes halfway up the sides of the dishes.

Bake in a 325-degree oven for about 30 minutes until slightly firmed.

Remove from oven and let cool.

To make caramel topping, cover the top of each cup with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and place under a broiler briefly until top turns a light brown. Garnish with mint leaf. Yields 6 portions.

''This is a simple and easy dessert to make for any holiday party. I top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream,'' says Arlene Carter.

Apple Cheese Torte

Crust:

1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until well incorporated.

Add vanilla and flour a little at a time and blend well.

Press mixture into bottom and 3/4 of the way up an ungreased 8-inch spring form pan.

Filling:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese (room temperature)

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup slivered almonds

With an electric beater, beat the cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla and egg together until well mixed.

Pour into crust.

In a small bowl, combine sliced apples with 1/3 cup of sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice; mix well.

Pour apple mixture over top of cheese mixture, then sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes.

Note: If almonds cook too fast and begin to brown, cover with a round layer of aluminum foil to prevent burning.

(Published: December 7, 2005)