Chef Armetta of the Hyatt Regency Boston finds menu inspiration everywhere! The Chocolate Dressing and Edible Dirt (more about this later) inspired the Farm to Table lunch. The Farm to Table lunch inspired his Restaurant Week menu (which I wrote about for Boston Local Food Festival). His restaurant week menu I am sure has inspired his future seasonal menus.
One of the best menu inspirations he shared with me was that he follows what people are eating in the southern hemisphere. Since the northern and southern hemispheres have opposite seasons, by following what is on menus in, say Australia in their winter, will help him plan his Fall/Winter menu for Avenue One in Boston.
He also finds inspiration in local foods. Whether its cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, blackberries, or even dirt, he finds inspiration in it. Chef Armetta says that in New England we are lucky to have such great local foods. He loves ricotta and mozzarella from somewhere in Everett, (I think I know where) and he does a lot of business with Sid Wainer & Son. He loves to visit their farm in southeastern Massachusetts for inspiration and is on their “hotline” for new and exciting products. Maybe he will let me tag along on his next visit to Sid Wainer & Son.
I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of local ingredients I did find on all the hotel menus put together. There are local teas from Chatham, Ma and local jams (anyone care to take a guess if they are from a certain company in Maine?). They offer local apples and local cheeses not just from Cabot but also from Westfield Farms in Hubbardston, Ma. They also offer smoked salmon from a company in the Catskill Mountains of New York. From Maine you will find not only blueberries but also potatoes. He wishes there was a farmers market in Downtown Crossing near the hotel so that he could run out and pick stuff up for his menu. The nearest one he loves to visit for inspiration is the Copley Square Farmers Market. He did source a local producer of beef way up in New Hampshire. Their beef was delicious but at this point in time was cost prohibitive to serve at the hotel. The beef was 3 times as expensive as what he is serving and now and he would definitely have to pass that cost on to diners in Avenue One and he was not sure they would go for that.
When not working, Chef Armetta does love to cook at home, especially with his 8 yr old daughter. Lately the two have been spending a lot of time inventing new ways to use the overabundance of blackberries and tomatoes in his garden. He is ready to enjoy a bit of summer with all the canning, preserving and pickling he does both at home and at the hotel. Yes, you read correctly! Chef Armetta cans, pickles and preserves at the Hyatt Regency Boston! Who would have thought that the Executive Chef of a major Boston hotel would be doing that? This way guests visiting in the dead of winter can still taste New England summer. Whether its tomatoes, berries or rhubarb to name a few, they will be enjoying summer in winter at the Hyatt Regency Boston.
Chef Armetta refreshes his menus every 3 months, when he changes out at least 3 dishes. He loves taking familiar menu items, like fish and chips, baked scrod or even a lobster roll and giving it an unexpected twist. This way the diner is eating something familiar but also getting new flavor experiences. Two of his favorite, yet unfamiliar ingredients to use at the Hyatt are Pistachio Oil and Smoked Sea Salt. These two ingredients change the flavor of a dish ever so slightly so that you are eating something familiar but in a whole new way.
Now about that Edible Dirt! No need to wonder where the inspiration for it came from. When you think of a farm you think of dirt, but who would imagine making edible dirt for a Farm to Table lunch in downtown Boston? Chef Armetta! Without giving away all his secrets, the edible dirt is a basic streusel topping baked a little longer than normal and then rough chopped a couple of times with some more ingredients added to it to make it look like dirt.
Chef Armetta is lucky to have the support of the Hyatt Corporation. In fact over the past couple of years Hyatt has required their hotels to have localized menus, like the previously mentioned baked scrod, lobster roll and of course blueberries and cranberries. In addition the menus must be seasonally inspired Summer, Fall/Winter, and Spring. But these requirements are not just for the restaurant, but for the entire hotel. So if you book your wedding at the Hyatt Regency Boston you will have a seasonally appropriate menu with local food choices. Even the General Manager, Phil Stamm is proud of Chef Armettas efforts to focus on local ingredients for all aspects of food and beverage in the hotel. I am sure it’s not an easy task, but he makes it look easy since he has time to can his own tomatoes!
On the rare occasion when Chef Armetta does not feel like cooking, there are a couple of Boston area restaurants he loves to go visit. Cheese pizza is his comfort food, and he does not have to travel far from home to get some comforting. He just drives over to Angela’s Coal Fired Pizza on Route 1 in Saugus. Apparently the pizza and wings are to die for since they are baked in a 900 degree oven. I know it’s on my restaurant bucket list! His other favorite place to dine is Grill 23 in Boston at the corner of Berkeley and Stuart Streets. When he wants a steak, this is where he goes! Not only do they serve a great steak, but like him, they update classic menu items. He especially loves the whole ritual of dining in a steakhouse. It comforts him in the same way as the ritual of his morning coffee or that of a fine cigar where you sniff, snip, light and smoke.
In addition to using local ingredients, he hates to throw anything away and is constantly educating his team on recycling and composting. He was telling me how earlier in the week the kitchen had hulled some strawberries and instead of throwing the strawberry hulls away, he threw them in some vinegar so that now the Hyatt will have their own homemade strawberry vinegar. Now that’s recycling! I wonder what he will use the vinegar for. I think I smell a part 3 coming on exploring Chef Armettas “green initiatives” at work!
Read about my talk with Chef Armetta and his use of local foods on his Restaurant Week menu here.