NEWTON – They say that you eat with your eyes first, and at Waban Kitchen in Newton, you most certainly will. Their eye-catching cuisine is created by two chefs who got their start as artists.
“I’ve been a painter my whole life,” said chef/owner Jeff Fournier. “It’s been a part of my life, in parallel with cooking, for over 25 years.”
This energetic eatery brings city style to the suburbs with exposed brick walls, low lighting and a bustling bar at the center of it all.
While Fournier has some of his own art hanging on the walls of the dining room, the real masterpieces are being created back in the kitchen where he and chef de cuisine Jakob White are putting the ‘art’ into Culinary Arts.
“I was an artist before I was a chef,” White said. “I find that people eat with their eyes. Before they even taste the dish, it’s the aroma coming off a dish and the visual appeal of the dish is very important. It’s something we take great pride in.”
So while they strive to send out food that’s pleasing to the palate, they also want to make sure it’s pretty.
“I think all the senses come to play, but visually I think it’s super important to have contrasts of color and size and negative space and all the things that you think about when you’re thinking about painting composition. We bring that to every plate that we do,” explained Fournier.
Coming up with each dish in this ever changing menu is quite a process.
“Jakob, my chef de cuisine, and I sit down do sketches and plan out plates to make sure that we visualize with the cooks how we’re going to be presenting things.”
So whether you’re getting a fresh plate of house-made pasta tossed in a white wine garlic sauce with fresh local mussels, or having something as simple as a flatbread, you can be sure plenty of thought and care went into the creation.
“Whether it’s art, painting, drawing, music or food, it’s something that you create and feel passionate about,” said White.
One of the most passionate dishes is Waban Kitchen’s Five Spice Roasted Chicken. White says it’s a house specialty and customer favorite.
“We see guests come back a lot, like ‘I need to have the chicken again. I need to have the chicken again. I’d love to try something else, but I’m coming back for the chicken.’”
The perfect piece of poultry comes resting on a bed of mashed potatoes made with black garlic.
“Black garlic is fermented garlic. There’s nothing else like it, and we utilize it in our mashed potatoes in kind of an approachable way, where people are like, ‘Oh, black garlic. I’ve never had that.’ But they try it and love it. And they’re like, ‘where can I get this?’” described White.
Depending upon the season, you can find elaborate dishes like Salt & Pepper Maine Lobster sautéed with Napa cabbage, sun root and bird’s eye chilies. Their take on a Chinese classic smells just as good as it tastes.
“It smells amazing when you send them through the dining room,” said Chef White. “You can smell all the lemongrass and ginger just as soon as it hits the hot pan, just become super aromatic. People really respond to that.”
There are fancy Deviled Eggs topped with caviar and Crispy Fried Oysters served with roasted shallot aioli. Even good old fashioned steak and potatoes is anything but ordinary, as the steak itself is dusted with porcini mushrooms.
“We bake them in the oven and dry them out, and then we purée them into a dust, and that acts as a seasoning on the steak just like you’d add salt and pepper,” explained Chef Fournier.
Because the kitchen tries to stay as seasonal as possible, the menu is always changing, but you’ll always find the Peanut Butter Mousse Pie on the dessert menu.
“People come back and come back and come back and they order the peanut butter pie every time,” White said. “Just like with the chicken entrée, we want to make sure that people have something they crave when they’re not here, and they come back for that peanut butter pie.”
And while there are some signature dishes that stay constant, these chefs are constantly being inspired to tweak, tinker, and start fresh.
“Menu changes are always really fun because I get to write new dishes and I get to see my ideas actually come together on a plate. And that, for me, is really rewarding,” said Chef White.
“There are kind of two really fun parts of being a chef and particularly an owner, is that I get to see people be happy with the things that we’re cooking for them and provide hospitality for them,” Chef Fournier said. “Then in the creative part of changing menus and really actively being engaged and letting the guests be challenged and excited and surprised by what we create.”
You can find Waban Kitchen at 1649 Beacon Street in the Waban village of Newton or online at wabankitchen.com.
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