Feast of the Seven Fishes with Jeremy Sewall

Interview and article by CGNE member Maggie Brooks
As the owner of Coolidge Corner restaurant, LiNEaGe, as well as the executive chef for Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar, Chef Jeremy Sewall knows a little something about seafood. For CGNE’s Feast of the Seven Fishes, he’s taking a traditional Italian Christmas Eve celebration and bringing it to New England. I sat down with Jeremy to talk about how he prepares for such an iconic celebration and cooking for a group passionate foodies.

How did you learn about CGNE?

The restaurant’s PR company reached out to me about [CGNE] and I’m looking forward to getting involved. I think it’s a great organization.

Are you preparing for this event differently than you would be for an event of non-food experts?

Not that differently. It’s really fun to be able to get in front a group that’s so passionate about food. I have more freedom to show recipes that are a little more exciting.

You wrote the menu for the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Were you familiar with the feast? How did you approach something so traditional to make it more modern?

It wasn’t something I grew up with so I had to do some research. I spent some time reading recipes to familiarize myself with the meal and where we could take it. The key to the tradition is how regional the food is, so it’s using a modern American flair while staying to true to local food and what the meal is about.

What kind of dishes can we look forward to?

Definitely some oysters. We’re having a raw bar, plus serving fresh ceviche. We’re giving a nod to the traditional with a lobster casserole. Basically it’ll be local fish and seafood prepared our way.

You’re also doing a presentation. Is it intimidating to cook in front of food industry folks?

Not at all. It makes it more fun for me to cook for people who love food.

What are some of the most common seafood handling mistakes that you’ve come across?

Probably not storing seafood correctly. Like covering shellfish. Those guys are alive so covering them just kills them. Also buying quality. Don’t go looking for a bargain when buying seafood or meat.

What are your favorite holiday seafood dishes?

I’m from southern Maine and my family have been lobstermen for years, so lobsters are always a huge part of our holiday. I still get all my lobster from my brother. Littlenecks are a must for me. My father-in-law is a scallop fanatic so we have to have those too.

Are there any holiday menu specials we should be looking forward to at your restaurants?

Eastern Standard does an amazing prix fixe menu. We’ve worked for several years to make this good. It’s all of our classics plus a roasted turkey entrée. LiNEaGe is closed for Thanksgiving, but we do have a meal-to-go option that’ll be really great.

The Guild is partnered with Future Chefs, a program is dedicated to giving opportunities to aspiring young chefs.  Any words of wisdom?

Wow, lots. Stick with it. This is challenging, demanding, and at times, frustrating business to be in. Having pride and humility in your work will take you far. It’s a craft to be constantly worked at your entire career, you’re never too good to [keep] learning.

On November 7th from 6:30 – 9:30 PM, CGNE is teaming up with Island Creek Oyster Bar and Hotel Commonwealth for a Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian holiday. Island Creek Oyster Bar will give their take on the Italian feast with a tidal wave of seafood. Come taste an array of seafood dishes, enjoy delicious wine pairings from Lower Falls Wine Company, try your hand at shucking oysters, and meet Chef Jeremy Sewall in person as he demonstrates lobster stew and seared scallop recipes. Cost for the evening is $55 for members and $70 for non-members and tastings of all dishes, wine, and hors d’oeuvres are included. Click here to register!

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20 Questions with Author Molly Birnbaum

Interview conducted by Social Media Intern Linda Yung. You can Read more of her work at her blog, spoonhau5.

Molly Birnbaum

Molly Birnbaum will be discussing Season to Taste at CGNE's November Book Club

1. Favorite childhood snack:

My mother used to make applesauce every fall. I loved to eat it warm, with lots of cinnamon sprinkled on top. Then I would add a big scoop of cold vanilla yogurt, which kind of melted into the sauce. In fact, that was the only way my family could get my little brother, Ben, to eat fruit for years.

2. Best place to relax in greater Boston area:

Arnold Arboretum. I like to pack a picnic—a baguette, some kind of soft and creamy cheese, and a pile of fresh peaches (in the summer) or ripe pears (right now). It’s an escape from the crowded streets of Harvard Square, where I live.

3. Go-to last minute dinner:

I take an onion, slice it up, and cook it over low heat until it gets nice and caramel brown. When it’s done, I set it aside, turn up the heat and add some sliced up Andouille sausage to the pan, which I often have around the house, because my boyfriend is from New Orleans and he got me hooked, and get that all crisp and browned. Meanwhile, I bring a pot of water to boil, salt it, and cook up some spaghetti, or linguini, or whatever pasta is in the cupboard. As it cooks, I add a few large handfuls of baby spinach to the pot with the sausage, and the onion back in, too. When the pasta is done, it goes in as well, along with a bit of pasta water, salt and pepper and hot pepper flakes. Just before serving, some Parmesan. So good.

4. If you were a fruit, what would you be?

An apple. Sometimes I’m rather tart. But with a little time in the oven, I’m a real softie.

5. Guilty pleasure:

Ice cream. Any kind. Any time. Any where.

6. Guilty pleasure midnight snack:

See previous question.

7. Favorite class in college:

I studied art history as an undergraduate. With this as a major, I was able to spend a semester studying abroad in Italy. While there, I took a class on pasta. This was in the very beginning of what became my obsession with food and cooking, and really taught me the power of making things from scratch. I’ll never forget that first butternut squash ravioli, which we ate with browned butter and sage. It was a classic dish, made in the way it’s been made for generations, but for me, it was a whole new world.

8. Most memorable meal you’ve had:

When reporting Season to Taste, I had the luck, and pleasure, to eat at Grant Achatz’s restaurant, Alinea, in Chicago. He is a chef who truly understands the importance of smell—and all of the senses—and uses that in his cooking in different, fantastical ways. My meal lasted for hours, and vacillated between simply delicious and intellectually challenging. The most memorable moment, I think, was the sweet potato tempura that arrived at the table on a smoking cinnamon stick.

9. Biggest inspiration:

In cooking? After thinking about that meal at Alinea, I’d have to say Grant Achatz. He was diagnosed with tongue cancer right in the midst of his meteoric rise in the world of restaurants and food. As a result of the treatment, he lost his ability to taste. While he did eventually recover—from both the cancer, and the treatment—he had to spend more than a year cooking without all of his senses. But he made it work. And that is a huge inspiration. But in writing? Oliver Sacks, who I was fortunate enough to spend time with during the reporting of Season to Taste as well, is a master at taking the flaws of the human body, the mysteries of science, and turning them into a narrative.

10. Signature pot-luck dish:

I recently brought a batch of Cook’s Illustrated’s Swedish Meatballs, with quick-pickled cucumbers and lingonberry jam to a pot-luck. They went fast.

11. Favorite food-related television show:

I will not lie: I love Giada de Laurentiis.

12. Preferred cuisine:

It’s hard to narrow it down. But Italian? I’ll never say no to a good piece of pizza.

13. Favorite travel destination:

This is impossible to narrow down. I loved the street food of a trip to Kunming, China. The vineyards from a drive up to Salta, Argentina. More recently, I took a trip with my boyfriend to Romania, among other spots, and fell in love with the colorful painted monasteries still intact from the Middle Ages in Bucovina. The tripe soup that we tried there, however, I could probably live without.

14. One thing you can eat every day for the rest of your life:

Mustard. I think this is genetic. When my father was a boy, he actually had scurvy because the only thing he would eat was mustard sandwiches.

15. Favorite time of year:

Apple season. (I love apples.)

16. Signature drink:

Negroni. I love bitter things.

17. Favorite restaurant in the Boston area:

Craigie on Main. I worked as a dishwasher and prep chef for Tony Maws when it was still the Craigie Street Bistrot, before I lost my sense of smell. He puts out some of the most interesting, high quality cuisine in the city.

18. Best advice you’ve ever received:

You’ll sleep when you’re dead, from my mentor at Columbia, where I earned my masters in Journalism.

Molly Birnbaum is the author of Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way, CGNE’s Book Club choice for November. Molly will be joining the book club for a Q&A and discussion on her book.