Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Chef Matt Jennings of and Farmstead Inc. – Providence, RI

by Sean Kenniff
April 2014

Sean Kenniff: Do you consider yourself to have a mentor?
Matt Jennings: I’ve had many mentors, not one in particular… hmm…Paul Malcolm, an instructor at the New England Culinary Institute—It’s a magical place, so much hands on experience. Paul showed me how to butcher my first animal, and he took us out foraging.  Eson Gridal from the Formaggio Kitchen in Boston is also a mentor. He made me see food from a whole other point of view, and he sent me to Italy.

SK: How are you involved in the culinary community in Rhode Island?
MJ: We’re as involved as we can be…with organizations like Farm Fresh Rhode Island, we like to champion causes. I’ve been talking with U.S. Senator from Rhode Island, Jack Reid, about how to further grow Rhode Island’s true core industry: food and beverage. It’s a valuable resource and needs to be protected.  

SK: As a native New Englander, what food or product do you think best represents the region? 
MJ: I grew up blue fishing with my step-dad. He passed away in 2013 and I got this bluefish tattoo. Bluefish represent New England more than lobster or anything else. The little guys are better—four pounders, whole roasted, with homemade sriracha.

Bluefish are one of the most expressive fish in the sea. It has depth of flavor and a unique assertiveness that makes it both flavorful and memorable. I also love that it’s a fatty/oily fish, so it cooks beautifully in high heat applications, like on the grill. I also grew up eating my mom's bluefish pâté—a New England staple. We have it on our menu to this day. 

SK: How do you use bluefish at Farmstead?                                                                      
MJ: When available, we’ll roast them whole and finish them with a smothering of fresh vegetables off the grill. That's probably our favorite way. But, we also love smoking it and flaking it into big chunks for pâté or rillette. 

SK: And where do you get your bluefish?                                                                                                                               
MJ: All of our fish at Farmstead comes directly from New England waters. We work with a cooperative of fishermen who are constantly on the search for the finest from the seas surrounding Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.