An interview with Gabriel Frasca of Straight Wharf Restaurant
This past weekend, when the sun shone as if it were August, and football fans migrated to The Gazebo, Gabriel Frasca, head chef and one of the owners of Straight Wharf Restaurant, and I sat down to talk about the changing of the seasons and its relation to food.
Quintessentially, spring is the season of rebirth, but as she often does, Nantucket follows her own path. While spring hints at warmth and the coming of the island’s busy season, fall brings its own resurgence of life. When spring arrives to Nantucket “a lot is almost ready.” Local crops and seafood continue developing, getting their fill of nutrients to reach the peak of their harvest. Due to our location thirty miles out at sea, Nantucket goes through what Frasca describes as a “delayed but extended season.” “Fall is whatever you want it to be, it is a ‘pick your own adventure,’” Gabriel adds on. There is an overlap between summer and the autumn months that lingers and offers “an embarrassment of riches—tomatoes, green beans, pumpkins and potatoes.”
At the notion of green beans and pumpkins, produce I associate with the fall, I ask Frasca if there are any seasonal clichés he avoids when creating the menu. If every restaurant is serving dishes embellished with cranberries and bursting with various squash, does he look for something different? “Living on an island and being committed to cooking locally, we have ‘x’ amount of ingredients, thus, we alter our thinking to, ‘what is it about pumpkin that we are working with?” A fun challenge arises. Frasca continues, “Coming up with ideas is easy, execution is the challenge because things need to work together. Execution solves the clichés.”
After working with Straight Wharf this season, I can attest that cooking is very much a form of art. Just as each artist strives to create a unique piece of artwork, while using the same mediums that have been implemented since pre-Renaissance eras, chefs use the same foods and spices as the next, but they infuse those combinations of flavors with their own voice and palette.
So what are some new flavors that might be appearing on Straight Wharf’s menu over the next few weeks? What adventure are Frasca and his team picking? They are grabbing at some new things. Bartlett Farm tomatoes have been bountiful this summer but now peppers, potatoes, apples and pears are coming into play. Right now a pear and celery salad is in the works—simple yet flavorful and full of textures token to autumn.
Aside from vegetables and fruits, Frasca loves working with fish. The chef is often found prepping whole fish for dinner service so I had to know what he was thinking in terms of seafood. Now that peppers and potatoes have had all summer to ripen, he will add a more Portuguese inspired palette to the Wharf’s fish dishes. “Lots of kale, peppers and onions. It is kale’s time to shine.” “So will the tender lettuces become the tender kale?” I ask out of concern to long time Straight Wharf guests. Not to worry, even as the seasons change, consistency links one part of the year to the next.
When he isn’t bringing in crates of fresh picked veggies from Bartlett’s or educating the staff about the most sustainable catch of the day, Frasca now finds himself with more time to eat out now that the summer crowd ferries back across the sound. He looks forward to eating at Ventuno because he has yet to eat there this year and the menu looks incredible. Club Car is also at the top of his list as it is filled with people he loves doing things he loves. One of his two meals out this summer was at Club Car and it was awesome, he needs to get back. Nautilus is another stop for him for two reasons, “A: They can do everything we don’t at Straight Wharf. B: Lot’s of people I am very fond of and they do it all so well—excellent level of execution.”
Aside from the flavors, textures, and new ingredients autumn brings, my conversation with Frasca also reminded me that means a slower pace where we can pause, taste and share meals with friends we have become closer to during the craziness of the summer. One reason fall offers various adventures to choose is because the restaurant staff has become so close. Together, in and out of the kitchen, they can embark on adventures together, supporting and encouraging each other into new culinary and hospitality explorations. Furthermore, when describing the restaurants he cannot wait to visit, people play a huge role. Old friends draw him back to new places.
Now we all have a little more time to enjoy our little island. Spend Restaurant Week at your favorite spots, or let someone lead you down another fall flavor path. Make a reservation, take the time not only to eat but also to taste, not only to go out for a meal but also share that meal with someone. Judging by the wholehearted excitement in Frasca’s description of this season, any adventure you choose is sure to be a deliciously memorable one! He is sure to be saying cheers to the season, Decorative Gourd Season mug in hand, and a subtle smile at the menu and people that have come together at Straight Wharf Restaurant this season.
Written by: Danielle Frederick