Blue Plate Special: Reimagining a menu
The Greenfield Recorder, August 08, 2017, by Tinky Weisblat
The past few months have brought excitement to Taylor’s Tavern. This restaurant on Main Street in Greenfield, a fixture in the local eating scene for more than three decades, has been shaken up by its new executive chef, JD Fairman.
Fairman, who goes by Chef JD, first came to the restaurant last September. The executive chef at a high-end inn and restaurant in North Carolina at that time, he also ran a part-time consulting business for restaurants around the country.
He was brought in by the Donoghue family, who started the restaurant in 1983. “Taylor’s has been here since Jesus was a baby,” Chef JD told me when photographer Paul Franz and I visited the restaurant recently.
“It was a neighborhood bar and grill for 33 to 34 years. That served them well for a lot of years.”
He added that chain restaurants like Applebee’s, Ninety Nine and Friendly’s have recently begun to bite off “a slice of the same pie.” The owners asked the chef and consultant to offer advice about Taylor’s future.
Eventually, he and the Donoghues decided that his personal touch would offer the best medicine for the business. He started working there full time in the middle of December.
“All I knew about Greenfield was the semi-documentary Anthony Bourdain did about it,” he told me, referring to a 2014 episode of the celebrity chef’s CNN television series “Parts Unknown” that portrayed Franklin County primarily as a poster child for the nation’s heroin crisis.
Chef JD soon concluded that Bourdain’s view of Greenfield was “unfair.”
“The side [Bourdain] didn’t show is an old mill town that’s trying to pull itself up by its bootstraps and reinvent itself,” he observed. “I fell in love with Greenfield. It’s a great place to be and raise my children.”
Over the past few months Chef JD has revamped Taylor’s menu. “I would say my style of cooking at this point is probably global with French influence,” he told me, noting that he was trained by a Le Cordon Bleu mentor and has worked as executive chef at a number of prestigious restaurants.
He emphasizes both local foods and “pristine” ingredients, defining the latter as “the best available product that [he] can find.”
The dish he served to Franz and me typifies this approach. The sockeye salmon fillet at its base comes from a purveyor on the west coast; he places an order and receives it 30 hours after it comes out of the water. Chef JD and his staff cut each whole fish into the parts they need.
The vegetables surrounding the fish hail from Bostrom Farm in Greenfield. The edible flowers used as a garnish come from one of Chef JD’s local foragers. This particular forager also happens to be Taylor’s kitchen manager, Cheryl Johnson, who has worked at the tavern for almost three decades.
Johnson met with JD extensively on his first visit and has helped him implement his vision for the restaurant — which includes such exotic (for Greenfield) ingredients as wild boar and rabbit and a monthly wine-and-food-tasting session. Of course, the tavern still serves many traditional favorites.
Johnson told me that she has learned a lot from the new chef. He countered, “She has taught me just as much.”
The pair are still figuring out their clientele, they told me. The new menu has alienated a few old timers but attracted new diners and suppliers, they noted. For example, film star Sam Elliott had patronized the restaurant the night before our visit.
“We’re doing a lot of cool, exciting things,” concluded Chef JD. “We’re on a really good path.”
Taylor’s wild sockeye salmon with heirloom tomato jam
olive oil and butter as needed for cooking
1 7-ounce fillet of wild sockeye salmon
sea salt as needed
1 handful baby squash with blossoms still attached, sliced in half along the vertical line
1 large handful chopped kale
¼ cup cooked corn kernels
¼ cup finely chopped tomato
⅓ cup heavy cream
finely chopped fresh herbs to taste (parsley, thyme, rosemary)
⅓ cup cooked Arborio rice (cooked “al dente”)
2 generous tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese
1 heaping tablespoon tomato jam
extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic reduction (balsamic vinegar boiled down to reduce it) for drizzling
edible flowers for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan heat a splash of olive oil and a pat of butter. Sprinkle the salmon with sea salt to taste, and pop it into the pan. Cook very briefly, and flip so that the presentation side faces down. Pop the salmon into the oven, and cook until done, about 4 to 4½ minutes.
When the salmon is ready, let it rest at room temperature for a few minutes.
Heat olive oil and butter in another saucepan and sauté the squash. Add the kale and continue to sauté. Throw in the corn and tomatoes, toss, and remove from the heat. Set aside.
In a third saucepan, heat the cream. Add the herbs and salt to taste. Stir in the cooked rice, and add the cheese. Cook until the liquid is reduced by two-thirds (roughly around a couple of minutes).
Spoon the risotto onto a plate. Put the kale on top, followed by the salmon. Arrange the other vegetables around the plate. Spoon the jam on top of the salmon, and drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic reduction over the plate. Garnish with edible flowers.