The Market, Annisquam: two chefs via Chez Panisse, one of them suitably local

Written by Heather Atwood on May 30th, 2010

Alice Waters, meet Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Gloucester, meet Amelia O’Reilly and Nico Monday, who just one month ago were grilling quails at Alice Waters’ celebrated Chez Panisse, and who will be bringing all that jubilant appreciation for sustainable, seasonal, organic foods to a small gray building on the Annisquam River called The Market.

Last week, a crowd of tan, healthy, young people got off a California flight and headed up the Massachusetts coastline.  These were Amelia and Nico’s friends from Chez Panisse who crossed the country just to help out with the restaurant’s opening.  Apparently, that’s the spirit of Chez Panisse; it’s not just about organic food, it’s about joy and generosity.  It’s about work and play and helping people out.

With all kinds of friends, family and the entire village of Annisquam invited, Amelia and Nico held a “Grand Opening Party” Saturday night.   Amelia’s father, Ed O’Reilly, greeted guests with a plate of hot cod fritters.  Nico’s radiant mother, Sharon, who also worked at Chez Panisse years ago, took my elbow and lead me around to meet the family.  Nico was in the kitchen attending to the contents of an enormous paella pan.  Amelia was out on the deck serving.  Max, Amelia’s curly-haired brother, was clearing dishes.  It felt like a wedding only the food was delicious:  perfectly seasoned paella, each bite of rice separate but equal, dotted with tender chunks of lobster and fresh fava beans.  A salad of soft arugula – local I’m guessing, because it wasn’t the spikey packaged kind I’ve been eating all winter – and fennel.

Oliver, Nico’s brother, barely off the plane, adopted the mission of scouting for the best North Shore local stuff.  He was able to find green garlic when I, who have lived here for twelve years, couldn’t even find radishes last week. I’ve decided a section of my blog should be called “Following Oliver,” who clearly has a blood hound’s nose for local produce.  The Market will be serving A&J King breads from Salem, Valley View goat cheeses from Topsfield, and the ever verdant produce from The Food Project at Long Hill, one of my favorite Farmer’s Market stops.

New England was at its best Saturday night, peonies glowing at dusk in the compact Annisquam gardens, the cool air asking for only a shawl at the shoulders, the sun set making the tops of the lapping waves in the river rosey.  Indeed, the weather seemed to be promising to behave for these Northern California culinary adverturers, (although Amelia is from Lanesville, just down the street from Annisquam), trying to make itself as pretty and nicely mannered as that other coast.

The Market opens Friday, June 4th.  To get there, turn into Annisquam at the Annisquam Village Church, hug the river, pass the wooden footbridge, and stop at the gray innocuous building with the ice machines out front.  It looks like a place to fill up the gas tank in your Boston Whaler and buy some bait.  Instead, be prepared for an irresistable atmosphere and food inspired by Alice Waters and New England.

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