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Chef Michael and Orla LaScola

by Rachel Dushkewich May 9th, 2013 | Chef Interviews
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orla_&_michaelLooking for the highest-quality cuisine and wine as you enjoy a wonderful Nantucket getaway? Look no further than American Seasons! Showcasing the freshest local ingredients, Chef Michael LaScola creates a fun, dynamic menu that reflects whimsical takes on island classics. Sommelier Orla LaScola gathers the best American wines all under one roof; with over 500 wines, American Seasons has perhaps the most expansive American list in the country! Together, the two make American Seasons an experience that you simply cannot miss! Creating a rustic, comfortable atmosphere, the dining room provides the perfect ambiance for a romantic evening or a perfect destination for a night out with friends! Their patio can be used year-round and provides a lovely, candlelit atmosphere for al fresco dining! I had a chance to speak to Chef Michael and Orla LaScola to learn more about them and American Seasons!

RD: What culinary experience shaped your techniques?

ML: I was born into a big Italian family in Uxbridge, Massachusetts and I started cooking with my grandmother when I was very young.  She taught me to make food that sparked celebrations and you can see that in American Seasons’ menu.  When I was 13, I started vocational school to study the culinary arts.  Two days after graduating high school, I packed up and moved to Nantucket to work at American Seasons as a prep cook.  I fell in love with the island, its people and how much fun they have with food.  I worked under the original chef/owner, Everett Reid, for four seasons while attending the Culinary Institute of America.  Both experiences were crash courses in regional American cuisine and using the best of what’s in your own backyard.  After graduating in 2000, I came back to become the restaurant’s Sous Chef and in 2004, Orla and I became its owners.

OL:  I’m originally from Dublin, Ireland.  I think my fascination with spirits started during my undergraduate studies, when I worked as a summer tour guide for Pernod Ricard in Ligneres, France. After graduation, I came to Nantucket for an internship at Beacon Newspaper and I worked part-time at American Seasons to pay my way — that’s where I met Michael.   I wanted to grow into restaurant management, so I went back to Ireland in 1997 for culinary school and to consult for the Jameson Distillery in the off-season.  As sommelier, I get to mix my love of wine and travel.  I visit the West Coast during the off-season to meet with small-production winemakers and secure wines not available through East Coast distributors.  Now we have a list 500+ bottles strong, considered by some to be one of the largest all-American wine lists on the market.

RD: How does your location on Nantucket affect how your restaurant operates?

ML:  Local items come easy – we have immediate access to the island’s freshest products.  We’ve built strong relationships with farmers and growers here to get the best of what’s available, sometimes with exclusive access.  But taking advantage of local products is also how our business survives. Imported products tack on expense and time to our fresh-this-minute menu.  We have to plan out each season’s menu as much as we can to account for that, while still leaving room to get creative with specials and events.

OL: Our love for the island really drives our commitment to sustainability, which was a fixture at American Seasons long before it became trendy.  We’re sourcing the majority of our food from the island and using it economically, and we support small farmers and their quality products.  If we’re setting the standard for restaurants on Nantucket and across the country, then that’s all for the better.

RD: What’s the overall vibe of your menu?

ML: We offer serious flavor while remembering that food is fun and for the community to share. American Seasons turns 26 this year and we’ve stayed true to its founding concept, the ideals of James Beard: regional American cuisine celebrating small farmers with local ingredients. Only we give them whimsical interpretations.  We also get creative with Nantucket programs and events, like our annual whole hog cooking festival “Hogtoberfest.”  Orla is the founder of the Nantucket Culinary Arts Foundation and Junior Chef Nantucket, where we work to spread what we love to the rest of the island.

OL: Keeping with the American regional theme, our wine menu also supports the best of America’s growing wine industry.  We pride ourselves in offering hard-to-find wines from smaller producers, mostly from the West Coast.  We hope that everyone who enters the restaurant leaves with an expanded palate and greater appreciation for the hidden gems of the burgeoning U.S. wine market.

RD: Do you have a favorite dish that you currently serve?

ML: I’m a huge believer in “nose-to-tail” sustainable cooking, which I get showcase in our annual Hogtoberfest in October and at the Cochon 555 competition.  One of my favorite American Seasons dishes perfectly embodies this style: pig ear fries. They’re an amazing savory snack with a hint of chili heat that contrasts nicely against cool lime and cilantro in each crunchy bite – perfect to pair with a beer.

RD: How would you describe the overall atmosphere in American Seasons?

OL:  “Rustic fine dining.”  We try to infuse this aesthetic inside the restaurant and out.  First thing guests see is our hanging “American Seasons” wooden sign with a silhouette of a pig — that’s a favorite of ours.  Then you enter the dining room to see hand-painted murals and American folk art — we give our space a warm, homelike feel.  Right off the sidewalk is a white arbor that leads to our patio, our most popular seats for late spring, summer and early fall, candlelit in the evening. In the winter, we turn it into a covered lounge.  It’s the small details that count, like the new porcelain plates we’re serving on this year, handcrafted by island artist Nell Van Vorst.

RD: How does using local, seasonal ingredients influence your menu?

ML: American Seasons’ menu is a total reflection of “Nantucket” flavors because we tailor it to showcase the best local, seasonal ingredients.  We have fresh-caught fish from the Ruthie B, one of the island’s last remaining commercial fishing boats, lamb from Nantucket Conservation and free-range hens and eggs from small farmers, plus fresh crops and produce from local growers (including our restaurant’s own backyard herb garden).  We’re even planning a cheese production facility for making goat cheese in-house with milk from an on-island herd.

RD: You have over 500 wines and your wine list is emulated all over the country! How does the wine influence the meal?

OL:  I’m really inspired by our regular customers, who want us to push the envelope for them when it comes to wines, but our selection enhances the experience for anyone trying to expand their palate.  We go out of our way to pair our regional cuisine with hard-to-find wines from small American producers. And for American Seasons regulars, I’ll go out of my way during the off-season to grab rare vintages we know they’ll love – that goes in our special reserve cellar.  We put our staff through extensive wine education and instruction so they can in turn educate their tables about the wine, where it was made, growing seasons, etc.  Hopefully guests leave with a greater appreciation for the hidden gems of the U.S. wine market and for the overall diversity of American cuisine.

(Courtesy photo)

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