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Seafood is prized cuisine in Massachusetts any time of year, but shines even brighter during the warm weather months. Inspired by our love of the ocean’s delights, we reached out to some bright stars in the Bay State’s culinary scene for a special seafood interview series. In this Q&A, we get a from-the-kitchen look at dining and food philosophies on the Cape with James Hackney, renowned Executive Chef of the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club.
What is your favorite part about being a Massachusetts-based chef?
The diversity that Massachusetts has to offer: you can get great cheese from the mountains of the Berkshires, to the farmers outside of Boston, to the fresh fish and shellfish that run up and down our amazing coastline.
Knowing you’ve worked at a Back Bay, Boston-based restaurant before, are there any major differences between diners expectations and menu preparation between the city and Cape Cod?
Yes, we have a larger amount of families that dine out and vacation on Cape Cod, so we have multiple dining options to help satisfy all the generations! We like to have some dishes that are easily identified as well as some classics with a twist. Shared plates are a good item as it gives families the opportunity talk and eat in a less formal environment.
How does being in Massachusetts, where seafood is a core foundation of the cuisine, influence your menu?
Seafood is a huge part of our menu as all of our dining outlets are located overlooking the water. It is a natural connection for the customer’s experience, that we can offer fish plucked straight from the water and serve it within minutes, in its simple form.
People recently seem more passionate about locally sourced food. How does this trend influence your kitchen and seasonal dishes?
Our clientele come from all corners of the world, so we try to source as much as we can locally to give them the best experience of Cape Cod and what it has to offer.
Why do you think seafood is such a movement in Massachusetts, and how do you think this theme will continue its innovation on menus?
Seafood has always been a huge part of Massachusetts. I feel that the farm-to-table movement has highlighted the efforts put out by the fishermen and all their hard work. Fish is very seasonal, too, so it plays a big part not only getting the best, but the first of the seasonal catch. Customers are becoming very well educated about the product, so they understand and read menus that highlight that great product. As long as the chefs have a close relationship with their fishermen, it can only help to continue innovation and the ability for chefs to show off the best.
What is next for your restaurant, or in other words, do you have any future goals for your menu to follow trends?
I always believe clean and honest ingredients are the best for any menu. Trends are a hot topic when you talk to chefs, we don’t like to follow trends but rather try to create them. Once you are following a trend it’s usually too late! We listen our customers’ feedback and needs, then customize what works best for them and also what our local vendors have, which ultimately creates the best experience.
How has being a chef in Cape Cod inspired your menu in comparison to previous places you have worked/lived?
Cape Cod inspired me a lot. As I see my two daughters growing up in such a beautiful place, it helps me to be more open minded to food. It’s a lot more of a relaxed environment than the city and you can really explore your backyard to meet the fishermen and experience the place as a tourist, and really understand the consumer. Every time I see the sunset over the bay it reminds me of just how lucky I am to be cooking on the Cape and all the inspiration and creativity it has to offer.