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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 explore Executive Chef Justin Shoults’ love of seafood and how seasonal and local flavors influence his plates at Oak + Rowan.
Why did you decide to work at Oak + Rowan in Boston?
I felt making a move to the city was the next step in my career. I was looking for some more exposure for my food, and I was also looking to expand my capabilities by running a restaurant three times the size of Brine, my last restaurant.
What is your favorite part about being a Massachusetts-based chef?
I fell in love with seafood when I spent time cooking in Nantucket. Since then, I have had the desire to stay on the seacoast and have the vast availability of fresh seafood.
How does being in Massachusetts, where seafood is a core foundation of the cuisine, influence your menu?
I like to offer a variety of seafood as a first course, in our pastas, and as main entrees. With such a wide variety, there can be some creativity in how we use the different seafood items. For example, we will often play around with contemporary surf and turf options that go outside the box of the usual suspects, steak and lobster (as with our Gnocchi with Lobster and Veal Sweetbreads).
People recently seem more passionate about locally sourcing food. How does this trend influence your kitchen and seasonal dishes?
Using what is local and seasonal actually makes menu writing and creativity much easier. I travel around to farms, farm markets, and seafood markets to begin my inspiration for dishes. I also study our availability sheets from different suppliers and talk with them on a day to day basis about what’s new and what’s coming up. I am also a big believer in supporting small local farmers and businesses. Not only is it better quality and more fresh, but we are also supporting the community by purchasing from them.
Why do you think seafood is such a movement in Massachusetts, and how do you think this theme will continue its innovation on menus?
We have the availability of local seafood, as well as a trade market for seafood worldwide. Also, seafood is a healthier option, as many people are more aware of where their food is coming from and are being health conscious.
What is next for your restaurant, or in other words, do you have any future goals for your menu to follow trends?
Our goal for the future is maintaining our quality standards. I would like to continue keeping options open for whatever guests may be wanting on any given evening. I keep finding myself, especially now that it is summer, keeping healthy, but full of flavor, new dishes. We change the menu often to keep our guests and cooks inspired as well as keep up with what is happening in the food world.
How has being a chef in Boston inspired your menu in comparison to previous places you have worked/lived?
More often I revert back to classic combinations and familiar ingredients for the Boston guests. I list these familiar ingredients on the menu so they can get a picture of something they recognize or can relate to, and then use some creativity in presentation and depth of flavor to wow the guest and hopefully exceed their expectations.