Everybody wants to serve local and seasonal, but most of the time it’s just lip service. For Chef Michal Scelfo, he doesn’t do it because it’s trendy, he does it because it just makes sense. We made our way into the lower level of Russell House Tavern, a Harvard Square institution, and into the kitchen with the soft spoken and passionate Scelfo. This was easily the biggest restaurant kitchen we’ve been in so far. Today we’re cooking a melange of vegetables, inlcuding parsnips and fiddleheads, and topped with a perfectly poached egg. It’s a quick dish but one that truly encapsulates what this chef is all about; a focused, clean dish that highlights the beauty of the natural favors of the ingredients. Trust me when I say that’s easier said than done. Scelfo jumps back and forth between his mise en place and the saute station, grabbing a handful of ingredients here, and putting the parsnip puree on the heat there, he’s fluid with his movements and completely focused. He speaks about how fortunate he is to finally land in a restaurant where the restaurant’s style totally matches his own and can basically make whatever he wants. He cooks, not because he just “fell into it” like so many other chefs, but it’s a labor of love and you can see it in his face as he hustles to get the dish done, he’s excited to share the dish with us, and naturally, we’re excited to try it.
This dish isn’t currently on the menu and it’s usually something that he makes when someone special comes into the restaurant and he wants to send them over a bite. He made it for us because he felt it was such a good testament to his cooking style of naturally letting seasonal ingredients shine in an unfussy way. The dish started with a pool of velvety and slightly sweet parsnip puree. Delicately resting on top were fiddleheads, Morels and Pea Shoots, followed by tiny croutons and lastly, a beautifully poached egg. The plate was artfully presented and tasted like spring in a bowl; the earthy fiddleheads, pea shoots and mushrooms were balanced by the creamy yolk and sweet parsnip puree and the croutons punctuated things with a nice crunch. We savored every bite.
Chef Scelfo (trying saying that three times fast) is the rare person who actually loves what he does for a living. When he’s not at the restaurant he’s cooking at home for his family. There are no off-days when you’re a chef, just levels of desire and productivity. For all those chefs who are eating like college kids or ordering take-out on their day-off, Chef Scelfo is putting as much into his home cooked meals as he is at Russell House Tavern. It shows at the restaurant too, maybe there’s no beef heart ravioli at your house, but there’s a certain something that satisfies the soul with each bite and there’s nothing remotely pretentious about it. We left our meeting with Chef Scelfo feeling inspired and also, a bit curious about the restaurant’s secret burger. Did you know it exists? We’ll be back soon to see what it’s all about and we can’t wait.