When Paul Reilly shuttered Encore earlier this year, in April, he found that he had some free time on his hands for the first time in a long time, and while he was scouring the 'hoods for a space where he could open a new restaurant, he also welcomed the opportunity to do something for himself -- something that he wouldn't be able to do working fourteen-hour days on the line at Encore.
He could have improved his golf game, sacked out on the sofa watching reruns or wallowed in beef fat. But instead, Reilly made the decision to embark on an endeavor that would benefit him when he opened his new restaurant, which we now know is Beast + Bottle, a nose-to-tail concept that will come to fruition next year in the former Cherokee on 12th space in the Golden Triangle.
"When everything went down at Encore, I wanted to stay busy. I didn't want to just sit around, and I figured that if there was a silver lining to the restaurant closing, it was that you get to do things that you normally wouldn't have time to do," says Reilly.
So he applied for a grant -- but not just any grant. It's the Jean-Louis Palladin Professional Work/Study Grant, which is issued to just eight chefs from around the world, courtesy of the James Beard Foundation. And Reilly found himself on the receiving end of the $4,000 jackpot, which covers his travel, lodging and education.
Reilly, who applied for the grant in June, was asked to submit an application, professional letters of recommendation and an essay detailing his cooking philosophies, and while the Foundation has four separate grant categories, including Ranching in Pennsylvania, Farming in Ohio, Wine Studies in the Loire Valley, Reilly was interested in wrapping his head around fishing...in Maine.
"The grant that I applied for will take me to Portland, Maine, where I get to study seafood and work with the Browne Trading Company," divulges Reilly, adding that the renowned purveyor of fresh fish, caviar and smoked seafood supplies its products to some of the best restaurants in the country, including The French Laundry, Blue Hill and Le Bernardin.
"Fishing is one of the areas where I want to expand my knowledge, so for ten days in November, I get to go to Maine and study sustainable fishing practices and fish butchery," says Reilly, who will also have the chance to work on a day-boat, where he'll forage the Maine seacoast for scallops and wild-caught fish. And, if he's lucky, hell also have the possibility of harvesting lobsters.
"It's a pretty big fucking deal, considering only eight chefs from around he world are chosen, and only two chefs are selected for each group," admits Reilly, who leaves on November 11. "It's a huge honor to be chosen for something like this, and because we're going to have a sustainable fish special every night at Beast + Bottle -- and the goal of the grant is to put working chefs in the field to find out more about where our food comes from -- it means that I can increase my knowledge about sustainable fishing practices, and knowledge is power," he concludes.
An excerpt from Reilly's winning essay is on the following page.
"Farm to Table" is not just a buzzword in my kitchen. It's a code to cooking and how to live. I've scoured farmers' markets looking for that local ingredient that no other chef is currently using, and rumbled through crates of peaches to find only the exquisitely ripe ones for a summer salad. I've made lasting connections with bison ranchers and partnered with local lamb farmers to bring in whole animals for in-house butchery.
Colorado is blessed with a plethora of local ingredients. As a chef, I've done everything I can to understand how food arrives on our plate, at a local level. However, what Colorado lacks rests 2,074 miles to the east. For me, the ocean and its bounty is the last frontier of how to really grasp what "farm-to-table" means. Though I grew up on the East Coast, my passion for food really blossomed when I moved to Colorado. While I serve fish and shellfish on my menu, understanding how it arrives at my kitchen door does not have the same intensity as other land-based products. Being awarded the Jean-Louis Palladin Professional Work/Study Grant would help me achieve my professional goal of fully understanding the American "farm-to-table movement".
I've discussed the nurturing process of livestock with their ranchers and know when a farmer has to sow the land to plant their produce. But I really have no idea what it means to be a day boat fisherman or what makes a diver scallop so special. Exactly where is Georges Bank? Why is wild seafood better, and what are the processes of line-caught versus trolling?
To become a better chef, this is a tool I need. I would pass this knowledge on to my staff and thus we would become a stronger team and subsequently, a better restaurant.
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