Feeding the Community

Thanks to chef and owner Jeffrey Paige, customers of Cotton, his restaurant in Manchester's historic Millyard, aren't the only ones eating well.

When chef Jeffrey Paige decided to make a career change after twelve years as executive chef/director of food service at Canterbury Shaker Village, he spent a lot of time thinking about what his restaurant would be. What would he serve? What type of clientele would he attract? How would it look?
What makes a good restaurant?

The answers, Jeffrey found, all come back to two concepts: neighborhood and consistency.

The result is Cotton. The inviting, casual restaurant in Manchester's Millyard prides itself on serving sophisticated American comfort food with high-quality ingredients. Cotton takes its name from its location-
the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company's mills were the largest textile mills in the world in the early 1900s, producing nearly five hundred miles of cloth each day-as well as from Harlem's Cotton Club, a tribute to another of Jeffrey's passions: music.

"People sometimes are surprised that we're not fine dining," Jeffrey says. His wife, Christine "Peaches" Paige, restaurant manager, says she's heard from surprised customers who are wondering why the waitstaff wears t-shirts or why there aren't tablecloths on the tables.

The answer is simple: Peaches and Jeffrey are determined to consistently make Cotton the neighborhood restaurant for their customers.

"We wanted a restaurant where our customers can be as comfortable in suits as in t-shirts and be able to enjoy good-quality food prepared well," Jeffrey says. "These were all very deliberate decisions. We know what we want to be-and what we don't."

"Where Everyone Knows Your Name"

The design has proven a successful one. Open since mid-2000, Cotton has been named "One of the Top 10 Neighborhood Restaurants in the Northeast" by Bon Appetite magazine, "a hip bistro" by the New York Times, a not-to-be missed restaurant in New England by National Geographic Traveler Magazine and Best Overall Restaurant in New Hampshire by New Hampshire Magazine.

Amid all the awards, though, there may be even stronger accolades: Jeffrey and Peaches say they're fortunate to have employees and customers who have been with them for more than a decade.

"There are people who come four or five days a week for lunch," Jeffrey says. "And those who come every Monday or every Thursday for dinner. If they miss a week, we start to wonder. So, they're good to tell us when they're going on vacation for a few weeks. Plus, we have families who come every Easter or Mother's Day-and some always ask for the same server."

And once regular customers find Cotton, Jeffrey and his staff work hard to keep them by noting their particular likes and dislikes in a detailed database that each server accesses.

"One gentleman sent back his lamb twice, saying it wasn't cooked right," Jeffrey says. "So we noted that when he asked for 'medium,' he really means 'medium-well.' Now he gets exactly what he wants.

"Another man is a purist about his martinis. He had his particular recipe printed up on a business card to hand out. We added that the computer. Now he gets what he wants-without having to ask," Jeffrey says.

The building itself is also a part of Jeffrey's desire for consistency. Formerly Café Pavone, the space for Cotton was designed by Lavellee Brensinger Architects in Manchester and built by Milestone Engineering and Construction in Concord in 2000. Jeffrey and Peaches say little has changed since-the space just works well. Locally commissioned artworks hang on the walls along with posters of New Hampshire staples, such as Lake Winnipesaukee and the B&M Railroad. Heavy curtains close off the summer patio, giving the space a warmer, cozier feel in the winter.

"In the winter," Peaches says, "we all want to huddle in. We know the booths and the warm, comfort foods will be more popular then. But when summer comes, everyone wants to be outside and have fresh salads with local veggies."

Jeffrey feels so strongly about consistency, he says it was a big deal when the dining room carpet had to be replaced. "They didn't have the same pattern. It was stressing me out," he remembers.

"I feel like I'm inviting customers into my home when they come to Cotton," Jeffrey says. "We all take great pride in what we do-and it shows. It's like Cheers-we all know each other."

Feeding Others

The themes of neighborhood and consistency are so important to Jeffrey and Peaches that they are dedicated to helping neighborhood families have consistent access to healthy food. Through partnerships with the Salvation Army's Kids Café and the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester, Cotton has been able to provide food to those in need.

Jeffrey and Peaches have chosen Kids Café, which provides a warm meal and safe haven for local center-city kids, to be their main charity for about eight years. "It's hard to believe this is the only warm meal these
kids get," Jeffrey says. "So it's nice to be able to have a hand in provid-ing that."

Robert Champagne, community center director for the Kids Café, says the café feeds 130 kids every night through the school year (in the summer, the café is closed while camps run in its place). "With one in three kids going hungry every night," Champagne says, "supporters like the Paiges are crucial to the Manchester neighborhood. We get all our funding from the public, so we greatly appreciate our supporters. Jeffrey is always thinking of us-thinking of the kids."

In addition, Jeffrey has been a supporter of the New Hampshire Food Bank's programs. He's been a participating chef with the Farm to Table program (it's now called Grow Local-Eat Local: Little Plates, Big Results), which features some of New Hampshire's finest chefs preparing unique and creative dishes with seasonal and locally produced products. And he's also supported Cooking Matters (formerly Operation Frontline), which helps provide low-income families with the education and skills needed to prepare healthy and affordable meals.

"We rely on our guest chefs-like Jeffrey-to help us get out into the community," says Mel Gosselin, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank. "As we work to help the 143,000 New Hampshire residents who are food insecure, Jeffrey brings a huge opportunity for us. With his experience and his creativity, he adds his own zest to the program."

New Hampshire Home parent company McLean Communications partnered with the New Hampshire Food Bank in 2012. "Having worked with the Food Bank for many years now, I have seen the importance of its programs," says Sharron R. McCarthy, president of McLean Communications and New Hampshire Home publisher.

"With professionals like Jeffrey Paige donating his talent to fund-raise, it really goes a long way to helping less fortunate New Hampshire residents get the healthy food they need."

And, after all, getting neighborhood people the food they need is what the Paiges and Cotton are all about.  

Cotton's Curried Butternut Squash Cider Soup

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large Spanish onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon mild curry powder

1 butternut squash, approximately 2½ to 3 pounds

4 Honey Crisp or Gala apples, or 2 each

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups fresh apple cider

Kosher salt, to taste

Ground white pepper, to taste

1. In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions and curry powder, and cook for 10 minutes, or until the onions are tender, stirring occasionally. Do not allow the onions to brown.

2. Peel the squash, cut it in half and remove the seeds. Cut the squash into evenly sized chunks. Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut into evenly sized chunks. Add the squash, apples, broth and cider to the pot. Bring to a boil and cook over low heat for 30-40 minutes, until the squash and apples are very soft.

3. Carefully purée the soup with a hand-held immersion blender or a traditional blender. (If using a traditional blender, pour the soup back into the pot.) Adjust the consistency of the soup with more broth/cider to the desired consistency/thickness. The soup should be slightly sweet and on the thick side.

4. Season with the salt and pepper, and serve hot.

Cotton's Perfect Martinis

Each Serves 1

Chocolate Martini

1 ounce Godiva Chocolate Liqueur

1 ounce Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur

1 ounce Crème de Cacao White

Pistachio Martini

1 ounce Stoli Vanilla Vodka

1 ounce Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur

1 ounce Pistachio Syrup*

1. Chill the martini glass by filling it with ice cubes and water, and letting it sit while making the martini.

2. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then add all the liquid ingredients and shake vigorously.

3. Empty the ice and water from martini glass. Rim the glass with what's appropriate: sugar, salt, etc.

4. Pour the contents of the cocktail shaker into the chilled martini glass. Garnish and serve.

* Recommended are Amoretti Premium Pistachio Syrup (amoretti.com) or Routin 1883 Pistachio Syrup (1883.com).

Cotton's Banana Rum Bread Pudding

Serves 6

8 cups ¾-inch cubed white bread, preferably 4-5 large hamburger buns

4 extra-large eggs

1/2 cup milk

11/4 cups heavy cream

½ cup granulated white sugar

1 cup light-brown sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup Meyers Dark Rum

2 medium bananas, peeled and chopped small

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Butterscotch Sauce, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

2. In a blender or large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, heavy cream, both sugars, salt, cinnamon, vanilla and rum. Mix until well incorporated. Add the chopped bananas.

3. Combine the toasted bread cubes with the banana mixture, blending well to coat all of the bread cubes. Allow mixture to sit 30 minutes, tossing often, until the bread has soaked up all the liquid.

4. Transfer to an 8-inch-by-8-inch glass baking dish. Place the glass dish in a large roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with hot water until the water is half way up the sides of the glass dish.

5. Bake for 20 minutes, rotate the pan and bake another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before serving.

6. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and Butterscotch Sauce.

Butterscotch Sauce

¼ pound unsalted butter

2 cups packed dark-brown sugar

11/2 cups heavy cream

1 ounce Dewar's scotch

Pinch of kosher salt

11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a heavy-bottomed stainless saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Just before butter is melted, add the sugar at once and stir with a spoon until mixture resembles wet beach sand.

2. Cook mixture for approximately 5 minutes. It will liquify and start to darken.

3. Carefully (mixture will spatter) whisk in the heavy cream and scotch. Heat to a low boil and simmer, whisking every few minutes, for 5-7 minutes.

4. Remove the butterscotch from the stove and allow to rest for 5-7 minutes.

5. Stir in the salt and vanilla extract. Taste and re-season again if necessary. Serve warm or refrigerate. To serve later, reheat in a microwave on low, stirring well before serving.