The Chef’s Kitchen > Historic Fare
Tradition is honored and updated at The Shaker Table restaurant at the Canterbury Shaker Village. Careful thought is put into every detail—from the building’s design and décor, to the menu selection—so that diners experience the culinary style and ambiance of the village’s past.
Located across the road from the village (meaning restaurant patrons are not required to pay village admission), the restaurant is housed in a reconstructed 1811 blacksmith shop that was torn down in the 1950s. Christopher P. Williams of Christopher P. Williams Architects PLLC in Meredith created the design for the building based on old photographs and design elements from other village buildings. He also received help from the New Hampshire Historic Preservation Office. Because the village is a National Historic Landmark, the new construction can be only 15 percent larger than the original, so it was necessary to use archeology to find the building’s original footprint. “One of the biggest challenges was that the square footage needed for the restaurant exceeded the space that was available,” says Williams.
To help alleviate the space problem, Williams put the freezers and refrigerators under the outdoor patio. Also, the heat distribution system was built into the richly stained wood wainscoting throughout the building. While watching the chefs at work in the display kitchen, guests never notice the dropped ceiling, used to hide wiring and other fixtures. “The building has a very sophisticated mechanical system,” Williams says, “but it is all concealed.”
Williams’s design picks up on traditional Shaker architecture with regard to light, color, woodwork and style. The three dining areas are divided by walls of windows so light may be “borrowed” from one room to another. The detailing of the lobby is not as sophisticated as the rest of the building, since the greeting area is located in the former ox-shoeing shed. And the wall sconces were custombuilt to match the look of traditional Shaker lighting but kept small enough so customers don’t bang their heads when standing up.
The finish work—such as the millwork to frame the windows and doors, as well as the painting—was done by the museum staff. The tables and chairs were made by Shaker Village craftsmen in the world-renowned Shaker style, and the yellow and orange colors of the woodwork are replications of original Shaker finishes. (The original finishes were created using a process with almost thirty steps, whereas the modern replications were made by adding pigments to polyurethane.)
Traditional ingredients for an updated menu
The same attention to detail shown in the creation of the building carried over to the restaurant’s cuisine. The restaurant’s chef, Adam Olson, and village Executive Chef Todd Sweet turned to old Shaker recipes when planning the menu. Olson and Sweet chose dishes that can be updated to fit twenty-firstcentury tastes.
“We call it upscale comfort food,” Olson says. He explained that in the past, because of the division of labor in the village, people who were talented cooks maintained that profession for their entire lives. The same intense job focus that made the furniture builders into masters of their craft also made professional chefs of those working in the kitchen. “Back then, everyone was cooking meat and potatoes. The Shakers would take things up a step. They were very inventive,” Olson says.
One element that set Shaker cuisine apart from that of the rest of old New England fare was the use of herbs. Even Shaker Grape Drink, which still is a village favorite, is full of spices that make it more than just grape juice. “They understood that [herbs are] a great way to take a food that is not so delicious and make it better,” Olson says.
The restaurant has its own herb garden and access to the larger herb gardens on the village grounds. Olson also gets most of his fresh produce from the village (apples, heirloom tomatoes, lettuces, blueberries, raspberries, etc.), and many other ingredients from local and regional sources (such as bacon and ham from Canterbury’s Fox Country Smoke House, and cheese and syrup from Vermont).
Olson is an area native who spent part of his childhood in Canterbury. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, he has spent the past fifteen years at some of this state’s best restaurants, including the Carriage House in Rye. He has been at The Shaker Table for two years and is happy to be back on his old stomping grounds.
In addition to the regular lunch and dinner schedules, autumn brings two featured culinary events to The Shaker Table. First, The Shaker Table School of Cookery begins in October. Sweet, an American regional cuisine instructor at McIntosh College’s Atlantic Culinary Academy in Dover, brings a humorous, easy-going style to the classes, which are part of the village’s educational mission. Each class lasts about two hours and includes a tasting buffet of that evening’s recipes. The first class is scheduled for October 23 and focuses on preparing harvest classics. Classes run through April 2009 (see theshakertable.com for more details and to sign up).
The second autumn event is a series of candlelight dinners that takes place in November. The evenings feature a five-course dinner, after which guests go for a candlelight tour of the village. Olson says these dinners are when he and Sweet pull out all the stops for an elegant meal. (Check theshakertable. com for further details.)
One of Olson’s pet peeves is the misconception that the village is too far to drive for dinner. “We are not far from Concord,” he says. (It is only about a fifteen-minute drive from the city to the village on Route 106.) “We are very easy to get to.”
Recipe from the Shaker Table
Serves 6 – 8
This soup can be made with any type of winter squash—butternut, acorn or hubbard. It also works well with canned pumpkin purée. Just be sure not to use the canned pumpkin-pie mix by mistake.
6 slices of bacon (or substitute
4 tablespoons butter)
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups water or chicken stock
1 ½ cups creamed corn
1 pound corn kernels
12 ounces winter squash purée
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 cup heavy cream
1. Render the fat from the bacon with the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When crispy and browned, remove the bacon and reserve. If substituting butter, melt it until it begins to bubble.
2. To the rendered bacon fat (or melted butter), add the onion and fry until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the heavy cream. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally until the potatoes are cooked. Add the cream and adjust the seasonings, to taste.
3. Sprinkle with bacon as garnish, if desired.