Hoping the rain will hold off, Chef Josh Lewin drives out of Beacon Hill and heads toward Allandale Farm in Brookline. The damp November afternoon doesn’t keep Lewin from making a personal trip to pick up produce for the evening’s dinner service.
“We’re starting to transition – things are already [changing] toward winter themes because that’s what’s becoming available,” Lewin says.
Nearing the one-year anniversary of his promotion to Executive Chef at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro on Charles Street, Lewin says he’s more excited than ever. With a restaurant open 365 days a year, for three different meal services, there’s never a lull. While Lewin’s thoughts are on work most days out of the week, his job allows him to pursue his lifelong interests in cooking and agriculture.
Lewin’s passion for food was cultivated at a very young age, but it wasn’t until he began working for a dairy farm in his teens that he gained an appreciation for the bond between food and farming. In the urban areas of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts where Lewin grew up, there was little relationship between a finished meal and its raw origins. Even eating directly from his stepmother’s garden as a child didn’t help to draw the connection.
“Before I worked on a farm, I didn’t really know what one looked like,” Lewin says. “It was very eye-opening to be on a farm for the first time and think about food that way.”
As a result, Lewin became active in finding a better way to produce good food. “Lucky me, something I’m interested in happens to be the cool thing to do.”
Now 28, Lewin is building connections with local farmers and foragers to bring sustainable, seasonal produce to the modern French-style restaurant. Lewin worked at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro a little more than a year before the previous executive chef left his position. Lewin calls the opening one of his lucky breaks.
“It was nice to have this kind of organic thing happen,” he says, describing the fortuitous timing that allowed him to take on the tiny basement kitchen, a place he was already comfortable working in.
The neighborhood haunt has been the perfect place for Lewin to express his hospitality-driven culinary style. There, “food isn’t the star of the show, but just kind of this common ground that we all get together around,” Lewin says.
The rain begins just as Lewin arrives at Allandale Farm. Despite this, he leaves his sweater in the car. Many of the trees are bare now, but flashes of autumn color still accent the expansive fields.
In front of the farm stand, Ethan Grundberg, Allandale’s farm manager, watches the rest of the staff test an apple press for their annual Cider in the City event this evening. Even with two people working the homemade device, the effort yields only one small mug of cider. The team passes it around for everyone huddled under the canvas tent to try.
Grundberg then gives a tour of Allandale in the farm’s Ford Ranger, pointing out thick stalks of brussel sprouts and a few rows of dinosaur kale, as he and Lewin discuss how they both plan to make the most of the New England bounty, with winter rapidly approaching.
“That’s the trick in New England, isn’t it?” says Grundberg. “Finding ways to make your five-month growing season last.”
Urban foraging is one strategy – supplementing wholesale produce with ingredients growing wildly. Many of the mushrooms at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro, for example, are foraged from uncultivated land, like hen-of-the-woods mushrooms found along Allandale’s fields. Many greens and herbs on the menu from the certified organic farm, Eva’s Garden, are harvested not from the farmland but from surrounding grounds.
Back at the farm stand, Grundberg fills Lewin’s order. Boxes bursting with cabbage, eggs, herbs, and the brussel sprouts seen earlier, are piled into the trunk of Lewin’s car. Later that evening, guests at the bistro will finish them off as a side of brussel sprouts with bacon and chicken roasting juices.
“I think we take it a little bit further, being so active with our farmers, going out there,” says Lewin of his team at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro. “All of our staff has done intern days on various farms around the area…they go to a lot of lectures on sustainable agriculture, and that allows us to then take the conversation to the farmers.”
Lewin will soon be taking an intensive course on the business of farming, one that Grundberg used to teach, an example of how chefs and agriculturalists are working together to develop a stronger dialogue. In addition to making the drive to local farms for ingredients when possible, Lewin also stays involved with the agricultural community by volunteering at Eva’s Garden, in South Dartmouth.
“I like to wander the fields a bit and help out with anything that needs to be picked,” says Lewin. When there, he can be seen foraging along the water for beach roses.
Driving back to Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro, the rain finally lets up, and Lewin says he’s really looking forward to what year two will bring.
“[I’m] excited about my team, and continuing to help them learn and develop…they’re so with what we’re about.”
Even so, Lewin has plans to purchase his own plot of land eventually, and would consider one day owning his own restaurant. While he might explore other opportunities in the future, his culinary perspective and love of the region is sure to drive all his endeavors.
“What I’m really interested in is just remembering that we’re in New England,” says Lewin. “Start from zero …and come up with a dish that’s very regional. That’s a big thing for me right now.”
The next time you’re in the area, make sure to stop in at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro. It’s a renowned spot with a truly admirable philosophy that cannot be missed.
Until next time,