The Last Bite of Winter

Champe Speidel raises the culinary bar


With a stellar reputation for modern cuisine, and their side business Persimmon Provisions to handle, Persimmon would be forgiven for resting on their laurels. However, Champe Speidel, head chef and co-owner of Persimmons is doing anything but that. In addition to their ever-changing menu, Persimmon is rolling out a true chef’s tasting menu, a culinary indulgence of 18-20 bite-sized dishes, showcasing the best the restaurant can dream up.

The preparation and improvisation this tasting menu requires is considerable, and integrating it into an established dinner service is a massive challenge for the whole restaurant. Champe explains it “took years to work for an environment” where they could pull this off, and that it “pushes them in the back creatively, as well as in the front.” The payoff for all this work is when someone says, “I didn’t know I liked that.” A tasting menu also offers opportunities. For instance when buying fish, rather than having to consider quantities that get through dinner services, instead they can feature less common bycatch out of Point Judith, like John Dory or Sea Robin, where only one or two fish may be available.

Despite the fact that Champe is at the culinary edge, I was struck by how many of his considerations for such an ambitious winter menu are applicable for the home cook. His passion for local food is obvious; the restaurant features scarce local winter favorites like Nantucket scallops, as well as staples like turnips, parsnips, celery root and carrots. That said, he declares he’s “not afraid to go outside.” He doesn’t hesitate to bring in brighter flavors from all over to supplement: for example, Florida citrus. He points out that the purist locavore would have to avoid “olive oil, chocolate and wine.”

He also recommends garnishing with fresh greens to freshen up winter food. This is good advice for us at home as local greens out of heated greenhouses are in short supply this time of year. A full salad of local greens might be out of reach, but a little garnish of mustard greens goes a long way. You’ll need to beat me and the other early birds at your local farmers market, but like Champe, who gets them from Lee Ann Freitas’ Indie Growers at Mount Hope Farm, you don’t have to go far.

Champe describes how he avoids making heavy food that is fatiguing to the palate by using different preparations and different cuts of meat in a single dish. While I’m not about to attempt my own trio of lamb tonight, I can apply this same logic over many weeks of buying different cuts, some of which are less fashionable and cheaper. Local vendors like Hopkins Southdowns, Aquidneck Farms, Pat’s Pastured and others offer a variety of cuts to explore.

Persimmon also finds different flavors and textures through less traditional sources; one of his chefs recently made a big batch of kimchi (Korea’s iconic spicy fermented cabbage dish) which they would be putting to use. They also use pickled turnips, parsnips and carrots in some dishes. I asked him if they used any preserved summer vegetables, and he said “we’re not looking to capture summer and enjoy it in winter, we’re in winter and we’d rather look forward to spring.” Whatever season it is, it’s in good hands, after all, this is a man who described butchering a whole lamb as meditative.

Bristol, Persimmon, Champe Speidel, Restaurants


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