BETHEL — Salmon-stuffed puff pastry with a ginger sauce: it’s what’s for dinner this Sunday at Mill Hill Inn.
Thanks to a team of intrepid chefs in the kitchen, and the innovative Bistro Night menu they have recently developed, the inn offers a different dinner special each Sunday evening, and word is spreading fast.
Bethel native and 2005 Telstar Regional High School graduate Andrew Raymond had previously spent two winters working for innkeeper Woody Hughes and three summers cooking at the New York Yacht Club.
Last spring, he decided to move back to his hometown and take on a more primary role in the kitchen of the Mill Hill Inn.
“I’m stepping back a little,” said Hughes, who purchased the inn with his wife, Lee, five years ago and had been doing nearly all of the cooking himself.
“This has gotten way bigger than I expected,” he said of the restaurant, which now serves dinner four nights a week and breakfast to guests of the inn each morning.
Saturdays are their busiest night, when they may serve 60 or more diners and reservations are welcome, though not essential.
The dining room seats 35, but Hughes said the inn’s regular tapas menu lends itself well to serving guests in the cozy living room as well.
Although at this point he is still involved with food preparation three nights a week, on Sundays Hughes turns the kitchen over to Raymond.
Launched earlier this summer, the restaurant’s Bistro Night has quickly become popular with both visitors and locals.
“Woody and I had been throwing around the idea of a Bistro Night, with a limited menu that we could change easily,” Raymond said. “And it’s working unbelievably well,” Hughes added.
A fixed price on Sundays includes a craft beer or a glass of the house wine, a course of tapas, and the entree special, which in recent weeks has been as varied as fried chicken, pad thai or jambalaya.
Although other menu items are available, about 80 percent of diners choose the special, which often sells out.
The Hughes come to Bistro Night for dinner nearly every Sunday, but stay out of the kitchen.
“We like being able to give them a night off to enjoy their place in a different way,” Raymond said.
A team in the kitchen
With Raymond in the kitchen is his partner, Rhode Island native Jasmine Boisvert. They met in 2012 while working at the New York Yacht Club’s waterfront facility in Newport, R.I.
“We started on the same day,” Boisvert said. “I was front of house to his back of house.”
Translation: she served the hors d’oeuvres that Raymond created in the kitchen.
The two quickly discovered that they made a great team, and have been together ever since.
Unlike Raymond, who is a professionally trained chef, Boisvert is a recent graduate of Salve Regina University, where she studied English literature, creative writing, and film.
“Nothing to do with food,” she said with a laugh.
But both are innovative, eager to take on new challenges, and willing to work hard to succeed. And both were interested in a change of pace and ready to work in a smaller restaurant, one where they can invite their families to come for meals.
“We had done the big tourist town, the big weddings,” Raymond said. “Neither of us wanted to be in the food industry the way big restaurants do it.”
At the Mill Hill Inn, Hughes said, “Everything is made in-house.”
Boisvert is taking over as pastry chef, crafting homemade desserts such as peach pie made with local, seasonal ingredients. She also bakes the fresh cinnamon buns that Hughes serves to his breakfast guests.
When she and Raymond moved to Bethel in the spring, they tilled a plot for a garden and planted herbs and vegetables, many of which, such as the produce Hughes grows in his garden, find their way to the restaurant kitchen and on to the menu.
From music to food
When Raymond left Bethel after high school, he didn’t set out to be a chef.
Always passionate about music, he studied music education at Berklee College of Music in Boston for two years, before his interest in the culture, preparation and presentation of food led him down a different career path. He enrolled at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and completed an intensive six-month program.
Upon graduation from culinary school, he realized that his interest in food extended beyond the kitchen, to the origin of the ingredients used to prepare meals.
“I wanted to use the best ingredients, and I had picked up an interest in gardening,” he said. “So instead of going on to cook in a Boston restaurant, I went to a farm.”
The farm where Raymond ended up as field manager was a fledgling not-for-profit organic food hub at the historic Sylvester Manor on New York’s Shelter Island.
He got in on the ground floor of the development of a unique educational farm whose mission, according to its website, is “inviting new thought about the importance of food, culture and place in our daily lives.”
Remarkably, his work on the farm gave him a way to combine his background in music with his more recently discovered passion for the culture of food.
Sylvester Manor Educational Farm’s founder, Bennett Konesni, had spent many years studying traditional work songs, traveling the world to learn how music was used by fisherman, slaves, and farmers in their work.
From the beginning, Konesni incorporated music into the daily life of the farm, teaching work songs to the crew and students to sing in the fields and hosting an annual two-day Plant and Sing Festival each October, when the garlic crop is planted and fall crops are harvested, all to the accompaniment of traditional music. Raymond spent three years helping to build the nonprofit farm before he left in 2012 to gain his first professional kitchen experience.
After cooking on a large scale at the New York Yacht Club, he is happy to have the opportunity to work in a kitchen with a somewhat slower pace, to choose the freshest local ingredients whenever possible, and to experiment with food.
“We’re allowed to be creative, and have some fun,” he said.
For more information, call the Mill Hill Inn at 824-3241 or visit www. millhillinn.com.