10 Questions w/ John Holzwarth of The Boathouse

Kathleen Hall

John Holzwarth has been cooking professionally since 1995 when he trained under Master Chef Fortunato Nicotra and Lidia Bastianich at Felidia Restaurant in New York City.  As Chef and owner of The Boathouse at Saugatuck,  John creates innovative, farm-fresh dishes by supporting local farmers and their sustainable agricultural and aquacultural practices. We recently spoke with him about everything from his favorite ingredient to his favorite local restaurnat. Here's what he had to say...

1.If you had unexpected guests arriving at your home for dinner in one hour, what would you whip up?

I would grab ingredients from the restaurant; I love the shellfish we get here in New England (mussels, oysters, scallops) and it’s very quick and easy to put something delicious together with shellfish and just a few fresh herbs.

2.What is the last dish you cooked for yourself?

Well, my wife is from Argentina – we met there.  She grew up in the south where they’re really crazy about beef.  So the last dish I cooked was a steak that we split and a bottle of red wine.  It’s comfort food for us.

3.What ingredient could you not live without? 

Love.   I know, it sounds corny, but it’s true.  I love what I do and I think it is reflected in every dish that comes out of my kitchen.

4.What was your worst kitchen nightmare? 

It’s a literal one:  I used to have this recurring dream when I worked at Gabriel’s in Manhattan.  We had a roasted chicken dish on the menu that I was in charge of grilling.  Keep in mind, this is my first real job as a cook and this grill was, like, ten feet wide.  Anyway, I used to roast 100 of these chickens a night, which took about 25 minutes each, first on the grill, then in the oven.  I would have nightmares about the chef calling for them, and the oven would either be totally overflowing or completely empty.  I had that dream for two years straight.  

5.What is your most useful kitchen tool or appliance? 

An amazing pasta machine, built for me by an Italian company called Emiliomiti.  It makes ravioli ten times faster than I would otherwise be able to.  It’s what allows us to put out as much fresh pasta as we do from a kitchen as small as we have.  

6.What is your Favorite Fairfield County restaurant (other than your own)?

I really like what Bill Taibe is doing at LeFarm.  He and I source many of our ingredients from the same local farms.  His food is creative and delicious and he makes a point to use interesting ingredients.  

7.What is the most ordered dish @ your restaurant? Why?

We have a few things that are in demand, day in and day out.  The chilled Montauk Lobster salad is very popular and I think people order it because it’s a different take on typical salads they might get elsewhere.  Our signature dish has to be the Pear and Pecorino Ravioli.  It’s really light and delicious and people are surprised to have fresh fruit in their pasta.  It seems unique, but it’s actually traditional in the Friuli region in Italy.  

8.What defines an outstanding meal for you?

You know, I used to go out to big fancy dinners and spend a ton of money.  It was fun and eye-opening.  I find now that I don’t have much free time and I eat out so rarely that it’s all about the company.  I like simple, fresh food in a relaxed place, with a good bottle of wine and some friends to have a conversation with.  

9.Who do you like to cook for the most? 

Friends and family

10.What is your favorite recipe for this season? Can you share it?

Right now we’ve got a delicious chilled Asparagus Soup.  I make it without any cream so the clean flavors of asparagus really shine through, celebrating Spring.  We’ve been serving it with a rotation of various seafood, whatever the freshest thing is we have on hand:  scallops, lobster and, for a little while, Jonah Crab from New Bedford, Massachusetts that was really amazing.  I’ll put the recipe up on my website so that everyone can have it:  www.boathousect.com