At Metacom Kitchen in Warren, seasoned chef Richard Allaire channels a quiet confidence into his menu and dining room. It is plainly the work of a talented mid-career chef who’s gotten his personal priorities straight, and shoved nonsense to the side. He spoke with us about his vision for the restaurant, what it’s like to mix business with married life, and the unsung hero ingredient in his fridge.
Metacom Kitchen seems to be a culmination point, or at least a passion project, at this stage of your career. Can you tell me more about that?
Yes, I’ve been behind a number of restaurants to date. Metacom was the opportunity to take everything I’ve learned about what I like and don’t like, whether in terms of food or aesthetics or service, and shape my dream restaurant. My wife, Sue, is my sole partner in this venture. We’ve been fiercely independent from the start here.
Wow, so how does that affect your work together?
In the best way. We were married for 15 years before opening this restaurant, so we already had a really strong partnership. We know what each other’s weaknesses are and balance them out. Sue is orderly on the business side, for example, which allows me to focus on the cooking part of it.
In two sentences or less, what’s your cooking philosophy at Metacom Kitchen?
We’re sensitive to ingredients and seasons, but I value cooking as manipulation moreso than ingredient-sourcing. If you take a carrot from the farm down the street, and you give it to two different cooks, the cook who has greater understanding of technique will turn out more varied and interesting things with it.
Beyond the menu, what was a priority for you to achieve with the restaurant?
Approachability. That’s a big one. I’ve had a lot of experience in fine dining, and I learned a lot from it that still shapes what I do as a cook and a restaurant owner. But I really wanted to avoid the sense of elitism and joylessness that often comes with fine dining. I wanted a place that people visit once a week, not just once a year.
As someone who cooks often, and tinkers constantly to perfect dishes, I’m curious about your recipe development process.
Things are always in development here. It’s a little bit of a lab. Our cauliflower appetizer is a great example: It spent months in development, and there are only four components on the plate. There’s cauliflower, eggplant, a curry spice blend and a sauce made from more eggplant and some black garlic. It took months to get the spice blend alone right.
Tell me about your drinks program.
Steve Patterson, our bar manager, has been with us since before we opened. He’s done an incredible job of creating drinks through an open dialogue with the kitchen, learning about what’s on the menu and how it’s being prepared and translating some of those things to our cocktails.
You’re very wine-centric, though, correct?
We are. Rather than pick out a bunch of wines to serve with the menu we created, we did the opposite. We picked out wines that we loved, and thought about how to build a menu around them.
What’s in your fridge now that might surprise people?
Tofu! I really like soy products in general. They’re blank canvases in a way, and what I really like about cooking is the ability to transform something through craft. Tofu is perfect for that.
Lately a lot of chefs espouse ingredients that are not only inherent flavor bombs, but animal-centric, too. Gripes about vegan diners are common. What’s your take on that?
I’m the opposite. Cooking is all about the skill behind the manipulation of ingredients, not the selection of an ingredient that’s perfect as-is. To cook for vegans is a beautiful challenge. It requires us to be creative within constraints, and make something out-of-the-box that’s totally delicious – and not just a salad.
322 Metacom Avenue, Warren