by Corin Hirsch
One of southern Vermont's most fêted culinary inns launches a nationwide search for a new chef. One of northern Vermont's most talented chefs is on the lookout for new opportunity. When they collide, love ensues.
Come November 22, Jean-Luc Matecat — who has been chef at the North Hero House, Amuse at the Essex and Winooski's Mule Bar — will move more than a hundred miles south to take over the kitchen recently vacated by longtime chef Jason Tostrup, who has joined Okemo Mountain Resort.
"It was a big decision, because I really didn't want to leave Burlington," says Matecat, but he suggests it was too sweet an opportunity to ignore.
When Tostrup announced he was leaving the Inn where he had cooked for eight and a half years, owners Marilee and Richard Spanjian cast a wide net for a new chef, and received 80 applications from as far away as Europe and Thailand. (The Inn at Weathersfield has picked up accolades from Food & Wine, Saveur and Bon Appetit magazines, as well as Fodor's Travel Guides.)
After whittling down the pool, five chefs traveled to the Inn to cook for a search committee that included the Spanjians and former owner Jane Sandelman. Matecat showed up with some elk shank from an animal that his grandfather had shot at a private New Hampshire preserve — which he braised and served over cavatelli.
He also roasted some heirloom beets, then topped them with homemade ricotta cheese, crushed hazelnuts and a splash of vinaigrette made from Wood's Cider Mill boiled cider.
"In the end, the vote was unanimous," wrote the Spanjians in their announcement. "Chef Jean-Luc's food was memorable for all the right reasons."
Though Matecat is mum on his menu's details, it will include the beet dish that helped earn him the job. He plans to roast the root vegetables in the Inn's beehive oven, nestled into the ashes. "It's a popular technique in Spanish food. The food goes right onto the coals, you let them char and then scrape the ashes off. It's delicious," he says. The menu will also feature a form of the cavatelli dish — sans elk.
Does Matecat plan to keep up the robust farm partnerships built by Tostrup?
"Yes, I hope to keep those relationships alive, and start new ones, too," says Matecat, who expressed wonder at the number of farms that blanket the area. He will also be teaching classes at the Inn's cooking school, the Hidden Kitchen, and hopes to find time to explore other area restaurants — Ludlow's Downtown Grocery among them.