- Daria Bishop
- Co-chefs Derek Robert and Scott Como
Chef Derek Robert
- Position: Co-chef
- Age: 33
- Education: Trade school and on-the-job training
- Experience: Restaurants in Boston, including Townsman, and in New York City; lots of butchery and charcuterie work
Chef Scott Como
- Position: Co-chef
- Age: 30
- Education: Culinary programs in high school and at Johnson & Wales University
- Experience: Restaurants in New Hampshire, New York City, North Carolina and the Boston area, including Townsman and Pammy's; lots of pasta work
- What's on the menu: Slowly simmered pork and beef Bolognese with housemade pappardelle and ricotta; Jasper Hill Farm's Eligo with crispy carrot, fig jam and pistachio; olive oil cake brushed with carrot juice and topped with fried carrot strings and whipped ginger frosting
Scott Como and Derek Robert found out they were both moving to Vermont on a group Zoom call. The two chefs were living in Boston, where they'd met as young cooks during the lead-up to the opening of James Beard Award-nominated chef Matt Jennings' hotly anticipated hometown restaurant, Townsman, in early 2015.
"We worked the line next to each other for a couple of years there, shoulder to shoulder," Robert said.
They became friends while working long hours, then went their separate ways — Como to cook in North Carolina, Robert at other restaurants in Boston. During the quarantine days of the early pandemic, both were looking for "something with a safety net," Robert said.
"Restaurants were hard to be in then," Como added.
Unbeknownst to each other, the two chefs reconnected with Jennings, who had moved to Vermont with his family in 2019 and was then vice president of culinary at Healthy Living. (Jennings and his wife, Kate, now run Red Barn Kitchen in Charlotte.) Both signed on to help develop Healthy Living's chef-driven prepared food brand. On that fateful 2020 Zoom call with a bunch of industry friends, they realized they'd be moving to the Green Mountains just weeks apart in August 2020.
After nearly two years at Healthy Living, both chefs felt the itch to return to restaurants. The idea of working together again was initially a joke Robert mentioned in passing, wondering "How cool would it be?" he recalled. But Peg & Ter's owners Tina and Johnny Helzer liked the idea. Since September, Como and Robert have been co-chefs at the cozy gastropub across the street from Shelburne Museum.
As Robert and Como finalized details of their new, expanded menu on a recent Thursday morning, they spoke with Seven Days about their history of working together, what's on the new menu and what famous duo they most resemble.
- Daria Bishop
- Peg & Ter's Bolognese with housemade pappardelle and ricotta
Seven Days: It's an unusual arrangement to have co-chefs running a kitchen, outside of married couples.
Scott Como: You might as well call us a married couple at this point. [Both laughing]
SD: How do you make it work?
Derek Robert: I don't think there's another person that I'd be able to do it with. Chefs always want control, right? But we balance each other out so well. My ideas benefit from his brain, and I feel like his ideas benefit from my brain. We both have tendencies to go off the deep end.
SC: Or off our rocker. It's the trust, I guess, and dependability from working next to each other for so long in the past. Staffing is still a struggle. To know that through thick and thin we'll both be here, that's huge.
SD: How big is the rest of your kitchen team?
DR: One other guy, Jake Vespa. That's it.
SC: He's great. It's hard, because I love teaching, and I think that's a huge part of the restaurant industry. We were both used to having a big team of cooks in Boston, but everything's a little bit scaled down here. It's very rare that the chefs are on the line cooking, but it's fun for us.
SD: Thinking back to when you met at Townsman, do you remember your first impressions of each other?
DR: [Laughing] The first time we were all in the space together before the restaurant opened, we had this big meeting to introduce ourselves and meet the whole management team.
SC: We were both young, young cooks.
DR: One of the people on the opening team was a bar manager who had been running cocktail programs around the city forever. Scott, being new to Boston, didn't quite know who he was.
As we're going through introductions, Scott turns to this very seasoned bar manager and says, "I'm really into craft beer, so if you need any suggestions for the beer list, I can help you out."
This guy's face was just like, Who is this kid? And the rest of us were thinking, Who is this kid?
SC: It was not a good first look. I didn't even realize — it was completely innocent.
SD: How long did it take to live that down?
DR: I still talk about it all the time.
SC: I worked really, really hard to show that I'm a good cook after that.
SD: When did you become friends?
SC: When we started, I was out on the line on sauté, and Derek was working the entremetier station — basically quick sides and little hot dishes — in the back around the corner. We didn't really talk. I'd be in service and see these beautiful, dainty dishes coming out of the back. Imagining Derek, I just didn't see that coming.
Eventually, he got shifted up front, and, once that happened, we were on all the busiest days together, cleaning until two or three in the morning and then going out or getting Chinese food.
SD: Since you're such a good duo, are there any famous duos that you relate to?
DR: [Immediately] Dumb and Dumber.
SC: He's so right. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.
SD: But your food is pretty serious! I'm a big fan of the delicata squash rings with za'atar and the charred broccoli Caesar. How do you describe what you're doing here at Peg & Ter's?
SC: Being in the kitchen is about having fun. But we agree that technique is really the most important thing to us in cooking. Even if things are simple, we're using skills we've learned from the great chefs we've worked for to accentuate flavor and texture.
DR: It took me a really long time to learn restraint. But especially being in Vermont, the food already tastes good. You just need to handle it nicely and do simple little things to it. That makes it a hell of a lot easier than trying to transform everything into something unrecognizable.
- Daria Bishop
- Peg & Ter's avocado toast
SD: How does that translate to the new menu you're launching?
SC: We just added a dish that's labeled "avocado toast." It's basically toad-in-the-hole, a traditional breakfast treat for children. You toast bread, cut a hole in it, flip it over, fry an egg in the center. In this case, we're grilling avocados on the side, tossing them in lime juice and olive oil and plating them on top. Then, we take tuna that Derek cured over the past few months and grate it over the top using a katsuobushi box — "tuna ham" is probably the easiest way for people to understand it.
So it's breakfast, right? It's light, not overdone. When it comes to your table, it might not be exactly what you expected. But when you put it in your mouth, it makes sense. With this new menu — and in the future — we want to make food that makes people feel comfortable, but a little different. Something that kind of makes you think.
DR: The Bolognese is a perfect example of what we're talking about, too. Everybody's had a bowl of Bolognese. There's nothing more approachable in the world, to me. We're cooking it long, low and slow — it was on the stove for eight or nine hours yesterday, just cooking through service. And we're making fresh pasta and ricotta in-house. Just trying to show them a little technique.
SD: Everyone's been posting their year-end Spotify Wrapped lists this week. What music are you listening to on repeat in the kitchen?
DR: That depends on who gets there first. I grew up on punk and hardcore, so that's where I lean. But I try not to put it on all day because I know it's an acquired taste.
SC: I've acquired it. It's good! It's one of those things where the more you listen, the more you understand. And the more you understand, the more you enjoy.
SD: What's your go-to meal on a day off?
SC: Can I speak for both of us?
DR: Go for it.
SC: Derek and I have almost a fixation with just classic food. We went on an adventure near where he grew up in Massachusetts, and he brought me to the absolute best doughnut shop, Mrs. Murphy's Donuts. We gorged ourselves. Then we went to this place called the Summer House and got flat-patty burgers. Then we went to the old-school Italian Balboni [Bakery], which reminded me of where I grew up in New Jersey. Those are the things that get us jazzed.
DR: We both have love for the entire spectrum of food.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and length.