For a quarter century,Chris and Lynne Francis have run Mr. Pickwick’s at Ye Olde England Inne with an emphasis on authenticity: steak, kidney and oyster pie, and bangers ’n’ mash were standard fare. But back in the Old Country, something happened to British menus: the dawn of the “gastropub,” where fresh ingredients and ideas meet cozy comfort food. To keep up with the times, the Francises have hired Pete Lech to refine their menu.
Lech, who chafes at the “chef” title, made many stops between his native Detroit and Vermont — including ones in Mexico and Ireland. An NCAA fencing scholarship allowed him to study microbiology before a buddy talked him into attending a small community culinary school, Macomb Community College. After graduation he spent time as a sushi chef, then ran the kitchen at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Mich. Its Rugby Grille is Zagat’s choice for “Best Restaurant in Mich.” and among its top 10 in the country.
But it was a stopover in New York, where he worked under celebrity chef David Burke, that brought Lech to Vermont. “I met a girl on a rooftop in Brooklyn,” he says of girlfriend Sera Vauthier. “Her family was from Montpelier.” (The pair now makes their home in central Vermont.) After a brief attempt at reopening The Den in Waitsfield, Lech joined Team Pickwick.
Last Wednesday, Lech debuted his new menu, which he claims has a “more light and feminine touch.” Think starters such as “Dueling Gazpachos of Red and Yellow,” with cucumber brunoise and herb crème fraîche; and “Macadamia-Crusted Dayboat Scallops” with Parmesan tuile, lavender butter sauce and flying-fish caviar. Main courses such as crispy lavender duck breast with fresh beet salad and white asparagus are a far cry from good old beef Wellington, which is still on the menu. As Lech puts it, “People have come to expect certain things here, and I am by no means going to challenge people’s tastes.” Translation: You can have your house-made bangers and mash in fruity Cumberland sauce and eat them, too.