Paella Grande From Niche Test Kitchen in Worcester

For a foodie, walking into the Niche Test Kitchen is like walking into an edible funhouse. The aroma of pork hangs in the air, with the promise of eleven dishes featuring a ‘nose to tail’ tasting of locally-raised, house-butchered pig from Chimney Hill Farm. Any foodie would delight in getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the chefs at Niche work their magic: the attention to detail when hand-plating creamy celery root slaw on ham sliders or blistering cherry tomatoes in an oversized wok to garnish the Paella Grande. The night was truly memorable as several dozen local foodies descended on the Niche Test Kitchen, located behind Worcester’s Mezcal Cantina, to sample six courses “inspired by and representing each of [the] Niche concepts,” in the interest of providing feedback on proposed dishes for upcoming menu additions at Bocado, Mezcal, The People’s Kitchen, Rye & Thyme, and The Fix.

As the foodies sipped on housemade sangria and other cocktails, they celebrated not only the exquisite craftsmanship of the local chefs but also the fact that it was the Inaugural Party for the Worcester Foodies Group, marking 50 months that this group of diners has been feasting in various Worcester-area restaurants to support and highlight local businesses. Although from many walks of life, what everyone had in common on this evening was a true appreciation for locally-sourced food.

Stand-out dishes of the evening included a Banh Mi Poutine, which featured crisp fries topped with heaps of shredded pork, pickled vegetables, a soy mayonnaise, thinly sliced jalapeños, and cilantro. The bright and tart veggies helped balance the heartiness of the potatoes and meat. Mini Sopas (Sopecitos De Carnitas) were also a fan favorite: crispy little masa cups overflowed with black beans, oven-baked pork, a wonderfully-smooth avocado salsa, cotija cheese, and habanero oil. And, a refreshing palate cleanser included lettuce wraps sprinkled with crisped pork belly lardons, a creamy blue cheese dressing, and minced shallots.

In all, it was a lively and delicious evening – and I hope to see some of these fantastic dishes on the Niche menus!