Michael Ceraldi is a conspiracy theorist. He’s also quite possibly the most innovative chef on Cape Cod, though he’ll tell you his community based philosophy is nothing new.
At Castle Hill’s June food symposium he declared, “If Cape Cod’s bridges were to disappear for some reason, my family could still eat because I know people who grow things,” adding, “The more that people are removed from the land, the less secure they become.” It’s true, Ceraldi has a wide network of farmers, foragers, and fishermen with whom he works closely each day to devise a unique seven-course prix fixe menu for his Wellfleet restaurant, Ceraldi. Just don’t call it a concept. It’s not a concept.
Pushing the flat brim of his pristine snapback off his forehead he explained, “This is what restaurants did before global trade and the industrial revolution. We’re not doing anything new at all, we’re actually getting back to the land and the community based system of not only our agriculture, but also our finances staying here on the Outer Cape.”
Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. Ceraldi was deemed Cape Cod’s best restaurant of 2017 by Boston Magazine.
On my visit last month, nationally renowned food writer Ruth Reichl stood up at the next table to say that the meal had exceeded her expectations. Coming from one of the loudest voices to ever grace the pages of Gourmet, The New York Times, and The L.A. Times, this was quite the compliment. Ceraldi deserved it.
The evening began with a Lucky Lips Loagy Bay oyster and a dozen briny wild sea beans scattered across our plates. We sipped cloudy glasses of unfiltered natural prosecco that drank more like sour beer than any wine I’ve ever tasted.
A marble slate draped in cured meat followed closely behind with pork procured from an acorn fed hog raised by Drew Locke of Hillside Farm along the Pamet River.
The pancetta came cured in salt, chile, and Snowy Owl espresso from Brewster. Likewise, the Bresaola had been curiously cured with juniper and seasalt. The beef hailed from Seawind Meadow Farm in South Dennis where they slow-raise Scottish Highland cattle for their lean marbled meat. A horned skull hung above the bar as a testament to Ceraldi’s dedication to cooking whole animals.
Robinson Farm arpeggio was the only ingredient I identified throughout the seven courses that did not hail from Cape Cod; it was a product of Central Mass. A literal slice of home.
Our third course arrived on a striking ceramic plate heaped high in fresh lettuce from Longnook Meadows Farm that had been topped with pistachios and a vinaigrette made from salt sprayed beach roses. A server who presented the wine pairing told me to wait for the pop of acid on the back of my tongue and a hint of volcanic soil, watching with amusement as the impact hit. I told him I admired the golden rose pinned to his lapel, and swiftly my salad took on an enchanting floral bouquet as if by premonition.
The fourth course was wild. Literally. Woven from foraged milkweed shoots fried in tempura to taste like okra. The shoots emerged with sumac ricotta and spruce infused vinegar along with a dusting of spruce tips, once eaten for their Vitamin C and now employed for brightening.
Next, came ravioli, each one a delicate capsule of Seawind Meadow Farm beef braised with cedar and maple sap that was then reduced to a sauce for the dish which had been finished with black garlic. Ceraldi explained he had slow cooked the garlic himself for 40 days in an effort to caramelize its natural sugars for an honest sense of umami.
The final savory course belonged to Hillside Farm where the chickens are moved daily onto fresh pasture in order to simulate ingestion and guarantee that each bird consumes a dozen different grass species throughout its lifetime.
“They have a great life and then one bad day,” joked farmer Locke.
The breasts were sous vide and the legs cured in lavender before being slow cooked in olive oil. A Surrey Farm sunchoke puree had been expertly devised from sunchokes the farmer dug up after sweetening in the ground all winter. A wilted daisy green salad from The Weeds evoked notes of bitter arugula and anise.
Dessert was topped with black locust flowers that I recognized all too well from my drive to Wellfleet. Each ivory petal captured the essence of sweet peas and honeysuckle to enliven a goat cheese panacotta made with Checkerberry Farm rhubarb and fresh Cape Cod strawberries.
If I get word that an apocalypse is afoot, you’d better believe I’m headed for Wellfleet. I would gladly trust Michael Ceraldi and his anti-concept with my last meal. No two experiences at Ceraldi are ever the same; so, conspiracy or not – I keep going back.