Thursday, April 24, 2014
Chef Jason Williams is very much the maverick. This year alone he followed an intrepid path to Alaska where he cooked for hunting parties and skiers under less than ideal conditions. Other years he’s trekked on trawlers through Southeast Asia or gone mountain climbing in exotic locales.
The main building of The Well houses the kitchen with a small screened dining porch on the side; diners bring their own wine and beer
This might also explain how he manages so brilliantly each season at his peripatetic dining perch, which opened June 1 and will run through the fall.
Assisted by his loyal waitstaff to serve diners, this allows Williams to focus intently on producing his stellar meals
Here in the cook-house with its attached dining bar he prepares without assistance up to 60 meals a night with enough space to accommodate four diners inside as well as two dining gazebos that can hold larger parties followed by those who opt to have their meals en plein air at picnic-style tables scattered in the farm fields.
Bordered by strawberry fields and wild flowers, the dining pavilions form a nucleus in which to experience real farm-to-table dining
For many years he cooked in Portland’s famed Back Bay Grill, a stomping ground that has made him something of a perfectionist. Everything he prepares is made in his kitchen, right down to artisanal loaves of bread served warm with farm butter. Everything else is sourced locally. Browne Trading supplies the fish, Serendipity Farms (North Yarmouth) for chicken and Breezy Hill Farm (South Berwick) for pork. With a menu that changes weekly, it's the essence of simplicity, a transmutation of style well crafted.
The Well has also become a neighborhood sanctuary-- a meeting place for neighbors up and down Wells Road and other Cape Elizabeth environs. Some call ahead to take food out for home dining while friends and families gather at the tables in the fields with children and the family dog --an event of bonhomie to savor Williams' special culinary largesse.
Even Rover wants to be part of the evening food festivities
The night that we were there earlier this week, a tall, lanky bearded man came in to place his order and started taking pictures of us sitting in the cook-house dining room.
“What’s up with the camera?” we asked.
“Oh, I’m from Manhattan, and we have nothing like this in the city.”
“Why not?” we asked dumbly.
“Not many farms in Manhattan,” he chuckled.
We all laughed and it’s all part of the unexpected when you go to the Well.
The show begins and Williams preps each dish with precision
With attention to detail, Williams warms each dish with his handy blow torch before putting the food on the plate
Most of the food is seared on the wood grill (fueled by apple wood) and then finished off in the oven
On the menu that night was a salad of local mixed greens, house-cured bacon, hothouse tomatoes, fiddlehead ferns and red onion coated with balsamic vinaigrette. Entrée choices included a wood grilled chicken breast, confit of leg, mashed potatoes and fiddleheads or asparagus. The fish offering was North Atlantic cod set over basmati rice, grilled ramps or asparagus and charred cherry tomatoes.
The evening salad could be mixed local greens, lardoons, roasted onions and buttermilk dressing
There’s always a meat dish, like pork or lamb and tonight was a special preparation of 12-hour smoked pork shoulder, pulled and shaped into a cake, finished off on the wood grill and served over soldier beans with whole grain mustard and roasted onions.
A brilliant dish of smoked pork, pulled and formed into a cake, seared on the grill and served over soldier beans
A perfect piece of local cod seared on the grill and finished in the oven is served over rice, with grilled local asparagus and charred cherry tomatoes
The pasta choice that evening was potato gnocchi made with Norland potatoes (Jason’s favorite) and served with spinach, roasted parsnips, carrots, braised radishes and tomato puree. It was a beautiful looking dish.
House-made gnocchi paired with a perfect melange of spring vegetables
As the season progresses Williams prepares desserts based on what’s available in the markets. Tonight it was his homemade donut—the lightest and airiest you’ll ever have—placed on rhubarb compote, honey and a vanilla cream.
New this year is a family-style prix fixe menu ($35 and $45) offered to larger groups of six or more, that includes chicken, vegetables, breads, pasta, or a lobster or shellfish boil.
The evening dessert, house-made donut over rhubarb compote
What’s amazing is that Williams does all this himself, working with the speed of an agile athlete manipulating the foods from prep to stove top to plate flawlessly, with every dish being a marvel of looks and taste.
On a summer’s eve, with the balmy, gentle breeze coming off the ocean, picking up the scents of the farm fields along the way, this is summer dining at its best.
The final seal of approval
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.