This is the first in a series profiling local chefs and sharing their favorite summer recipes.
For Steve LaCount, it all started in Roslindale.
It was there, at the house of his grandmother, Chiara Benedetti, that he was first smitten by the world of cooking.
"She (Benedetti) was a big influence on me getting into cooking originally," said LaCount, owner and executive chef of Chiara Bistro on High Street in Westwood. The restaurant is named appropriately after his grandmother.
LaCount said Benedetti and his grandfather would grow fresh vegetables in a massive garden outside their Roslindale home when LaCount was a child. There, they would pick fresh produce daily and then use the ingredients to cook for 15 or 16 people on a nightly basis.
"They raised a family of 10 and 28 grandchildren in Roslindale," LaCount said. "Twenty-eight grandchildren sitting around a concrete picnic table under a grapevine sharing tomatoes . . . so I grew up around that."
Benedetti's influence not only drove LaCount to pursue a career in cooking, but also inspired him to open Chiara (pronounced key-ar-ah), which he did in 2005 after Westwood, a previously dry town, amended its liquor laws, thus allowing local restaurants to serve alcohol to patrons.
"That was one of the reasons for opening," LaCount said. "Lately there's been a whole influx of good restaurants (in the Boston area), and we wanted to capitalize on that in Westwood. The demographics in this area are perfect."
Chiara's dishes fit the theme of Mediterranean cuisine, LaCount says, touching on everything from French dishes to Italian deserts and appetizers.
The Mediterranean style is a reflection of LaCount's own schooling – he studied and worked with various chefs in France, Switzerland and Italy as part of a work-study program while working as a chef at The Country Club in Brookline.
LaCount actually began working in the dining room at The Country Club at age 17, essentially to help pay for college tuition. At the time, he had just enrolled as a student at Northeastern University, where he had the aspirations of becoming a lawyer.
But after three years of working in the dining hall, LaCount moved into the kitchen, and he never looked back.
"I just completely fell in love with the cooking end of it," he said. "So I never finished Northeastern. I made a decision to enter this profession, and studied as much as I could with the European chefs and took trips to Europe."
By the age of 23, LaCount was the youngest executive chef at The Country Club. Because of his young age, a consultant was hired to work with him for the first six months while he got into the swing of things.
"After that, it was my job for 23 years," LaCount said.
LaCount later enrolled at Bentley College to attain a business degree, with the aspirations that he'd one day own his own place. Now, Chiara is in it's fifth year doing business, and LaCount is constantly working to accommodate the crowd.
Currently there are plans in place to redesign the lounge by the end of August.
"That's really to attract people during the week," LaCount said. "To come in have a bit of a lighter fare, some cocktails and what not."
Since it's opening, Chiara has been recognized as the Best Restaurant of 2006 by Phantom Gourmet, and was voted to be one of the "Best of the New" by the Boston Globe in January 2007.
LaCount himself has a fair share of favorite dishes on the Chiara Bistro menu, but it doesn't stop there. Below, he has offered the recipe for one of his favorite summer dishes . . .
Shrimp & Yellow Tomato Gazpacho "Martini"
Description: A cool, refreshing Spanish summer soup with chilled shrimp.
Ingredients (Serving Size - 4):
- 12 Shrimp – under 15 shrimp per pound (U-15) – cooked, peeled and deveined
- 2 yellow tomato
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/8 red onion
- 1/4 green bell pepper
- 1/4 red bell pepper
- 1/2 cucumber
- 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro – save some sprigs for garnish
- 1 lime – juiced
- 2 tbsp. white vinegar
- 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 dash tabasco sauce
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper – freshly ground
- 1 head bibb lettuce
- 1 lime – cut in wedges for garnish
- Finely dice some of each vegetable for a bright relish garnish in each glass
- Peel and seed vegetables as needed – place all in processor and grind smooth
yet a bit chunky
- Season the soup with the lime juice, vinegar, olive oil, tabasco, salt and
- Pour some into martini glasses – place a couple of leaves of bibb lettuce in
the glass, add the relish (oiled & seasoned), hang 3 cooked shrimp on the
rim of the glass, hang a lime wedge on the edge as well, garnish with a
sprig of fresh cilantro
Chiara Bistro is located at 569 High St., Westwood, MA 02090. For more information and menu, visit http://www.chiarabistro.com.