The Kitchen Spy: Matt Jennings of Farmstead and La Laiterie
The Jennings kitchen. All photos by Leah Mennies
Matt Jennings’ Providence kitchen didn’t always look like this. When the Farmstead and La Laiterie chef moved in to his house with wife (and restaurant co-owner and pastry chef) Kate, “it was a dump,” he says. Thankfully, a contractor-friend helped the couple completely overhaul the space into an area where they can cook freely and their energetic toddler, Sawyer, can zoom around with ease. We hung out for an the evening at the Jennings abode to check out their favorite books, coffee, and beverage of choice when trying to relive college days.
Clockwise from left: There’s no shortage of cookbooks bursting from the shelves in the kitchen and neighboring dining room. 1. “Paul Bertolli’s book [Cooking by Hand]—it’s the first time that I got fascinated with pasta and bread and charcuterie,” Jennings says. “This is really the first charcuterie book I ever had. It was the foundation for everything. He’s the man.” 2. “All the Tom Colicchio books, I think he’s one of the original masters, of course, so I enjoy going back and revisiting his stuff.” 3-4. “There’s everything from Hank Shaw stuff—he’s a hunter and forager—to Alinea and everywhere in between. I like Moosewood, because it was just an American classic I grew up with and it became part of the collection by default,” Jennings says.
At top, a book compiled by Kate’s babysitter growing up. “She was older when she babysat Kate, but died this last year when she was just shy of 90. This is a collection of her recipes that she’s handed down to her kids, and her kids sent us a copy which I think is the cutest fucking thing,” Jennings says. ” It’s photocopied out of her book. Her applesauce is the best thing I’ve had in my life.”
Top-bottom: 1. The complete Time Life Good Cook cooking series by Richard Olney, a gift from Kate. 2. Jennings, an avid Instagrammer in the kitchen (evidence here), created books out of some of his favorite images of his food from La Laiterie.
Clockwise from top left: 1. “I have been getting really into New England cuisine, so I found this on Ebay and I had to have it. It’s the original Fine Old Recipes of New England,” Jennings says. “Different areas of the country, as far as chefs are concerned, they have some real mastheads for protecting the indigenous flavors of the area. There’s not really a northeastern version of that. I don’t know why that is, but it’s interesting.” 2. “This quote actually, I think it’ll be my next tattoo because it describes New England as ‘Wild country flavored by the sea and colored by the salt and the sun,’ and that’s so New England to me,” Jennings says. 3. A Rhode Island rule book, which contains ancient RI-based recipes. 4. Jennings’ favorite recipe from the book? Chicken cheese. “It’s insane, and gets me so excited, and we’ve started to make a version of it at the restaurant,” he says. “It’s the weirdest fucking thing you ever heard. It’s basically like a rillete, but [called] ‘chicken cheese.’ I love that.”
Clockwise from top left: 1-2. One of Jennings’ staples is an antique coffee grinder that’s been passed down from his grandfather. “This thing is ingrained in my mind from waking up on weekends to this sound of grinding beans in the kitchen to make coffee,” Jennings says. “We use it all the time. It’s just fresh, grinds to order, and it’s really coarse—it’s kind of like cowboy coffee. It goes from there to a French press, and that’s it.” 3. Beans he scooped up at the farmers’ market. 4. In addition to the “cowboy coffee,” Jennings admits to enjoying a Nespresso now and again. “My mother got [the machine] for us for Christmas this year. I am pretty much a purist, but this thing is awesome. With a two-and-a-half year-old in the morning, to fill this thing with water, put a pod in here, and set it and forget it is pretty amazing,” he says.
Clockwise from top left: 1.Maple syrup purchased from Sucrerie Marc Girard on a recent trip to Quebec with a crew of local Rhode Island chefs. 2. Whipped honey from the same place. “This is a whipped honey that’s made with flowers that are grown on the seaside in northern Quebec. It’s incredible—it’s like honey fluff. We’re going to start carrying it in the shop,” Jennings says.
Clockwise from top left: 1. A signed letter from Thomas Keller congratulating Jennings on his James Beard nomination this year for “Best Chef: Northeast.” 2. “This is the most important chef drawer in the kitchen: the takeout menus,” Jennings says. And yes, that’s a Cheesecake Factory menu tucked away in there. “I can’t lie to you, I am in love with the the deep fried avocado rolls. It’s just avocado inside of a wonton wrapper. Their avocado is always very ripe, somehow. They’ve purchased all the ripe avocados on the planet so I can never get any,” Jennings says (Kate also admits to an affinity for the rolls: “There’s so much avocado!”). 3. Kate and Matt mug for the camera at the first year they attended the Food & Wine festival in Aspen. 4. The couple’s four most essential kitchen tools: a corkscrew, Microplane, kitchen shears, and whisk.
Clockwise from top left: 1. The spice drawer, which contains a mix of the usual suspects like turmeric and cinnamon, plus more obscure ones like rosebuds and tepin chiles, a super-hot pepper that Jennings picked up on a trip to London. 2. Alder pods from Montreal. “[Our purveyor] buys this green alder pods which is basically like pine, but smell a little nutmeg-y, a little peppery. You can just grate them up and put them in a spice mill. We’ve done crusted beef with them,” Jennings says. 3. Jennings’ go-to spices are of Middle Eastern origin, like Za’atar and Urfa pepper. 4. Greek sea salt that Kate’s sister brought back from a trip to, you guessed it, Greece.
At long last, the fridge! “We go through phases of wanting to purge everything off the fridge, because I have a hoarding problem,” Jennings says.
Above, just a few of the goodies you’ll find within (not pictured: meat pies from Sam’s bakery in Fall River, pizza dough from Olga’s Bakery, and lemonade, Jennings’ beverage of choice). Clockwise from top left: 1. Cured and dehydrated spiced beef, which (we can testify) is infinitely snackable, but also used to add flavor to soups and stews. “It’s kind of like beef cracklins,” Jennings says. 2. Harissa. 3. “I’m a Cholula addict, it’s my favorite hot sauce,” Jennings says. 4. Bee pollen, which Jennings uses to top salads or vanilla ice cream. 5. A honey-like maple cream, another score from the chef’s Quebec trip. 6. Mathew’s horseradish, a house favorite for Bloody Mary’s.
In the freezer lies the booze—nips of Jaeger, and, even worse (better?), Rumpleminze, “just in case you’re looking for a buzz and trying to get back to your college days,” Jennings says.
Last but not least, a prized set of lithographs that Jennings’ staff gave him after his first James Beard nomination. “They are my pride and joy. It’s from a butcher’s handbook. They have all the different cuts and everything, and I love it,” Jennings says.
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