Fresh Picked: All About Corn at Masa, Mistral, and Franklin Cafe

A look at how local chefs are working with one of August's finest vegetable specimens.

Does a single summer crop inspire more excitement than corn? It’s a staple of the family cookout, a sweet-as-candy vegetable enjoyed by all ages. This time of year, shucking corn can even seem like a pleasure, with the anticipation of the kernel crunching to come. At Boston restaurants, too, corn is enthusiastically received. From the upscale Mistral to the casual, convivial Franklin Café to the fun and funky Masa, the vegetable becomes essential to the summer menu. It should come as no surprise that all of these restaurants are using their local corn in multiple dishes. They each chose one to highlight for us.

“I did a considerable amount of time in the South. There they have a [corn and rice] fritter known as a calas,” Kelly Hartman (pictured above), head chef at Franklin Café, explained of his inspiration for a shrimp and corn beignet. “I wanted to do something like that.” It was once Hartmann also began working on a smoked shrimp dish that he realized he could combine his two ideas. The fusion has made this Franklin Café’s most successful fritter to date. Each day, Hartman makes a classic pate-a-choux dough batter, folding in smoked shrimp and local, bi-colored corn. Once fried, the result is four golden spheres of Boston-by-way-of-New-Orleans deliciousness, all served over green tomato relish and topped with jalapeno aioli. “It’s very simple, straightforward. It’s exactly what the Franklin does,” says Hartman.

Kareem Kelser Michael (above left), executive chef of Masa, didn’t create the smoked corn chowder that has been a staple of the Masa menu for ten years, but he sure makes a lot of it. The chowder staples are all here: potatoes and bacon, celery and onions. And the corn—oh, the corn!—which has been smoked with applewood for 15 minutes. Legendary chef Charlie Trotter taught the recipe to Masa chef Philip Aviles, and to give it some of that extra Masa flair, the recipe has been tweaked over time, with additions of corn salsa and chili oil topping. “We will be showcasing it for a month-long Restaurant Week special,” Kelser Michael says. And if you’re asking yourselves how one week can run a whole month, ignore the logistics. They’re as improbably welcome as the smoky chowder on a hot summer day.

It’s hard to decide what’s more gorgeous, the tasteful, Provencal dining room at Mistral, or the appetizers of shimmering gnocchi that get passed around there each evening. Mitchell Lee Randall (bottom left), executive chef, has once again brought back this perennial favorite, a bundle of ricotta gnocchi with bits of buttery lobster, sweet corn, and a whole lot of French summer truffle. “Summertime. Corn. Lobster. A clambake kind of thing, but fancy,” Mitchell explains. And it seems everyone wants in: on a Saturday night the dish makes up a good 30-40 percent of appetizer sales. The earthy truffle and sweet corn balance was the idea here, and while the truffle is simply shaved, the corn is prepared two ways, sautéed with sea salt and thyme and pureed as a bed for the gnocchi—the whole thing glazed in buttery juices as though it really is but of a dream.

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