Nantucket Portrait: Clinton Terry

Umami* of Nantucket | Clinton Terry
By Sara Boyce
Maybe you’ve met Clinton Terry while he was tending bar at Fog Island Grille(But did you know his cocktail skills rival Tom Cruise’s in the 1988’s movie “Cocktail”?)
Maybe Clinton has served you at Fog Island, offering you a “Namaste” with the check, as he bows his head and touches his hands together in the prayer position. (But did you know he attended culinary school and has been catering professionally since he was 15?)
Maybe you heard his Culinary Cocktail presentation at Bartlett’s Farm this February. (But did you know he is so committed to being involved in every step of the food/drink process, he periodically travels to Peru to distill Pisco, the grape-based brandy he likes to use in some of his cocktails?)
We are about to see a lot more of Clinton this summer as he will be managing the bar program at the Raynor trinity of restaurants: The Boarding House, The Pearl and Corazon del Mar.
This winter I developed a random fascination with making my own bitters. (“Random”, because I rarely drink cocktails.) I love cooking and wine, so I was delighted to learn of Clinton Terry’s “Culinary Cocktail” presentation at Bartlett’s Farm this past February. Clinton specializes in the intersection between food and drinks – hence the nickname, the “Boozy Chef”.
In true cooking show style, Clinton demonstrated how he makes his bitters. Efficient in motion and totally at ease, he demystified the process while fielding questions, making jokes, peeling oranges and reducing the fresh juice (while carving a flower out of the peel) as the scent of orange and honey filled the room.
Clinton Terry
Traditional bitters require only a couple of drops. Since Clinton’s bitters are high in juice content and deep in flavor, they almost become a mixer, which allows the resulting cocktails to be lower in alcohol. (See recipe below.) He most enjoys being part of the process and whenever possible, sources ingredients directly from local farms. “When you make everything yourself and use fresh ingredients, cocktails are almost as good without the booze”. Clinton thinks beyond the standard expectations of cocktails and bitters. He encouraged the audience to “find something you like and make something out of it” and gave examples of some of his flavors, (Bacon Bitters, Toasted Grapefruit with Cardamom, Mom’s Strawberry). A wise man, Clinton commented, “We get inspiration from everything we do.”
I wish I could go swimming
3 oz orange mix
2 oz 888 orange vodka
Squeeze of lime
Hearty dash lime bitters
Combine all ingredients. Stir over ice and strain. Serve straight up. Serve with a rose.
Clinton Terry
(Photo: Cavel Mattison | February 2013)
Clinton Terry
Clinton Terry
One stage of the bitter making process
Clinton Terry
An example of Clinton’s range of bitter flavors
“I always think of myself as a cook” is a fitting statement for someone whose life has revolved around food. Hailing from Stowe, Vermont, his mother has run the local community garden for 30 years. He always loved cooking, but Clinton started training professionally in high school by studying with Anton Flory, a Master Chef from Austria and enrolling in a vocational cooking class.
In 2003, Clinton graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He continued to work in restaurants while completing his bachelor’s degree. In 2006, Clinton moved to Alexandria, VA and worked at the Tasting Room of Restaurant Eve, which is owned by Chef Cathal, Meshelle Armstrong and Todd Thrasher, and known for its ultra-fine dining. When the restaurateurs expanded and opened Eamonn’s Restaurant and PX, a swank, modern-day speak easy, Clinton was General Manager for both locations and tended bar at PX, which was named one of the “50 Best Bars” by Food & Wine, GQ, the Washington PostNew York Times, and others.

“I enjoyed my formal training, but it is not really me. I am more drawn to Friday night potlucks at Cisco Brewery and going swimming every day (note title of above recipe).” When Eric Anderson, Operations Manager at Fog Island and his best friend from culinary school, offered him a job on Nantucket, Clinton jumped at the chance. “I love what I do and I love making people happy. Nantucket is unique and all about hospitality. That’s why I’m here.”

Clinton Terry
In the Peruvian vineyard, picking grapes to distill into Pisco, with Macchu Pisco Owner, Melanie da Trinidad-Asher, 2013

Clinton’s goal is to create a “different way of drinking” on Nantucket by elevating the cocktail culture. He feels that Nantucket has a very educated dining clientele, but that people are looking for something else when they go out for a drink. Clearly, Clinton is part of a larger movement. Forbes’ Hayley Bosch writes, “A craft-cocktail movement has taken over bars in the last few years – mixologists are concocting libations with as much precision as a Five-Star chef. Farm-to-table ingredients have become even more important, and last year, the James Beard Foundation added an Outstanding Bar Program category to its annual awards, more proof that artisanal cocktails are thriving.” (3/18/13, http://onforb.es/XUcA47)

Clinton Terry Click to watch video

“We are excited to be working with Clinton”, says Angela Raynor. “We will be making a concerted effort to take the program to an artisanal cocktail level. Seth and I have been thinking about why we fell in love with this business in the beginning – it all comes down to situations where people come together and interact in an unpretentious environment. People want intimacy and to be immersed in an authentic experience.” Both Clinton and Angela are excited by the hospitality of a “speak-easy” environment, where a patron walks into a warm party that is alive with friends who gather to unwind with conversation, food, and drinks.

Clinton Terry “I Stole Chef’s Sage”: Woodford Reserve, Chef’s Sage, Blackberries, and Large Cubed Ice (http://bit.ly/akm69U, Photo: Will Blunt | July 2010). Note bitters in background
Clinton Terry “The Most Aggressive Fish in the Ocean”: Hendrick’s Gin, Cruzan Rum, Cucumbers, Yuzu Juice, and Mint Chiffonade Garnish (http://bit.ly/akm69U, Photo: Will Blunt | July 2010)

The three locations will maintain their separate styles but will be united with one bar philosophy. Like the cooking process, Clinton will create recipes that are balanced, measured and inspired by seasonal, fresh ingredients. The entire Raynor team knows there will be a big investment in time as everyone learns the recipes. We can expect to see Clinton behind the bar in all three locations. He will prep the cocktails for all locations, work with the staff, and go where he is needed to “assist with hospitality”. Plans include fun, funky pop-up events (think: Clinton and Seth behind the sushi bar at Corazon, etc.) It sounds like a demanding schedule, but Clinton is a man who works during the day, loves the 11pm – 1 am cocktail hour “sweet spot” for its creativity, and somehow regularly manages to catch the sunrise. “I enjoy having a good time. I like cocktails and food. It should be fun to go to work. I never want to wake up and not enjoy what I do. It’s my craft. It’s my livelihood. It’s my life. It’s my love. I’m so very thankful to have found it at such a young age.” *”Umami” is something the Japanese recognize as the 5th flavor, in addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. A nuanced word, one could define it as the “je ne sais quoi” that deepens flavor, the experience, and imparts satisfaction and sensory delight. To me, it’s “that which makes Nantucket special”.

One of Nantucket’s residents who came to the island for 3 weeks and stayed a decade, Sara Boyce is always looking for that ‘extra flavor’ in life whenever and wherever she can. After many years running The Brigham Galleries, Sara recently launched www.GreyLadyWines.com, where she works with Nantucket’s wine authority, Denis Toner, to discover and promote exceptional, small-production wines.   A supporter of the arts and many of the island’s non-profits, chances are she’s cooking, brainstorming marketing concepts, or on the dance floor if she’s not traveling… To share thoughts on Nantucket’s food, wine, or social scene, email her at Sara@GreyLadyWines.com.

This article appeared in the April 4, 2013 edition of Mahon About Town.  

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