Nantucket Portrait: Tom Berry

Umami* of Nantucket
By Sara Boyce
Chef Tom Berry and Pastry Chef Liz O’Connell laughed and joked their way through a very impressive cooking demonstration at a recent Chef’s Talk at Bartlett’s Farm. When Tom and I finally ended our three-week phone tag game, he explained he had some very different news.

Liz O’Connell & Tom Berry (Bartlett’s Farm)
For the last four years, Tom has been Executive Chef at a very busy Nantucket restaurant you may never have been to: Great Harbor Yacht Club (GHYC). As of this week, he is officially stepping out of the private sector onto a more public Nantucket stage as the Chef and a partner with Orla and Michael LaScola at The Proprietors (formerly DeMarco’s Restaurant at 9 India Street).
The LaScolas have owned American Seasons since 2004. Michael is the Chef, and Orla is the Sommelier who also manages the restaurant. Michael has been at “Seasons” for 20 years. He started work right after graduating high school in 1992, returning every summer while attending the Culinary Institute of America, and after graduation became Sous Chef. The Proprietors will be their second restaurant.
Liz O’Connell, formerly of Harvest (Cambridge, MA) and currently GHYC’s Executive Pastry Chef, will also be moving to The Proprietors. All three partners, Tom, Orla and Michael LaScola, are working together to realize their vision, finish renovations, and open in June. Orla says, “We are very excited to work with Tom. We have all wanted to do something together for a long, long time and it’s finally materialized.”
A quiet, friendly man, Tom has an impressive culinary background. At 13, he picked up his first Gourmet Magazine, and decided he wanted to be a Chef. (Incidentally, we can thank Jean MacAusland, former publisher of Gourmet, for starting Nantucket’s Daffodil Festival and adding more than one million daffodils to the Nantucket landscape, many thousands of which she planted herself.) Tom attended Johnson & Wales University and earned a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts and a Master of Teaching Secondary Education, knowledge for which he is often grateful when working and teaching in the kitchen.
In 1998, Tom launched his career with Ming Tsai, internationally known celebrity Chef, at Blue Ginger. Over the course of five years, he worked his way up to Ming’s Sous Chef, where he developed recipes for cookbooks and Food Network shows, while also running the restaurant. Tom took his first Executive Chef position 10 years ago when he opened the restaurant Bambara at the Hotel Marlowe (Cambridge, MA). While at Bambara, the Improper Bostonian named Tom “Best Up & Coming Chef” in their 2003 “Boston’s Best. Executive Chef positions followed at Nantucket’s
Straight Wharf Restaurant for the 2005 season and then at Temple Bar (Cambridge) before returning to Nantucket as GHYC’s Executive Chef in 2009. Although he is sad to leave so many amazing people at GHYC, Tom is excited to collaborate with Michael and use his creativity in pulling together a new menu. The plans include a Nantucket-centered menu that is “heavy on vegetables, grains and the abundant local seafood”, but informed and inspired by Tom’s travels. The menu will include influences from all over the world, with French, Asian, and Basque sensibilities. Tom eagerly explains that he’ll often use a plancha, which is a “Spanish style griddle on steroids”.
Tom points out that “sometimes it can be awkward to order some light bites at a Nantucket restaurant. Not here. In addition to full entrees, The Proprietors will offer a number of shareable dishes to encourage tasting and lively discussion in a friendly, fun, and casual environment. “I got to know Tom a little bit as we ate and drank our way through Burgundy at the 5th reunion of the Jumelage (the official twinning of Nantucket and Beaune) in France. The last night, eight of us shared a meal at Susan and Denis Toner’s home. Tom and Denis were quite the culinary duo. When I stepped in the kitchen to help, Denis was supervising and joking but Tom was bent over the lined up plates with the same laser beam concentration he brings to serving hundreds of dinners each night. Tom was traveling with his girlfriend who joked that he always brings the same intensity and focus to delivering a perfect meal – even if there are just the two of them. Apparently, once an Executive Chef, always an Executive Chef.

Denis Toner & Tom Berry, Chez Toner (Beaune, France)
I, for one, am eager to see what Tom, Liz and the LaScolas create at The Proprietors.
*”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!

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