The Tavern's Chef Todisco

Oct 17, 2007

UPDATING THE CLASSICS - Making old favorites taste new again is the chef’s specialty at The Tavern

David Todisco is the executive chef at The Tavern at Quarry Hills in Quincy. (LISA BUL/The Patriot Ledger)

For The Patriot Ledger

Sweeping views of Boston’s skyline take second seat to the food at The Tavern at Quarry Hills located at the Granite Links Golf Course in Quincy. And what makes the food so special at this crowded restaurant? Making old favorites taste new again, Executive Chef David Todisco said. The 32-year-old Plymouth resident has a passion for giving familiar foods a special twist. His shrimp cocktail dazzles with 12 giant prawns crowning a grapefruit-infused tomato/horseradish dip. Steak and cheese spring rolls contain shaved primed rib and Fontina cheese with three unique dipping sauces: a balsamic reduction; a horseradish cream; and a James River Barbecue sauce.

The Tavern’s menu reflects the ever-changing creativity of its chef. To feature the season’s freshest produce, about 60 percent of the menu changes monthly.

One summer salad will pair peppery arugula with sweet watermelon. A grilled pizza is rich with heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella on a crunchy, garlic-infused, handmade crust. A dish of plump scallops are tucked into juicy prawns and bathed in a delicate citrus sauce.

‘‘Creativity means constant change,’’ Todisco said.

But Todisco is a stickler for consistency and demands that each dish be prepared to exacting standards. Once, a batch of cooked sirloin burgers was thrown out because variations were unacceptable to him.

‘‘I tell my team the most important thing is color, texture and flavor, and if the food doesn’t have those three things, I throw it in the trash,’’ he said.

When his kitchen team joked about working in ‘‘Hell’s Kitchen,’’ Todisco decided to audition for the TV reality show, which forces competing chefs to perform under grueling pressure. Todisco took the train to New York City for an interview - along with 360 other candidates.

‘‘I waited seven hours for a seven-minute interview,’’ he said, laughing. He described it as a ‘‘nerve wracking’’ experience but a future season on the TV show may still be possible.

‘‘They just called me again and now I have to send in seven-minute videotape of my day,’’ he said.

In 2006 Todisco became The Tavern’s first executive chef. The restaurant commands panoramic views of the golf course and the Boston skyline. It’s nestled within the Granite Links Golf Course, which was noted as one of Golf Digest’s ‘‘Top Ten Best New Upscale Golf Courses In the Country’’ in 2004.

Todisco was responsible for overseeing restaurant and kitchen design and worked with Brian Leonard, food and beverage director, to develop the menu. The Tavern has a contemporary elegance - cherrywood furnishings, chandelier lighting and paneled walls. But like Todisco’s food, the ambiance has comfortable, casual twists - cobalt blue glassware, square white plates, TV sport screens in the bar area.

Like Rachel Ray of Food Network fame, Todisco is self-taught. His culinary career included Leisure Casino Cruises, restaurant chains, North End eateries and Lombardo’s in Randolph. Two of his own food idols are chefs Mario Batali and Bobbie Flay.

‘‘My first job was Brighams in Stoneham when I was 14, and I knew I was definitely going to take this road and be a cook.’’

The Tavern prepares about 500 meals a day, not including a full calendar of catered events. He credits fellow cooks Ernesto Fernandes, James Jones and a team of 20 for continuing success.

‘‘You’re only as good as the people you work with,’’ Todisco said.

His culinary approach is simple: keep the comfort appeal of old favorites but take the taste to a higher level. For example, one of his appetizers pairs mac and cheese with bites of fresh lobster. Or instead of a traditional red wine sauce, Todisco prepares a roasted tomato/honey demiglace to serve with beef filet.

‘‘You can compare this food to high-end food in Boston and pay less here for a bigger portion,’’ said Todisco, who frequently chats with customers and welcomes feedback.

Sometimes his 9-year old son, Joshua, will stand on a milk crate at The Tavern’s stove to learn his dad’s cooking secrets. Todisco laughed when his son corrected him during the making of an amaretto cream sauce.

‘‘Joshua told me that the mirepoix (vegetable mix) was not the right color yet, and he stopped me from putting in the liquor. He’s a culinary animal,’’ Todisco said.

Suzette Martinez Standring is a freelance writer living in Milton. Reach her at .

Pineapple Salsa

1 ripe pineapple, diced into ½ -inch chunks

1 red pepper, cut into ¼ -inch pieces

½ red onion cut into ¼ -inch pieces

1 vine ripe tomato cut into ¼ -inch pieces

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

3 tablespoons fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh basil

1 tablespoon fresh mint

1 tablespoon honey

2 limes, juiced and zested

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Take the skin off the pineapple and slice into ½ -inch slabs.

Grill for about 3 minutes per side and chop the fruit into ½ -inch dice.

Place diced pineapple in a mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. This will promote natural juices from the pineapple. Then toss all the other ingredients in the bowl and let the flavors develop.

Use this for any chicken, fish or beef dish for a clean yet robust flavor profile.
- Recipe from Chef David Todisco, The Tavern at Quarry Hills.

Copyright 2007 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Wednesday, October 17, 2007

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