Below is a transcript of a live online chat with Jasper White of the Summer Shack restaurants, which took place on Tuesday, February 21, 2012. The half-hour talk focused mostly on some of Jasper's favorite little-known restaurants in the Boston area, and it included viewer participation, with folks asking Jasper questions toward the end. [Note: The original discussion can be replayed at the following link: http://www.hiddenboston.com/online-discussion-0212.html and please go to the restaurant discussions link to check out our other chats.]
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Good afternoon, all! Welcome to yet another live online discussion on food and restaurants. Unlike earlier chats, however, which had panels of food writers, media folks, people in the restaurant industry, etc., today I'll be having a one-on-one chat with chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author Jasper White. I'm sure many of you know Jasper for his Summer Shack restaurants, along with cookbooks such as "50 Chowders." Jasper, welcome to the chat, and thanks for being able to join me to talk about restaurants in the Boston area and beyond.
Jasper White: Hello
Marc H.: Hi, Jasper!
Marc H.: Today I'd like to talk with you about some of your favorite dining spots in and around Boston, as well as beyond the region, but before we start, I just wanted to ask you a bit about how you got started in the business. Did you always want to be a chef? Were you involved with cooking from an early age?
Jasper White: My love for food as a child was eating - not cooking. My grandmother was born in Ferentino outside of Rome... my dad was a farmer and a hunter - I grew up eating fantastic fresh foods as a kid - and we lived at the Jersey shore so ate lots of seafood (free) as well...
Marc H.: When did you move to the Boston area?
Jasper White: I moved here in 1979 - from the west coast, where I had been cooking for a few years...
Marc H.: What restaurants were you involved with between 1979 and the first Summer Shack restaurant?
Jasper White: I worked at the Copley Plaza Hotel, The Parker House with Lydia Shire - we were a team. Then we opened the Bostonian Hotel... I also opened the Harvard Bookstore Cafe with Frank Kramer (not Lydia) - I was general manager - that was a good learning experience but I didn't last long because I missed the kitchen.
Marc H.: And then Summer Shack in Cambridge came along in 2000, was it? Speaking of Summer Shack, I know that you have opened a couple of new locations in the Boston area over the past two years or so. Are there many differences among the locations around Boston? Are the menus mostly the same?
Jasper White: Yes after 25 years in fine dining, I decided to do something really different - Summer Shack - the core menus are the same or similar in each shack... we change up the fish specials all the time - depending on the best quality available in each season... our blackboards are actually about 1/2 of our sales and the specials do vary from shack to shack.
Marc H.: Looks like a question has just come in! By the way, if any of you out there would like to ask Jasper any questions, please feel free! I'll post a few questions here and there over the 15 minutes or so. Also, in answer to a question from one of our readers, there won't be any audio--just a live written chat with a transcript of it coming tomorrow.
Guest: What's going to be the next adventure for Jasper? Something other than Summer Shack or continue expanding?
Jasper White: I am very focused on our seafood company these days (yes, I am am in the wholesale business as well - although we don't really promote that) - I started it to supply myself but it has grown organically and I now supply several other restaurants. We have plans for a new seafood collaboration - that will bring the freshest seafood directly from fisherman and growers to market in a transparent way that no one in Boston has done yet... we are announcing in April...
Marc H.: A few more questions have come in. I'll have them posted toward the end of the chat so we can start talking about restaurants now.
Marc H.: So let's start talking about some of the restaurants that you like to go to, particularly little-known spots.
Marc H.: Perhaps we can begin by looking at Boston proper and work our way out from there. Do you have any faves in Chinatown? I remember hearing years ago that some chefs particularly liked the original King Fung Garden as well as New Shanghai. Did you frequent those places?
Jasper White: OH yeah - the chef from New Shanghai is CK Sau - he has a place in Wellesley - he's one of my favorite chefs ever. Peach Farm is my favorite place right now... spicy crabs - beef with pickled mustard greens, whole fish, littlenecks with Chinese leeks - the food there is fantastic.
Jasper White: Outside of Chinatown Mary Chungs in Central Square is my fav - spicy pigs feet!!!!
Marc H.: Peach Farm is a favorite among many, and Mary Chung seems like a real hidden gem. How about elsewhere within the Boston city limits? Any spots you like to go to in neighborhoods such as Dorchester, JP, Allston, etc.?
Jasper White: Well I live in Davis Square - For Asian food I like Martsa - Tibetan - the soups there are fantastic - I love Diva (Indian) and Kaya (Korean) over in Porter Sq is also a fav.
Marc H.: Martsa is a really great place. I'm a big fan of it myself, as well as House of Tibet up the street. How about Brookline or Waltham? Those are two communities that seem to have countless independent places, some of which are outstanding.
Jasper White: That's not my hood - don't know.
Marc H.: Getting back to Kaya for a minute, that seems like one spot that's completely off the radar. What do you like there?
Jasper White: The small plates that start the meal are so savory and refreshing and spicy - love the Shortribs... you know I like to eat at home too - not always cooking so I get take out from around my neighborhood... I love Sessas market - John Sessa makes great sandwiches, salads, etc and around holidays makes special things like Prosciutto Pie (I forget the real name) around Easter. I also love to pick up stuff at Sofra - and Bella Ravioli in Medford...
Marc H.: I go to Bella on the way home every now and then. Very old-school; I love it.
Jasper White: Yes - it's like the Italian food I grew up eating... it's all heart
Marc H.: So we're about out of time (a half hour goes by quickly!). I have one more question, then if you're able to take a few questions from our readers, that'd be great. I'm just curious as to whether you have any real favorites out in the suburbs, or for that matter, elsewhere in MA or anywhere else in New England. Any faves while on road trips?
Jasper White: Road trips - yes - Reins deli outside of Hartford on the trip to NY... Robinsons Wharf in Southport Maine - only open 10 weeks a year - there's plenty others but I am having a senior moment...
Marc H.: I drove by Reins last night, actually. Didn't have time to stop. I do like going there whenever I can as well.
Marc H.: So I do have a few questions from readers. I'll post a few of them if you have time to answer them, then we'll call it a day. Thanks again, Jasper!
Jasper White: Thanks - It was fun - I'll try to answer them.
Missy: Hi Jasper! Can we look forward to a new cookbook?
Jasper White: Missy - I only write a book after it has completely written itself in my mind and I'm not there right now... I have been pondering a book about restaurant life - my life - but I have to wait until most of my friends die... haha
Tina: With all the different oysters that Summer Shack offers, what's your favorite?
Jasper White: Oysters - that would be like choosing my favorite kid. I love briny herbacious oysters and many of the Cape Cod oysters fit that description - Cotuits and Wellfleets are always a good choice. I also like the big Pemaquids from Maine... I haven't met too many oysters I didn't like - and the fun of eating them is trying all the different kinds and discovering their nuances...
Marc H.: The following are the last of the questions, Jasper.
Guest: I love the clam bakes on Spectacle Island. Any plans to have more "destination" meals around the city?
Jasper White: Guest - we keep doing the Spectacle Island Clambakes starting Memorial weekend... no other plans in the works
Ted: Jasper anything cooking for you in an overseas venture
Jasper White: Ted - Overseas - do they have steamers there? Seriously - I'm hoping to slow it down in the years to come - I'm going to stick to New England and travel overseas for fun.
Pia @ Bread and Beta: What is your favorite menu item?
Jasper White: favorite menu item - again like choosing a favorite child - I will say though that I never, ever tire of eating raw oysters and clams.
LW-Guest: Have recently moved from just outside of Boston up towards Tewksbury. Any restaurants you like in this area? Andover, Lowell, Haverhill, Amesbury, etc.?
Jasper White: LW - I'm sorry - I don't know much about that area.
Marc H.: That's about it for questions from our readers, Jasper. Thanks so much for chatting this afternoon.
Jasper White: Good bye to all - FOOD IS LOVE