For a man who used to cook at Mario Batali’s Babbo restaurant on the impossibly fast-paced island of Manhattan, Chris Fischer has the oddly calm demeanor of a California surfer. He speaks slowly and with intention, clearly rolling each thought around in his mind before letting it slip out in his quiet drawl. It’s hard not to hear that same calm, charming tone in his new book, Beetlebung Farm Cookbook.
The titular farm is on Martha’s Vineyard, where Fischer (and 12 generations before him) grew up, and where the 35-year-old chef returned after doing his time in some of Manhattan’s busiest kitchens. Once he got the hang of the family business, Fischer decided to compile the simple, delicious recipes he creates from his daily bounty into a book that anyone—from Martha’s Vineyard to Montana and beyond—could learn something from.
Here, Fischer candidly shares his experiences from the helm of the farm, including disrobing to keep some goats warm and having a stray chicken returned to him in the back of a police car.
Did you find the transition from Babbo to Beetlebung to be a total culture shock?
Part of it was natural because returning to nature and being a part of it and being healthy was how I grew up. Actually, it felt right with all my family roots and heritage. Egotistically, it felt weird because you’re at this very high level at a glamorous restaurant that gets a lot of attention. When you’re a New York City chef, it’s like that crazy machismo and you like that pain of cooking on the line. You feel a little bit lost after work, and although you shouldn’t, I certainly did.
Has working with animals at the farm been comical at times?
I have a million funny stories. First of all, when you get to know animals, they just have these great personalities, and they become your friend, and like a normal friend you become chivalrous with them.
I picked up some goats in Vermont once and I built the craziest contraption out of pallets and tarps and wood, and had like twenty piglets in one section, and two goats in the back, and it started raining and it was cold. I would stop, and they were shivering, so then I started taking off my clothes and putting the clothes on the goats in the back of the truck. It was an open truck, so you could see them from the highway, and there would be these goats in the back of my truck wearing all my clothes.
We also had free-range chickens for a while, and they became really free range. There’s a store down the road called the Fishing Mart Store, a quarter of a mile away, and a police car rolled up at the farm stand and I was like, ‘Uh oh, it’s for me.’ And he just pulled up, put it in park, and just handed the chicken to me out his window.
Sounds like one big happy family! Why was it so important for you to fuse your personal family history into the cookbook?
Many reasons. I’m very proud to be a member of my family. They’ve done extraordinary things for a long time, especially my grandfather, who taught me so much. And, there are also a lot of little bits and pieces here and there of the traditional ways of doing things—techniques and instructions for all farmers and artisans that are small-scale producers. To celebrate those people means that maybe somebody’s going to read the book and be inspired through that frame.
How did you want Martha’s Vineyard to come across?
I would say that Martha’s Vineyard has changed. There’s a lot of people that come there in the summer, and I don’t want Martha’s Vineyard to lose integrity. So if somebody can come to the Vineyard and read about the history and have a deeper connection, then they’re going to be less likely to come and ride around on jet skis and throw garbage in the water, and go to The Black Dog for every meal.
What’s your absolute favorite food?
Hard shell clams from Martha’s Vineyard. From Menemsha Pond, specifically, which is the pond I grew up next to. One of my dad’s favorite stories is about feeding clams and oysters to me as a little boy. I was like six months old. He probably wasn’t paying attention to anything the doctors would say. But, he was feeding my brother and I when we were in diapers, so when I eat them now I have this crazy reaction—that’s the best flavor in the world, and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I used to eat them when I was such a little baby.
Do you ever actually just indulge in some junk food?
I drink a lot of coffee in general, because I’m busy. And I think soda is an extension of that. I really don’t want to drink energy drinks. I like Cadbury Mini Eggs a lot. My friend loves to joke about eating seasonally, and whenever spring comes around, he’s like, ‘Got to buy a lot of Cadbury Mini Eggs. Just eating with the seasons!’