Meet Our MarkMaker: Chris Fischer
Life on the farm with Chef Chris Fischer
Whether cooking in a restaurant kitchen or over an open fire, quality ingredients are everything to a chef. That’s why MarkMaker Chris Fischer takes matters into his own hands, producing everything himself on Beetlebung Farm – the same place he grew up on Martha’s Vineyard.
Although city-living refined his culinary flair – honing his skills in the kitchens of New York’s Babbo and London’s St John Bread and Wine – he’s since returned to the farm where he hosts evening dinners and a supper club. Vegetables are pulled from the same ground where he played as a kid, animals are reared for meat, and fresh fish is purchased from the local fish market which he describes as “the best in the world.” As anybody raised on the island will testify, this is New England cuisine done right.
Fischer’s reputation continues to grow, and by now Beetlebung is a Martha’s Vineyard institution. While famous guests have been known to pass through, dinner on the farm is a laid-back, unpretentious affair with food and wine as its centerpiece.
We spoke to the chef about life on the farm, comfort food and the secret to forging your own path.
Timberland: When did you decide that food was your calling?
I grew up with a family that farmed, hunted and fished for our food, so it was inborn. It was only natural for me to learn to take these beautiful ingredients and do something exciting with them. Taking part in every step of the process from the harvesting of the wood for fuel to the birthing of the animals we eventually eat.
T: How would you describe your cooking style?
Simple. Confident. Being part of a small community that produces food influences every decision you make, from what you’re growing to what you’re cooking and how you cook it. Not only do you not want to mess it up because you know what went into it, but you want to make the grower proud.
T: How has it evolved?
First I understood good food. What it meant to be nourished, and the benefits of a healthy body from years of proper nutrition. Then I learned how to cook. Slowly at first, and then trial by fire in one of the most elite kitchens in the world at Babbo Ristorante in Greenwich Village.
There is a time as a chef when you focus on yourself and technique, not always paying attention to the customer. I went through this and eventually learned enough to see that pristine ingredients are the only way to start and the only thing that matters is that the customer feels satisfied with their meal.
T: What’s your idea of comfort food?
Eating food with a story behind it. Knowing the hands that brought this meal to my plate. Taking part in the harvesting of my own food makes eating it so sacred. I know the aches and pains that went into this food, the responsibility and care – it nourishes me.
T: What was it like to grow up on the farm?
My childhood was filled with Wiffle® ball, drinking from hoses and hundreds of shared meals. We always ate lunch together as a family. Always three generations together, sometimes four. There was always something fresh from the garden on the table and it was served simply. More often than not, we ate with our hands.
T: Talk us through a day in your life.
Every day is different. One day I’ll be building a fence or a chimney. The next I’ll be cooking for the President or my family. One day I’ll be chopping wood and making compost. The next I’ll be breeding rabbits, refilling their water bowls while rotating their cages over my asparagus patches. I deliver oysters in the back door of some of the best restaurants in Manhattan. I eat in Chinatown often. I also grow flowers, teach children how to cook and produce pop-up restaurants on occasion. Some months have been spent writing a book, others spent building stonewalls and gardens in Sonoma. Last winter, I helped open a restaurant in Tokyo.
T: Is there anything you miss about city living?
Competition. Stimulation. Collaboration. The arts. The drive. During the off-season, I am there frequently.
Something about my personality is drawn to New York. There’s such a high concentration of creative and innovative people there are all feeding off this certain energy. You can go to New York City and see the best and eat the best of anything.
T: How do you define your style? Does such a varied lifestyle influence what you wear?
Refined but casual. I spend a lot of time in hot kitchens, so I’m constantly taking clothes off and putting them back on – going from one extreme to another. I like clothes that are durable, that I can beat up – and that will look good as they’re beaten up. I’m really hard on my clothes and I wear them until they fall off me.
T: How does Timberland align with your style?
You can't perform well in life without the right tools. Timberland provides comfort, style and durability which allows me to do my job with more confidence and courage.
T: When do you feel most at home?
When I am lying down in front of the fire at home with a sore body and a full belly.
T: What are your favorite spots on Martha’s Vineyard?
Larsen’s Fish Market, which I think is the best fish market in the world. It sits on the docks in Menemsha and is run by a no-nonsense fishmonger named Betsy.
Great Rock Bight Nature Preserve is my favorite hike on the island, and also where we spread my mother’s ashes. Hike through Beetlebung and down a dune to a peaceful cove that reminds me of a treasure island.
Our farm too, of course, is where I work and where our family has shared hundreds of meals together. It gives me peacefulness, grounds me and gives me purpose. When I am walking in the woods and I can't see a single house – to be surrounded by trees and squirrels and birds is so tranquil. If you’re lucky you will see some deer too.
T: If you weren’t working on the farm or in a kitchen, what else could you imagine yourself doing?
I like to write a lot; it’s a certain type of communication just like cooking is. I like to write down these specific emotions and feelings that I don't know how to express otherwise. I also like to point out the simple things in life that make it whole. I consider myself blessed to live the life I do and would like to inspire others to make similar choices for themselves.
T: How would someone follow in your footsteps?
By coloring outside the lines. Imagining a life with no boundaries and no rules. Dreaming of the life you want and meandering your way there. Dreaming big while working small.
T: What does the Modern Trail mean to you?
It’s about expecting the unexpected; always keep people guessing.