In his sumptuous cookbook Black Trumpet, A Chef’s Journey Through Eight New England Seasons, Evan Mallet writes, “You can taste passion. . . .Passion is the blood that runs in a great restaurant's veins. Without it, the guest tastes just another dish in just another restaurant." Evan is the owner-chef of Black Trumpet, a small bistro in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. His passion for food, flavors, and a sustainable food system are clearly evident in both his cookbook and his restaurant.
The Black Trumpet is nestled in the buildings that line Portmouth’s historic 18th century wharf. The building, an old shipping warehouse, has a long legacy of creative, passionate cuisine. In the 1970s, James Haller, was the self-taught chef at a restaurant called “The Blue Strawbery.”* Haller, Evan feels, changed “the face of dining in America once and for all.” He was an extraordinary innovator of flavors and a localvore visionary, even before the likes of Alice Waters and the Modern American cuisine movement set in. “You should know,” Evan told me, “that the Blue Strawbery legacy is something I think about every day. I am so lucky to have inherited those amazing vibes in an extraordinary space. We’ve been adding our own juices to that legacy for 12 years now.”
And indeed, Evan is adding to the spirit of food innovation in New England and enhancing our regional culinary identity with a blend of the exotic and the traditional. Black Trumpet’s menu inclines toward unexpected flavors, many from Mexico, where he and family lived from 2001 to 2007. On the small plate menu are Refried Lentil Tlacoyo with farmer’s cheese and house hot sauce. Medium size dishes include Quail Adobado, and goat carpaccio served with arugula, pickled fall mushrooms, shaved carrots, and nasturtiums.
Evan is one of a growing number of chefs in the Northeast who are including goat meat on their menus. His time in Mexico, where goat meat is a staple, and his adventurous nature lead him to search for a source of good goat meat. Discouraged at first of ever finding a quality supplier, he eventually found Shirley Richardson at Vermont Chevon. “Shirley is one of those outside-the-box thinkers who can change the course of an entire food system….[She] witnessed a break in the American food supply chain that could actually be fixed, and she did something about it.”
Both Evan and Shirley were (are) aware of the horrible waste that was (is) happening in the goat dairy production. Americans now love the goat cheeses that are being produced today, but there is a cost of this food we now love if we don’t look at the whole agricultural ecosystem. The truth is you only need one male stud to serve a herd of milking goats. The “excess” male goats are just slaughtered and wasted. This makes no sense. USDA statistics for 2014 reveal that the U.S. imported 43,188 million pounds of goat meat from Australia.
Evan’s meat dishes feature goat right along with all the other conventional meats. He believes that this meat is finally being recognized as the “other red meat” that is both delicious and much more nutritious. “Side by side with lamb,” Evan says, “goat often possesses a cleaner, more neutral flavor that lends itself to cooking in number of ways.” Here’s a wonderful recipe from Black Trumpet.
If you’re traveling in New Hampshire, stopping in Portsmouth (which is lovely) and making it to the Black Trumpet would be well worth it. And after an exquisite meal, think about taking Evan’s cooking back home in the form of his cookbook.
*Blue Strawbery is the colonial spelling of Portsmouth’s historic Strawbery Bank district.