At six a.m. on a Tuesday morning, a father and son quietly creep through the woods around Dover, New Hampshire, searching for elusive brassica leaves, aster flowers, sunchoke and black garlic. All ingredients that the hunter and gatherer hope to plate up for tonight’s dinner at Stages at One Washington, one of the country’s top new restaurants owned and operated by Chef Evan Hennessey.
Chef Hennessey is bringing new meaning to the idea of living off the land to Dover and to anyone who visits, offering his guests locally sourced and foraged produce, and meat and poultry from farmers with whom he has longstanding relationships. Often going to the farms himself to see the animal husbandry and slaughter, he forms a relationship with the food before he prepares it, ensuring that the animals are happy and well-cared for, which is quite unorthodox and refreshing in today’s factory farmed food economy.
Although Evan has spent most of his life in Dover, his culinary skills have been sampled and awarded internationally by the likes of James Beard and StarChefs.com where he recently was named the region’s rising star. His approach to creating novel culinary experiences each night is as fresh as whatever he’s picked that morning. Tonight’s dinner will be comprised of a twenty-seven course tasting menu, something that even chef Hennessey isn’t sure he can pull off. But that’s his whole philosophy.
He says, “We have something that we like to say: Never stop creating, never stop pushing, never stop. We wanted to create something that nobody has tried here yet. A restaurant that never stops changing, evolving, and creating. Our mission is to utilize produce, meats, fish, and products only from local farms. To create an old world approach to sourcing our food. A relationship with nature that evolves with growing cycles and schedules and local farms. Those farms growing vegetables and herbs just for us, and because of us. Raising heritage breed poultry, pigs, and sheep, just for us. Eggs from the farmers hands directly to us. Fish dictated by what the fishermen tells us they’ve just caught as they are coming back into dock. This system has led to our food constantly evolving, becoming more thoughtful, more purposeful, more rooted in history.”
Tonight, I’m one of eight foodies sitting in the large kitchen that comprises one third of the space, while another twenty-two are eagerly awaiting their own portions in the dining room. I taste two mouthfuls of ingredients like smoked duck, black currant jam, fried leek roots and honey caviar sorbet.
There’s a bite of cabbage, mushroom, smoked crème fraiche and black garlic.
Another of preserved cucumber, long bean, sunchoke, artichoke and tiny yellow aster flowers.
Followed by peas, Romanesco, pickled mushroom, brassica leaves and forest flowers.
Pork neck, potato millefeuille, blistered carrot, rutabaga jam…
The courses go on and on and on, ending with sorbet that has been spun with house-smoked and caramelized popcorn.
At some point I simply lose count and the ability to know what exactly it is that I’m consuming. It’s all alien but I succumb to the invasion and it all tastes amazing and looks like art. I almost feel bad eating it.
I walk out feeling more satisfied from a meal than I can remember. Knowing the amount of work and care that went into each bite is remarkable, and I feel like I’ve just experienced what I used to think of as a cliché: food made with love just tastes better. Chef Hennessey loves what he does, and he pours that love and care back into the local community, making for a sustainable and unique top-tier restaurant in an unlikely spot. If you make the trip up through the North Eastern corridor to visit, it will be worth it.