LACONIA — As a six-year-old, Kevin Halligan was asking for cooking utensils, at 13 he was working in a commercial kitchen, by 17 was the line cook at local restaurant and this week he is a "celebrity chef," one of eight from all corners of the state chosen by the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association to mark the third annual Restaurant Week.
"It's been cool," said Halligan, who throughout the week has offered a three- course, prix-fixe menu at the Local Eatery in Veterans Square, alongside the diverse 10 entrees on the regular menu, which changes every two weeks. "It's given me an opportunity to bring something different to the area," he said.
The chefs were selected for their contributions to the culinary community.
"I'm definitely simplistic," Hallingan remarked. "Usually there are not more than five ingredients in a dish. Simple food done well let's the ingredients shine."
Halligan gathers his ingredients from nearby farms while raising his own pork and collecting his own eggs. "I think I bought two bags of mixed greens during the winter," he conceded. P.T. Farm in Haverhill provides beef, Ramblin' Ewe in Gilford lamb, and Bonnie Brae Farms in Plymouth venison. "We're serving oysters from Great Bay five hours after they're brought ashore," he said, "and I'm working with the community supported fishery in Portsmouth to get whatever — hake, pollock, monkfish."
Halligan uses the entire animal, from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail and everything inside. "A little while ago we had ravioli with braised lamb neck, short ribs and some other stuff that was delicious," he said. From innards he makes pates and liverwurst and has been known to serve tongue as an entree.
Beans & Greens Farm in Gilford serves as a cornucopia of fresh vegetables and home to Halligan's pigs. He draws on foragers for fiddleheads and ramps in the springtime and gardeners for produce in the summer. Last year he bought a ton of potatoes, half of it from the Grafton County Jail. All the fruit and berries are picked at local orchards and farms. "New Hampshire peaches are the best," he said. "I wouldn't serve a Georgia peach."
Halligan tailors his menus around the seasons, serving what nature produces in its prime. With asparagus, along with Brussels sprout among his favorites, coming into season, he said he will be serving lots of it soon. At the same time, by freezing and preserving, he is able to serve homegrown produce throughout the year.
Altogether, Halligan partners with more than three dozen local suppliers, including wineries, distilleries and brewers. Nothing served at the Local Eatery has traveled more than 138 miles to the diner's plate.
For Restaurant Week, Halligan is offering a first course of braised beef cheek crostini with carmelized spring onions, blue cream sauce and chives, oysters gratinee with pernod cream, tomato and parmesan and oat cakes with goat cheese, red onion jam and spinach. The second course features cucumbers, tomatos, olives, feta, greens and a quail egg, or beef tartar with caper mustard dressing and house chips, or fiddlehead tempura with baby carrots, ginger soy dip and hot chili sauce. Finally, there is pekito crusted pollock with lobster rissoto, baby kale, bacon and gouda sauce, or pork chop with red onion jam, potato latke and apple parsnip puree, or mushroom cakes with brown rice, red onion and spinach.
Both Halligan and his wife Gillian grew up in Laconia, where they worked in restaurants from a young age. Gillian's grandfather built the Christmas Island Steak House nearly 50 years ago and it has remained in the family for three generations. Kevin was schooled at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont, and returned to cook at Christmas Island before the couple purchased the Village Bakery in 2007.
Two years ago, obsessed with becoming the first chef to open a restaurant offering dishes fashioned of local ingredients, Halligan opened the Local Eatery. "This is what I like," he said, noting it is "only a step away from the bakery." The venture has met his expectations. "We have 35 seats and we'll turn the place over three times on Fridays and Saturdays and serve 70 to 80 people on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Halligan was not the only chef from the Lakes Region to enjoy celebrity status this week. As corporate chef of T-Bones and Cactus Jack's, Nicole Barreira, who has been in the business since the age of 14, plans and develops all seasonal and specialty menus for the restaurants. Roland von Gunten, born and raised in Switzerland,is director of culinary operations for the Common Man family of restaurants, which he joined in 2007 after making his mark with the Alpine Resort Hotels in Switzerland and the Swiss Hotal Lafayette in Boston.