All photos/art by Keller + Keller
Frank McClelland can’t stop talking about his new John Deere tractor. “It’s incredible. If you drive into that building,” he says, pointing to the barn behind his white-clapboard farmhouse in coastal Essex, Massachusetts, “the building goes down. It does nothing to the tractor, though. It’s a beast. And we’ll be able to plant six acres in, like, five days.”
You could forgive him this rare bit of braggadocio. He is, after all, one of Boston’s most acclaimed chefs: owner of the successful Sel de la Terre bistros, co-author of the cookbook Wine Mondays, and, most famously, proprietor of L’Espalier (next door to the Mandarin Oriental hotel), in whose hushed dining rooms power brokers feast on multicourse dinners, while gray-suited staffers recite the provenance of every lettuce leaf and dispense sparkling water like a benediction.
But to meet the man at home, a natural in jeans and patty-kickers, you’d never guess that he’s the high priest of a gastronomic temple. Except for this: In every conversation about his Apple Street Farm, which he bought with his wife, Heather, in 2008, he’s contemplating the new breed of turkeys he’s raising, or the espaliered apple trees he’d like to grow, or some other way to make the farm better and harder-working.
McClelland rises most days before dawn to put in several hours in the barn and fields before heading into the city, returning home after the dinner shift. A farm manager now helps him run Apple Street’s CSA (community-supported agriculture) program, which feeds more than 50 local families. And Heather handles the daily operations of both the farm and their combined family of five children. But when McClelland talks about his life before the farm, when he “used to have hobbies,” he’s not kidding. It’s a three-shift day, every day.
It’s also the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. As a child, McClelland spent summers on his grandparents’ “gentleman’s farm” in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Even when he was living in downtown Boston and running L’Espalier out of a classic brownstone on Gloucester Street, he still grew herbs, lettuces, and radishes in a rooftop garden. His food may be refined, but it’s rooted in a love of great produce, fresh from the soil.
All of this gives Thanksgiving a special meaning for Frank and Heather. It’s a large feast, attended by a core group–the children; Frank’s sister, Cathy, and her husband, Tim Kelly; his friend Daniel Bojorquez, chef de cuisine at Sel de la Terre in Natick, and his wife, Emily–plus friends who come over after their own feasts are done. It’s a celebration of the year’s work, an act of gratitude for this great bounty.
“I’m chasing a dream …” McClelland says as he walks out to the barn, “… the perfect meal.” The menu on these pages is a great place to start.
SLIDE SHOW: Thanksgiving Feast