If Fish Could Fly
Chef Jeff Finch gets whole, fresh fish delivered to his restaurant 4-to-5 times a week. He butchers the fish himself to keep it as fresh as possible.
He got something a little unusual in the shipment this week.
“A fish purveyor called me and said he came across a pile of cod cheeks, so we’re also going to have a cod cheek special,” he says. And yes, he means, “Literally the cheeks.” He prepared it with panko bread crumbs and served it over a sushi rice cake.
Finch’s Brasserie has made a name for itself in Bloomington over the past six years as a restaurant dedicated to buying ingredients from local farms. But if you want to serve good fish in a restaurant in southern Indiana, Chef Finch says you have no choice — you have to fly it in.
“Sometimes people complain that the fish is a little expensive,” he says. “It is. I agree, because it’s expensive to us, too,” but he’s not willing to compromise on the quality of the fish he serves.
Eating In Winter
It’s slim pickings from his local farm sources this time of year. He just got a delivery of butternut squash, eggs and frozen tomatoes and strawberries, which definitely can’t fill out the restaurant’s menu. And after all, they are in the business of feeding people.
“If we were to solely count on the farmers this time of year, we would all be eating a lot of squash,” he says.
In order to stay true to their mission while still providing a diverse selection of dishes, they expand their definition of what it means to eat “local.” During the spring and summer, they can source ingredients from within a 50-mile radius of the restaurant, but during winter, they expand that reach to a 3-state radius.
And they count on their customers to understand that being a restaurant that works with the growing season means their menu sometimes won’t include a customer’s favorite dish.
Take the mussels, which they source from Prince Edward Island and the Calendar Islands. First of all, this is how they’re being served this week:
The preparation right now is a celeriac cream sauce. Celeriac, also known as celery root, is a tuberous vegetable, very similar in taste to celery, but it’s not as bitter and it has a creamier texture. It’s a mild celery flavor so it doesn’t overpower the flavor of the mussels. We sweat the celery root, mix in a little bit of cream and then puree it all to a really fine consistency. Then we strain it so it has a really nice fine texture. We also put a little bit of bacon and leeks in there and sweat it all together — and voilà!
You can order the mussels now, but co-owner Candace Finch explains that they heard plenty of feedback from customers last summer when they took them off the menu. She references the old saying that you should only eat shellfish during months with an R.
“When mussels or any mollusk go out of season, they do some interesting things,” she says. “They’re a little confused as to whether or not they’re male or female.” As a result, they couldn’t guarantee the freshness of the mussels, so they pulled the dish from the menu.
The Smoke Before The Scallop
Scallops are near and dear to Chef Finch’s heart, which is why he’s keen to give cooking advice.
“People generally don’t cook scallops well at home,” he says. The problem is people don’t get the pan hot enough to properly sear the scallops. How hot is hot enough?
“You fill your entire house up with smoke, which a lot of people don’t like to do.”
Scallops are sweet and rich naturally, so the caramelization that comes from searing them adds a touch of bitter, and that’s what Finch is going for in his scallop dishes. “That’s the best way to do it.”