Living in Rhode Island, surrounded by a wealth of Italian-American culture, we’ve heard plenty about the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes that Italian families enjoy on Christmas Eve.
We’re not inside that culture, but we love to cook and eat. And we had so many questions: which seven fishes? Or is it one fish cooked seven ways? What wines do you drink with all that? What’s for dessert? (Ok, admittedly, we ask that at every meal.)
All of the questions were resolved in a glorious sweep of hospitality and culinary education on our visit yesterday to the Ocean House, a Grand Hotel perched atop a bluff overlooking the sea in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.
Our host, Laurie Hobbs, guided us through sparkly festoons of Christmas finery to the resort’s Center for Wine & Culinary Arts, where Chef Ryan Beaudoin stood behind the counter of an elegant Gaggenau demonstration kitchen.
He was armed and ready with room-temperature ingredients: Atlantic salmon, squid, shrimp, clams, mussels, fennel, clam juice, kosher and sea salts, marinara sauce, a few varieties of olive oils. And chunk of butter as big as my head.
This Feast of the Fishes Workshop was one of many offered by the Center during the holiday season, along with a Holiday Cocktail and Canapes Class, a Yule Log Workshop, and a Cookie and Cupcake Decorating Class (a big hit with kids).
Christmas season aside, the Center embraces a year-round mission of teaching and tasting food and wine at Ocean House and her nearby sister properties, Weekapaug Inn and Watch Hill Inn.
(Ocean House is one of only 13 Forbes Triple Five-Star hotels in the world. Triple Five-Stars means five stars for accommodations, five stars for the COAST restaurant, and five stars for the OH! Spa at Ocean House. Ocean House is a member of Relais & Chateaux, an exclusive collection of the finest hotels and restaurants in 60 countries.)
Beaudoin is director of culinary education – a teacher as well as a cook – and the resort’s forger, which doesn’t mean, as I first assumed, that he stumps around the woods with a mushroom basket, poking at the underbrush. What it means is that Beaudoin knows the nearest and best farmers, vineyards, fishermen, oystermen, butchers, dairymen, cider makers and others to procure locally sourced ingredients for the resort’s excellent kitchens.
Together with Jonathan Feiler, the Center’s sommelier and director of wine education, Beaudoin spreads knowledge and appreciation of good food and wine to resort guests and member of the public who crave learning and tasting in good company. Examples of some recent workshops and tastings include “In the Kitchen: Charcuterie 101”; “In the Cellar: Beers, Brats & Barbecue”; “In the Cellar: The World of Rum & Tropical Bites”; “From Vine to Wine: The Bold & Beautiful.” Who’s salivating now?
Additionally, the Brewmaster’s Social takes place at the Weekapaug Inn on one Thursday evening a month from October through May. This is a three-course meal in which Executive Chef Devin Bozkaya prepares a menu complementing the handiwork of a local brewer, who is also in attendance.
(See at the end of this article, a partial list of 2019 events and food and wine workshops at Ocean House and Weekapaug Inn )
The public is invited to all of these food-loving events. Be assured, if you attend you are in the care of experts who love food and wine, and – most especially – want you to enjoy it, too, as a consumer or a cook.
Back to the Feast of the Fishes, Beaudoin explained that Italian families develop their own varieties of the tradition, which may involve a few fishes prepared different ways or more varieties of fish dishes than you can shake a rod at. Each dish is a small portion, to allow room in the stomach for lots more to come, he said.
(Beaudoin, son of a French-American dad and an Irish-American mom, grew up on a cuisine of “boiled gray meat and dry potatoes.” He found his love of cooking at Johnson & Wales University, a Providence-based institution that is sending good meals across the globe.)
He wielded his knife and pans with precision, slicing fennel and garlic, sautéing gently and laying pieces of fish atop vegetables in the pan, sprinkling olive oil, passing small plates of artistry across the counter.
Conversation was about the difference between kosher and sea salts (number of facets and surface area of the crystals); biodiversity and hybridization of grains; some social chat about local restaurants and chefs and fishing fleets.
It was a delicious and fun afternoon at Ocean House, where everyone who served us wanted us to thoroughly enjoy the bounty of the place, from crostini to vast, elevated views of the Rhode Island coastline. We will go back with pleasure.
Ocean House 2019 Events (selected list)
January 1: New Year’s Day Brunch in the Bistro. Ring in the New Year with a savory brunch in The Bistro.
January 12: From Vine to Wine: Wines of Napa Valley. If you’ve never experienced the beauty and tantalizing taste of West Coast wines, this education experience is the one for you.
January 19 & 26: In the Kitchen: Hearty Soups & Stocks. As winter marches on in Southern New England, spend the afternoon in the kitchen with the Ocean House Food Forager creating several homemade soups.
February 9: In the Kitchen: Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate. What better way to celebrate the upcoming Valentine’s Day than by exploring all the ways we can prepare and enjoy chocolate?
February 16: From Vine to Wine: Romantic Wines. Experience a romantic journey through some of our most loved wines.
March 9: In the Kitchen: More Than Just Corned Beef & Cabbage. When it comes to learning how to cook, there’s more to the art than just throwing together “corned beef and cabbage.”
March 16: From Vine to Wine: Barrel-Aged Wines. Learn the process of barrel-aging wine and how this process affects the taste and vitality of certain wines.
March 23: In the Kitchen: Taste of New Orleans: Cajun and Creole Cuisine. Learn how to recreate traditional New Orleans meals and insert your own twist.
March 30: In the Cellar: Scotch, Malt Whiskey & Smoked Meats. Learn about the scotch and whiskey process while sampling smoked meats with select scotch and malt whiskey pairings.
April 6: From Vine to Wine: Old World vs. New World Chardonnay. Chardonnay may have a classic taste, but it has changed throughout the centuries.
April 13: In the Kitchen: Cuisine of the Southwest. Learn about what makes Southwest cuisine different from the rest of the nation with this educational and delicious experience.
April 18-20: Ocean House Culinary Boot Camp. Explore the fundamentals of the culinary arts as you work in the Ocean House kitchens studying basic cooking methods, learning knife skills, and enjoying culinary discussions.
April 27: In the Cellar: Dessert Pairings. Learn about the different types of dessert pairings while sampling some of our favorites—and soon to be yours!
May 2: Farm & Vine Dinner. Enjoy a delicious fixed menu from us at Ocean House.
May 4: From Vine to Wine: Wines of Austria. You don’t need to hop on a plane in order to experience the exquisite wines of Austria.
May 11: In the Kitchen: Truffles for Mom. Learn all about truffles and delectable dishes you can make for mom this Mother’s Day.
May 18: From Vine to Wine: Southern Hemisphere Wines. Learn about the different wines from the Southern Hemisphere and go on an international journey through your taste buds.
May 25: In the Cellar: Spring Fondue and Wine. In this innovative class we’ll explore new ways to bring an old classic back.
June 8: From Vine to Wine: Sauvignon Blanc from Around the World. Sauvignon Blanc is not a wine of only one flavor.
June 13: Farm & Vine Dinner. Enjoy a delicious fixed menu from us at Ocean House.
June 15-29: In the Kitchen: New England Clambake & Lobster Boil. Find out why New England is home to some of the best clambakes and lobster boils in the nation!
June 20: Manicures & Martinis. Celebrate the beginning of summer with a cool martini and a lovely manicure at Ocean House’s top-rated OH! Spa.
June 21: Kickoff to Summer Oyster Roast. What better way to ring in summer than a raw bar by the beach?
June 22: In the Cellar: Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Oysters & Caviar. Learn about the perfect champagne and sparkling wine pairings with luxury seafood, such as oysters and caviar.
June 26: Stock Your Cellar & Wine Tasting. Replenish your wine cellar by tasting some of the best wines Ocean House has to offer with this wonderful Stock Your Cellar & Wine Tasting event.
July 12, 19, & 26: Lobster Boil & BBQ (Fridays only). Join us for a traditional New England Lobster Boil where you will find seafood from our local waters, classic grill items, and fresh sides.
July 13: From Vine to Wine: Rose! Have you ever wondered about the process behind the creation of the delightfully sweet and tart rose wine?
July 27: From Vine to Wine: Summer Red Wines. Some red wines bring to mind a warm and serene summary day. Cool off your taste buds with these delicious red wines that perfectly compliment the summer.
August 2, 9 & 23: Lobster Boil & BBQ. Join us for a traditional New England Lobster Boil where you will find seafood from our local waters, classic grill items, and fresh sides.
August 5, 12, 19 & 26: All American BBQ on the Beach. Indulge in a classic BBQ fare Ocean House beachside, while taking in a movie at dusk.
August 10: From Vine to Wine: Wines from the Iberian Peninsula. Just because the summer might be in its final stages doesn’t mean you can’t go on one more vacation! Take a trip to the Iberian Peninsula through your wine glass.
August 15: Louis Latour Grand Tasting. Satisfy your taste buds with a night of Louis Latour Grand Cru Wines. Taste up to 20 wines and enjoy passed canapés.
August 24: From Vine to Wine: Wine Cocktails. Some of the most delicious cocktails are made with wine. We’ll take you on a tour of the wine cocktail process that you’re sure to love.