Cassoulet, Creative Salads Warm Up Winter at Good News Cafe in Woodbury
By Douglas P. Clement
Published: Saturday, February 16, 2013
If you've had the pleasure of dining at Carole Peck's Good News Café in Woodbury, which is as fresh and inventive as ever as it nears its 20th anniversary, this will make sense: So perfectly intoxicating are the dishes conceived by a chef who treasures local ingredients with great integrity, and so uncanny are the flavor combinations, you can almost see them build architecturally in your mind when Ms. Peck does something as simple as recite a list of ingredients.
And even when those ingredients are for a salad, your mouth waters; the sensation can't be stopped. Ms. Peck is that talented, that creative, and, she'll add, that stubborn about quality-a trait that has her, after all these years, still insistently making her own mayonnaise and catsup from scratch.
"Chopped winter salad," she says in beginning one such litany on a cold winter's night, describing dishes that have been photographed, before referencing other pleasures, like cassoulet, that are arriving on the seasonal winter menu-"with orange slices, a dusting of Mediterranean spices, cucumber, celery, pomegranate, pine nuts, feta cheese, mint, arugula and dressed with an orange-vanilla vinaigrette."
Joining that starter delight, which will remain on the menu until pomegranates go out of season, is a vegetarian dish that is anything but simple and bland. These "roasted sweet potatoes" are not only embellished with "fried pineapple, wild rice [and] broccoli" but are completed with "a coconut milk curried sauce."
Such creativity-and the fact that the results always look and taste wonderful-are doubtless what lured a head-turning foursome to come in for lunch late last year. That's right, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's birthday weekend in Litchfield County, included lunch with Bill and Chelsea, and Chelsea's husband, Marc Mezvinsky, at Good News Café.
The chef, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and opened her first Connecticut restaurant, Carole Peck's in New Milford, in the summer of 1988, has so adeptly fine tuned her reputation for culinary excellence over the past two decades in Woodbury that Good News is on the list of favorites, or aspired-to destinations, for sophisticated diners everywhere.
How does she do it? "I can eat in my head," Ms. Peck says of her process of renewing favored dishes and creating new ones. And that "constant renewal" and creativity comes from "the heart and soul. . It's about food that has great flavor and integrity." Lots of chefs say that, of course. In Ms. Peck's case, the proof is on the plate, and also evident in every aspect of Good News Café.
Another hallmark Mr. Jarrier mentions is consistency.
Guests who encounter Good News this winter will find the game plate of recent menus replaced with a venison tenderloin, served with a hallmark chestnut flan and Brussels sprouts, and topped with frizzled leeks. And rich, wonderful cassoulet is also joining the winter menu.
The salmon entrée-Ms. Peck loves being creative with fish dishes-is being switched out for one featuring braised red cabbage, a mustard sauce, smashed potatoes and a snow pea salad.
Portuguese marinated quails that come from farm in Texas are arriving on a menu that, inclusively, features lots of vegetarian and vegan dishes and more than 20 items that are gluten free.
The result of all this is a very loyal base of customers, including the college student who had been abroad in Venice but made sure to stop at Good News for a meal before going back to school. As Ms. Peck relates the anecdote, the food in Italy may have been heavenly, but there was a sameness to it that left the young woman pining for some Carole Peck-style creativity.
Good News has one of the happiest environments around in which to enjoy the chef's culinary creations, and a significant factor in that are the revolving exhibits of art that Mr. Jarrier oversees. He does six shows a year, and the next one features Ryan Fitzgerald, whose exhibit, entitled "Palisadoes" will be shown from Feb. 5 to April 2. The artist will be at an opening reception for the public, with complimentary hors d'oeuvres and wine, from 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 10.
Located at 694 Main St. South in Woodbury, Good News Cafe is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, closed Tuesdays and open from noon to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Call the restaurant at 203-266-4663 for reservations. The Web site is www.good-news-cafe.com.
Bonjour Provence: Carole Peck's French Culinary Tours Add to Luster of Good News Cafe in Woodbury
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
By Douglas P. Clement
Prieure Notre Dame is a stylishly renovated 12th-century stone house in the center of an atmospheric village in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, a place where the Roman streets are extremely narrow. Originally the patrician house of a prior of the Knights Templars, it faces a 12th-century church, and between the two ancient structures a tunnel once ran under the road, a circumstance that gives rise to all sorts of torch-lit Medieval narratives.These days at Prieure Notre Dame, well-appointed guest rooms have en suite bathrooms with Philippe Starck fixtures, a spiral stone staircase and vaulted ceiling are among the dramatic architectural features admired by visitors-and the heart of the house is a master chef's kitchen with huge pocket doors that open onto a stone courtyard with a pool, so that those gathered in the kitchen are ensconced in a warm, cozy indoor space while simultaneously steeping in the intoxicating Provencal village landscape.
This is the favorite room of acclaimed chef Carole Peck and her French husband and business partner, Bernard Jarrier-or at least it's one of them. A couple that for 19 years has guided a Zagat-favored restaurant that is also notable for its sense of style and Mr. Jarrier's revolving exhibit of artists' works, and who live in Woodbury in a converted 1690s cider mill, have a pick of any number of "favorite rooms."
And if the term is viewed liberally, it becomes clear in talking with the dining power couple over nicely strong coffee and a suite of homemade cookies (think sophisticated bites, not taste-alike sweetness) that their favorite spaces involve a wide embrace-and when they are leading one of their four Provencal culinary tours each year, that embrace wraps in the best food, wine, shopping and cultural experiences in the storied south of France.
It all starts in the heart of the home, that kitchen and its dining area, and it all revolves around the fabled food and wines of Provence. "There you will enjoy cocktails and a grand family-style dinner with us on the evening of your arrival, and a delightful breakfast when you awake each morning," says a handout on the tours that guests can grab on the way out of Good News Café.
Highlights of the week-long experience include cooking classes featuring local star chefs, visits to the best covered and open-air farm markets in France (Mr. Jarrier says nothing in the U.S. compares), and dinners in the region's best bistros and acclaimed restaurants, during which Mr. Jarrier pairs the regional cuisine with the perfect wines from the best regional vineyards, along with private tastings of foods and wines at their source.
Prieure Notre Dame is in Montfrin, France, a village located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, home to many distinguished and up-and-coming wines, and not far from Chateauneuf du Pape, whose rich, powerful wines are preferred by some over the more well-known reds and whites of Burgundy and Bordeaux.
"Our special delight is to introduce sophisticated travelers to the rich history, natural beauty, and culinary delights of this extraordinary region in the south of France. Intimate tour groups of eight to 12 persons allow each participant to enjoy an unforgettable personal experience as they discover Provence from a true insider's perspective," the flier on Carole Peck's Provence Culinary Tour says.
Amid the gastronomic immersion, there are ample opportunities for shopping and antiquing, along with experiencing the region's cultural riches.
The property Ms. Peck and Mr. Jarrier bought in the spring of 2001 and extensively renovated-including the addition of floor tiles source directly from Morocco-is not too far from Marseilles, which is the 2013 European Capital of Culture, a designation that extends over a larger area from Martigues to La Ciotat, and includes Arles, Aix, Aubagne and other villages.
In fact, Montfrin is within a culturally rich triangle consisting of Arles, Nimes and Avignon, and some of the highlights that tours typically connect guests with include the Arena of Nimes, a Roman ampitheater that is still used for events and seats 20,000, and the Arles Museum of Antiquity, which has on display the oldest known bust of Julius Caesar, discovered on the banks of the Rhone River in Arles in 2008.
Then there's the stunning Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct bridge, where, late on summer nights, there are elaborate, amazing light shows-and on those long, lingering summer nights it stays light late into the evening. "June is fabulous," said Mr. Jarrier, describing how the farm markets are bursting with the fruits and fresh vegetables in season "and the days are so long."
"It's lovely," he said, sounding wistful for his native land and second home on a cold winter's evening, "and cool in the summer because of the stone."
Its best to make plans to go at least three to four months before one of the tours; the next ones are in June and places are still available. This year's dates for the week-long adventure are June 9 to 16 and 23 to 30, Sept. 22 to 29, and Oct. 6 to 13.
The cost of $4,200 per person, double occupancy, is all-inclusive-covering the luxe accomodations, all of the food, meals, wines and other beverages, sightseeing and ground transportation. The only financial responsibility of guests is their own personal purchases and air and rail fares to get to the pickup and dropoff points at the TGV high-speed train in Avignon or Nimes. To learn more, see the Web sites at www.saveurfrance.com or www.carolepeck.com/Tours, call 203-266-4622 or send an e-mail to Bernard@good-news-cafe.com.