Interview with an Executive Chef: Shawn Calley from Amuse

Meet Executive Chef Shawn Calley of Amuse, the main restaurant at The Essex Resort & Spa in Burlington, Vermont. Before he won over the hearts and appetites of Vermonters, Shawn studied interpersonal communications as an undergraduate in Michigan. Two years in, he made a bold career move to attend culinary school in Pittsburgh, and, as he says, “Haven’t looked back since.” With a passion for flavor and farm-to-table cooking, Shawn strives to bring innovation to every dish. Here, he gives Rue La La an inside look at the limitless opportunities in the life of a head chef, his thoughts on cooking locally, and the trick to the perfect risotto.


Rue La La: What do you consider your specialty?
Chef Shawn Calley: I love heavy classic French with a modern twist. Taking an old dish and rediscovering the flavors in a new way.

RLL: Is Amuse a French restaurant?
CSC: I wouldn’t call it a French restaurant, but it’s based on classic French style. I like pushing the edge, getting people to try new things. I’m passionate about the local movement. We use as many local proteins as possible. We make all of the sausage and charcuterie in-house.

RLL: Do you work with farmers directly?
CSC: Yes, I deal with about 20 different farmers. For instance, our maple syrup, beef, and the majority of our vegetables are from local Vermont farms. Unfortunately, having cold climates, we can’t be 100% local.

RLL: What is your favorite thing to cook?
CSC: I would say braising – short ribs, duck, anything.

RLL: What can a guest expect to take away from one of your classes at the Cook Academy?
CSC: It’s hands-on. It’s about coming in and cooking yourself and being able to reproduce what you make at home. I want guests to go home with a new skill set. In a three-hour class, we’ll cook for the first two, then in the last hour the chef becomes the server, we drink a glass of wine, and eat what we’ve created. At the beginning of every class, I say, “We’re going to talk about food.” It’s interactive. They’ve got me for that hour, so if someone wants to know the trick to risotto, we’ll talk.

RLL: It sounds like you like to teach.
CSC: I started teaching at the Essex’s culinary school before Amuse opened. I love getting people excited about food – they feed off my excitement.

RLL: Who inspires you?
CSC: Thomas Keller. His was one of my first cookbooks in culinary school.

RLL: What do you like most about running your own kitchen?
CSC: I like the freedom to do what I want with the food. No limits. I go wherever my artistic mind takes me. I can change the menu whenever I want. They said, “Do what you do, make good food.” No restrictions.

RLL: Any favorite restaurants in Vermont in particular – outside of Amuse, of course?
CSC: I would say L’Amante or Hen of the Wood.

The Essex Resort & Spa – Burlington, VT Boutique opens Thursday, March 7, at 11AM ET.

By Julia Ivins, Staff Writer

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March 7, 2013