This is the first in a series profiling local chefs and sharing their favorite summer recipes.
Charles Kelsey doesn't need to tell you about his turkey sandwich.
He could if he wanted to, of course. He could write a whole paragraph about the antibiotic-free, veggie-fed roast turkey breast, the French almond bread or the house-made, bread-and-butter pickles. But he's not going to – unless you ask.
"My whole thing is, I'm just going to put it on a plate, and you're going to notice it," said Kelsey, the chef and owner behind Cutty's sandwich shop in Brookline Village. "If you want to know more, you're going to ask."
A former food critic and cook who spent five years tooling around with recipes at American's Test Kitchen on Station Street – about a block from his new restaurant – Kelsey is all about fresh, seasonal ingredients and getting recipes right.
But he's sick of the foodie trend – he calls it a "gimmick" – of menus stocked with ingredients and culinary techniques that people don't know or understand. He has a motto: "Eat first, ask questions later."
Unsurprisingly, the menus at Cutty's are decidedly straightforward. Scrawled in black marker on sheets of butcher paper tacked to the chalkboard wall, they list basic sandwiches (ham, roast beef, roast beef and bologna), a soup (tomato last week) and salads (organic mixed greens, carrot-chickpea, and wheatberry-beet).
Then there are the special sandwiches, which recently included the "spukie" (ciabatta roll with olive salad, housemade mozerella, roasted eggplant), ham (pimiento cheese and house-made pickles on a baggette) and a BLTJ (bacon, lettuce and tomato jelly).
What the menu doesn't tells you is that Kelsey decided to put the tomato-jelly BLT on the menu because he isn't satisfied with the quality of tomatoes available this time of year. He insist the jelly, which he makes in house by reducing down tomatoes and adding seasoning, imparts a better flavor than off-season tomatoes.
But Kelsey said he doesn't "nerd out" over his ingredients because he wants his food to be accessible. He hates the word "gourmet" and is fond of saying, "In the end, it's just a sandwich."
"In my mind, this should just be the standard," he said. "It doesn't take much effort go get more quality."
Kelsey's humble approach to his own cuisine is reflected in his prices as well: Sandwiches top out at $7.95 for the most expensive special, and go for as little as $3.95 for a half. Salads range from $3.75 to $6.95.
Four months after opening his first restaurant, Kelsey said he isn't thinking too much about the future yet. But he hasn't give up his original vision for Cutty's: a food truck that would take his craft sandwiches out the streets.
Cutty's Tomato Jam
1 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, cored and chopped coarse
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Scant cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red chile flake
1 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in medium heavy-bottom pot and cook over medium-high heat until bubbling. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick and syrupy, about 1 hour. Cool the jam, season with salt and pepper if necessary, and serve.
Great for BLTs, especially when tomatoes are out of season.
Cutty's is located at 284 Washington St. in Brookline Village. More information at cuttyfoods.com.