If you’ve lived here long enough, you know Bolete. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have dined at this elegantly rustic space with a farm-to-table, scratch-made approach. You may have experienced the warm hospitality, a tone that’s been set by Erin Shea, the manager and wife of chef Lee Chizmar. Perhaps you’ve heard that Lee Chizmar was chosen five times as the chef for Outstanding in the Field, an outdoor dining concept held most recently in 2015 at Blooming Glen Farm. You may have heard all the accolades from OpenTable, whose readers voted Bolete as one of the top 100 restaurants in the country in the Diner’s Choice contest in 2014. And this year, Chizmar landed on the list of semifinalists for the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic—a tough turf with chefs from D.C., Philly and Baltimore.
Perhaps you’ve heard tell about its infamously small kitchen, with just six burners, about the size of the average home kitchen. Periodically, Chizmar has considered expanding the footprint to something larger and easier to navigate. But that might change the energy there—why mess with what works? That small kitchen’s intimacy comes through in the food.
You may have heard all these things, but what you might not know is that for Chizmar and Shea, Bolete is about family. That might sound funny considering it’s probably the last place you would consider taking young children to dine, but consider this: Chizmar, who turns 40 this month, is from Salisbury Township. Both of his parents are fantastic cooks; his father worked for Wood Dining (now part of Sodexo) and works as a culinary consultant. “My mom is an incredible chef,” he says. And his sister, Sage, was the pastry chef at Bolete when it first opened. Chizmar and Shea, who used to have the shortest commute possible (from upstairs to downstairs), now live down the street from his parents in the neighborhood he grew up in, with Lee’s best friend from childhood nearby. Kind of surreal. He nods.
“I really love the Lehigh Valley. People are different; they’re nicer. It feels like a big neighborhood here. There are things that happen here that would not have happened if we were living in a big city. We get invited to barbecues. People bring us cookies. I’ve cooked for people in the hospital,” he says. That happens when you plant roots—your customers become extended family.
As for Chizmar’s nuclear unit, he says, “Food has always been a really huge part of our family.” And it’s not an understatement. Once a month, the family, whose background is mostly Irish with some Eastern European mixed in, would pick a particular cuisine and they’d all do research and find dishes to make. More concretely, though, he remembers his first exposure to oysters, around the age of two or three, and falling in love with them. Now his oldest daughter Colton, 5, loves them, too. It’s not precious or pretentious; it’s authentic and maybe even genetic. “We were at Maxim’s one night and she was crying, and in an awful mood. I turned to her and said, ‘Cole, do you want an oyster?’” From that moment on, the crying ceased, and now “she’ll go oyster-for-oyster with me,” he says. Sharing what he calls “the romance of certain foods, like caviar, or gumbo or coq au vin, with your kids—it’s cool to be living those experiences with them, all over again,” says Chizmar.
Growing up in a food-centric house inevitably rubbed off on him, but like many culinary pros, Chizmar went through the requisite period of resistance. For years, his dad encouraged his interests, “telling me stories of chefs and [giving] me cookbooks,” but it wasn’t until halfway through college that he had his “light bulb moment” and realized he should enroll at the Culinary Institute of America. And so he did. After culinary school, he worked in San Francisco with Bradley Ogden and Jeremy Sewall at the Lark Creek Inn and followed Sewall to Great Bay in Boston; Chizmar took over when Sewall left. “Jeremy is my mentor; he taught me a ton,” he says. The experiences in California, with its abundant, nonstop produce, and Boston, with its access to unbeatably fresh seafood, were formative in multiple ways; he also met Shea at (now-closed) Great Bay. We’re blessed he landed back here nine years ago.
We’re also lucky and excited, because Chizmar and Shea are venturing into new territory, opening up a noodle bar at the Easton Public Market with a tongue-in-cheek name, Mr. Lee’s. “We were always interested in doing something different, but it has to fit. We are very protective of our family and of Bolete, but we love the whole concept of the market,” he says. At his disposal, Chizmar and his team will have the market’s farm-fresh produce along with a butcher, fishmonger and regionally sourced pantry staples such as rice, flours and grains. “There will be lots of fermented products, and mushrooms and the egg will figure heavily. It’s nice to apply what we do here at Bolete to a new approach,” he says.
Don’t worry, though, Bolete isn’t going to go totally Asian, but flavors are bound to bleed over. “Once you get started with a new project, the juices get going and you can’t stop. I see it influencing what we do here,” he says. When asked about what that might look like for Bolete, Chizmar describes his current book full of recipes, which they’ve worked from since inception. Imagine pages splattered and ink in the margins, recipe tweaks mirroring the passage of time and changes of seasons. “We’re going to close that book, and start a new one,” he says. It will still be Bolete, but rebooted, reimagined—but it’s not getting exported anywhere else. “I don’t think we would ever do another Bolete,” he says. It’d be hard to replicate that intimacy elsewhere.
Watch Chef Lee Chizmar in Action
Tune into The Chef’s Kitchen on RCN-TV Channel 4 or, for Service Electric subscribers, Comcast Network’s Channel 27, every Thurs. at 5 p.m. during the month of March to see his tips and techniques to create this recipe.
Seared Rainbow Trout
4 pieces trout fillet, pin boned1 Tbsp. blended oil2 cups diced fingerling potatoes, butter-braised1 cup shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed and quartered2 cups asparagus, peeled and blanched, cut on the hard bias1/4 cup bacon lardons1 cup spring onion julienne1 clove garlic, back sliced1 Tbsp. parsley chiffonade1 tsp. chives, thinly sliced1 tsp. butter2 tsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice1 tsp. thyme leaves2 cups baby mustard greens1 tsp. sherry vinegar4 quail eggs2 Tbsp. truffle vinaigrette
2 Tbsp. reduced warm veal stock2 Tbsp. blended oil1 tsp. minced shallots1 tsp. lemon juice1 tsp. sherry vinegar1/2 clove garlic, minced1/2 tsp. thyme leaves1 tsp. minced canned truffleSalt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients and keep warm.
In a sauté pan over medium heat add 1 Tbsp. of the blended oil. Once the oil reaches smoke point, add the quartered shiitake mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are golden brown. Next, add the butter-braised potatoes and sauté until the potatoes get a little color. Then add the garlic, onion, asparagus and bacon. Quickly sauté until the onions are translucent, and adjust the seasoning. Right before you remove from heat, add the mustard greens, herb, lemon juice and sherry vinegar. Toss the sauté pan a few times and plate.
Place 1 Tbsp. blended oil in a cast iron pan over medium to high heat. Using a paper towel, dry the skin side of the trout. Season the trout fillets on the skin with kosher salt and white pepper. Once the oil in the pan reaches smoke point, lay the trout fillets skin side down into the pan. Sear the trout until the skin is golden brown. Add a tsp. of butter and lemon juice, along with 2 sprigs of thyme. Flip the trout over in the pan and allow to cook for an additional 30 seconds. Remove from the pan and serve immediately.
In a Teflon pan, heat 1 tsp. of blended oil over low to medium heat. Using a serrated knife, cut the top off the quail eggs and gently add them to the pan, being careful not to break the yolk. Cook until the whites are set, season with salt and pepper. Garnish the top of the trout fillet on each plate with a quail egg.
By Carrie Havranek | Photography by Alison Conklin