In what has become a Wine Festival Tradition, festivalgoers will pour out of The White Elephant and head down To Galley Beach for “The After Gala Party,” except this year, a new executive chef will be there to greet them. Chef Neil Ferguson takes over Galley Beach’s kitchen this spring, bringing with him a culinary flare he’s cultivated from his native London to Paris to New York City. Before coming to Nantucket in 2010, Ferguson worked in Michelin starred restaurants with such culinary greats as Gordon Ramsay. In Manhattan, he was the Executive Chef at Gordon Ramasay at the London, ran Allen and Delancey on the Lower East Side, and was the Executive Chef of Soho House New York. N Magazine recently caught up with Chef Ferguson to see what he has cooking for the 2013 season.
N MAGAZINE: How did you end up at Galley Beach?
CHEF FERGUSON: Shortly after moving to Nantucket, I was introduced to Galley Beach owner David Silva through a mutual friend at Nantucket New School, where both our sons go, and we spoke about my plans to open a restaurant. We got on well from the outset and have been looking at various properties since that time, with a view to opening a place together. This is something we still fully intend to do. I have been working lunches in the kitchen at Galley Beach the last two seasons, cooking the previous menu, helping out wherever I was needed.
N MAGAZINE: Will the menu be changing at Galley Beach?
CHEF FERGUSON: The style of food is still going to be based upon as much locally caught or grown food as possible, but there will be a significant change of style, which is normal when a property has a change of chef. I’m confident people will be happy with the new menu. We are developing an interesting menu for the bar, some really good bites there, and the dessert menu is getting a complete overhaul.
N MAGAZINE: How would you describe your cooking style?
CHEF FERGUSON: The simplest way to describe my food is good, tasty cooking, elevating the natural flavors of the products. I’m not a big fan of over working ingredients or masking them with heavy, overpowering sauces and dressings. I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredibly talented chefs, running truly great restaurants in Europe.
N MAGAZINE: What was it like cooking with Gordon Ramsay? Is he as ferocious as he is portrayed on television?
CHEF FERGUSON: I had a great time cooking with Gordon. I was lucky enough to cook shoulder-to-shoulder with him back in 1995, eighteen hours a day, for almost three years. He’s an incredible technician with the highest standards. There is only a handful of people who had that exposure, and I feel privileged to have been one of those people.
N MAGAZINE: Describe your quintessential spring dinner.
CHEF FERGUSON: Spring is a favorite season because you still have super sweet root vegetables available and the first peas, favas and asparagus of the season. My ideal dinner would be an elegant shellfish and spring vegetable salad to begin, spring lamb for a main course, simply roasted with rosemary, thyme and garlic served with a root vegetable casserole and something like an apricot clafoutis for dessert. Wine-wise, I would match that with a decent Premier cru Chablis, a Gevrey Chambertin to accom- pany the lamb and a fragrant Viognier for dessert.
N MAGAZINE: You’ve mixed it up all over the world. How does the Nantucket culinary scene stack up to places like France and New York City?
CHEF FERGUSON: I think Nantucket holds its own nicely. Major cities are always going to have a broader range of choices and styles just by sheer volume and because they are open year-round. You have to be realistic about the market you’re in and cook food that people want to eat. We have some seriously talented people here cooking great food and providing really welcoming, friendly service. That’s what people want. They come here to relax and enjoy themselves. Looking at the size of the town and the island and the number of restaurants we have open during the summer, Nantucket is comparable with any country town in France.
N MagaziNe: Great Britain sometimes gets a bad wrap for its food. What would you say to naysayers? It’s not all fish ‘n’ chips and blood pudding, right?
CHEF FERGUSON: I think thirty years ago food in Great Britain was mediocre in general. The cooking and service industry had a stigma attached to it. People looked down their noses at you if you said you cooked or waited tables for a living—it was a little “Downton Abbey,” with the haves and have-nots. We weren’t a culture where life revolved around the table like it does in France, Italy, Spain, Japan, et ce- tera. It was a case of eat-to-live, not live-to-eat. When we did go out for dinner, we didn’t have easy access to good, middle-of-the-road restaurants. Luckily that has all changed. We’ve had some very influential chefs and restaurateurs forge a blazing path to where we are now, with London leading the way. I think the UK holds its own with the best of them.
N MAGAZINE: Do you have any distinctly Brit- ish dishes in mind for the Galley’s menu?
CHEF FERGUSON: We are developing the bar menu this season and I certainly see a place in there for some British influence, some cracking little bits and bobs. One favorite is “devils on horseback,” a piece of pickled pear, wrapped in tea-soaked prune, wrapped in applewood bacon, under the grill until golden. A really tasty mouthful of food…sharpness, sweetness and bacon, in one bite!
N MAGAZINE: Sounds delicious. See you at seven?
CHEF FERGUSON: Better yet, see me at Galley Beach.