WHEN the tarpaulin was pulled from the Hopkinton, Mass., firehouse clambake -- emitting the pungent steam of seaweed, shellfish, and cooked corn odors -- 11-year-old Linwood McManus discovered his passion for food. ``It was a real `feast of the ground,' '' Mr. McManus says of the Hopkinton fire-company clambakes -- on which he worked as a clam scrubber as a boy, through all the posts to ``bake master'' as an adult.
``The clambake is a community and family thing,'' McManus says. ``The first Thanksgiving was probably more a clambake than anything else. It's a communal feast, like the Texas or Carolina barbecue, or Hawaiian luau. The best clambakes are always around the summer solstice in mid-June, before the Fourth of July. The next-best time is September, when the corn is in and the lobster shells are getting hard again.''
McManus has moved into the city from rural Hopkinton, where the Boston Marathon each year has its start. He is chef/owner of the Caf'e Calypso restaurant in Boston's South End, a community that in barely a decade has largely reversed its status from flophouse disrepute to condo chic. McManus's culinary training has broadened to include French techniques -- first under master chef Madeleine Kamman in Boston, and later under other chefs. But the theater of cooking stays with him -- the sense of occasion on a summer's eve when a hundred or more neighbors gather for a ``feast of the ground.''
``It's the same orchestration,'' McManus says of his restaurant work. ``Every night at 6 it's another opening, another show, and I am in the wings, screaming, `Clean the front window!' At times I could cry. It's hard work -- 15 hours a day, seven days a week. For this, 2 years ago I traded my previous job in the industrial nameplate business: three hours a day, four days a week, and I hated it! The reward comes when people in my dining room say they've just had the most wonderful dinner ever.''
When they can't turn back again, people like Lin McManus start their own restaurant:
``I like the South End. In a communal sense, it's more like what I was used to in Hopkinton. Instead of the firehouse, here I have the Boston Ballet Company, the New Ehrlich Theatre. My customers are my neighbors. The South End is changing. Ten years ago in this room, where we're sitting right now, the king of Boston's gypsies used to sit. In another 10 years, this is going to be the Left Bank of Boston!
``This place is my life style, my social life. Anything happens in the South End, I'm invited. Here I'm a cog in a wheel,'' he adds.
``Being affordable is very important,'' McManus says of his menu. ``Kids from the Boston Ballet come here, and even the principals don't have a lot of money.
``I worked for [preeminent Boston chef] Montcef Meddeb at L'Espalier for a year,'' he continues.
``He's the genius of this city. But I'm not interested in serving a meal to anonymous expense-account people who come once a year.
``When you do regular, repeat business, you have to give them their money's worth. You have to change the menu.
``That's what I learned in Hopkinton from my mother. We were poor during the war. There were five children to feed. We had two gardens. I raised the chickens and could never eat them. Once a week we had fresh meat -- lamb or pork or chicken for a Sunday roast, never beef. Monday it was leftovers, Tuesday stew, Wednesday kidney beans, Thursday again anything left over from the roast, Friday fish chowder or mackerel or corn chowder, and Saturday franks and home-baked beans. Every single dish was entirely different and interesting. Nothing wasted. I still don't know how my mother did it.''
McManus also learned a community standard of excellence: ``People who go to clambakes know good chowder. Chowder is the cornerstone of the success of the bake. It sets the tone for the entire evening.''
Caf'e Calypso's food may be ``country French'' in technique, style, and presentation, reflecting McManus's formal training. But the ingredients and entrees have many American nuances: a corn and coriander vinaigrette for a roast chicken breast, for example, or a maple-flavored custard.
-- R. and J. Cattani Caf'e Calypso recipes Maple Custard 2 cups heavy cream 1/2 cup maple syrup (preferably dark grade C) 6 egg yolks Toasted walnuts (optional) Whipped cream (optional)
Heat the cream in a saucepan until warm. In a bowl, combine the maple syrup and egg yolks. Stir in a small amount of the warmed cream and add remaining cream, stirring constantly. Strain into a pitcher and pour into custard cups. Bake in hot-water bath in preheated 325 degree F. oven 40 minutes, or until custards pull away somewhat from edge of cup but remain slightly soft in center. Cool completely. Makes 6 4-ounce custards. Serve chilled, with toasted walnuts and whipped cream if desired. Marzipan Cake 1 1/4 cups sugar 7 ounces almond paste 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 6 eggs 1 cup flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt
Pulverize almond paste and sugar in food processor. Set aside. In mixing bowl, cream butter and vanilla until mixture is light and fluffy; add reserved almond paste and sugar mixture and continue beating. Beat in whole eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; slowly add to batter.
Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. Pour in batter; smooth top. Bake in preheated 325 degree F. oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool. Release from pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with sliced peaches or cr`eme anglaise if desired.
(Custard and marzipan cake recipes by Caf'e Calypso pastry chef Paul Mazur.) Grilled Chicken Breast With Corn and Coriander Vinaigrette Vinaigrette 1 small can creamed corn (8 3/4 ounces) 1 small can regular corn (8 3/4 ounces), drained and rinsed 1 1/2 cups corn oil 1/4 cup cider vinegar 1 large bunch fresh coriander leaves, washed and chopped, about 1/2 cup 1 bunch parsley leaves, washed and chopped, about 1/2 cup Salt and pepper 1 clove garlic, or to taste
In blender, blend creamed corn and half the can of regular corn until smooth. Add oil, vinegar, coriander, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper and blend until smooth. Stir in remaining 1/2 can whole corn for texture.
(To use fresh corn: Cook 4 or 5 ears until tender; scrape kernels off cobs. Blend 3/4 of corn with other ingredients; stir in remaining 1/4.) Chicken breasts 2 whole chicken breasts, skinned and boned 1 tablespoon oil or butter Salt and pepper
Brush chicken breasts with oil or butter and broil or grill at high heat to desired doneness, about 5 minutes per side. Season with salt and pepper. Slice each breast on an angle to make wide, flat pieces.
Arrange on warm plates, nap with vinaigrette, and serve with pilaf of rice and grilled tomato. Roast Pork Tenderloin With Red Pepper, Onion, and Ginger Chutney Chutney 6 red peppers, seeded and sliced 6 onions, sliced 2 ounces crystallized ginger 2 cloves garlic, chopped 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/4 to 1/3 cup sherry vinegar
In heavy large skillet, combine all ingredients and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are cooked and liquid forms a syrup, 1 to 2 hours. (Can be kept refrigerated for several days.)
Roast a pork tenderloin until tender, slice into 1/4-inch slices, and serve with the chutney.
(Chicken and pork recipes by Caf'e Calypso assistant chef Laura Brennan.)