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I don’t eat out a lot. I’m a good cook so I can easily prepare most meals I need. In addition, I don’t have a huge income, and restaurants can be expensive. Luckily, I get to sample dishes at a number of local eateries, thanks to this column.
I try not to choose favorites among area restaurants. I’m a reporter, not a food critic, so my job is to describe rather than rate the food served. Nevertheless, a few chefs have won my heart with their culinary skills and their attitude toward food.
Foremost among these is Michaelangelo Wescott at the Gypsy Apple Bistro on Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls.
True to his first name, Wescott is an artist in the kitchen. The Gypsy Apple is small; it serves about 20 indoors and a few more on its small patio. The chef likes it that way. With limited people to feed, he can indulge his creativity in the menu and can put his personal touch on everything the restaurant serves.
The Gypsy Apple is a family affair, managed by Wescott’s friendly, highly competent wife, Ami Jean Aubin.
Unfortunately, the bistro’s small size made limited seating unsustainable during the recent shutdown. Other problems plagued the restaurant as well. I sat down recently to talk to Michaelangelo Wescott about his past year and his path forward.
He explained that the restaurant was able to reopen briefly from July through August in 2020. It also offered takeout during the summer for those reluctant to gather even outdoors.
“Then I got sick. I was in the hospital for a month,” he told me. He was struck by two devastating tick-borne illnesses.
“It took me four months for my legs to feel normal,” he explained. “My doctor advised me not to go back to work. He told me to wait until I got vaccinated.” A cancer survivor, Wescott was particularly vulnerable.
I asked him how he managed. “I just kind of gathered most of my resources, kept things alive,” he responded. “There were moments that were really hard because the restaurant wasn’t open and we were not generating any money. Paying rent and everything else. But we came through it.”
Wescott and Aubin set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay some of the chef’s hospital expenses. They also brought in extra income at Thanksgiving and Christmas by selling meat and fish pies for people to take home and enjoy. My family devoured one happily on Christmas Eve.
Although times were tough, Wescott informed me, he found solace and even inspiration during the dark months.
“In the last year, I had a lot of time to do a lot of cooking at home,” he noted. “It was really interesting to do more experimental things and feel confident enough to go back into the restaurant and put some things that I’ve been playing with at home on the table.
“I’ve been a little more creative,” he reflected. “I’m inspired just because I’m alive.”
The bistro reopened on April 13. So far, it is operating pretty much at full capacity as it serves dinner Thursdays through Sundays.
“It’s going really well. We’ve been super busy,” said Wescott. “People are really excited for us to be back open. It’s really great to see my clients, especially my older clients. I’m glad to see some of my people that have been supporting me for the past 13, 14 years come back through my door.”
Wescott added that he is happy to see Shelburne Falls as a whole bouncing back as well. “It’s really nice seeing people out again and comfortable somewhat here in town,” he observed.
Although Wescott continues employing his traditional French technique in the kitchen, he enjoys “bringing different cultures and ethnicities” into his cooking.
He also enjoys savoring each new local comestible as it comes into season.
“Last year, there were things that I loved cooking and working with that I just missed,” he sighed.
More than ever, Michaelangelo Wescott wants to change his menu every week to take advantage of the area’s food diversity.
“There’s always something new for people to try as an adventure,” he told me with a smile. “I’m doing things that I love, things that I don’t usually see on menus. I’m very inspired at this time in my career. I’m going to continue what I’m doing, to continue cooking with heart and with love.” Gypsy Apple Pan-Seared Scallops around a Potato and Pea Salad with Crème Fraîche and Caviar
For the potato salad:
1½ pounds fingerling potatoes
½ cup green peas
1 large shallot, minced
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
for the scallops:
12 large scallops (U 10, that is, with 10 or fewer to a pound)
1 tablespoon oil
½ tablespoon butter
1/3 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 ounce caviar of your choice
Boil the potatoes until they are done, about 10 minutes. While they are cooking, lightly steam or boil the peas for a couple of minutes. Cut the potatoes in half and combine them and the peas with the remaining salad ingredients.
Pan sear the scallops in oil and butter until they brown on each side. Let them rest for 5 to 8 minutes. Place the potato salad on a plate or platter, arrange the scallops around the salad, and top with crème fraîche and caviar.
Serves 3 to 4 people for dinner or 6 to 12 as an appetizer.
Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.