Cru for Cooks at Home -July 2019
by: Diane Bastarache
photography by: Wayne Chinnock
Erin Zircher may have grown up in the Midwest, raised on chicken dinners, but she has created a following for her New england coastal cuisine at Cru.
Now her fans have the opportunity to recreate some of their favorite dishes with the publication of “Cru Oyster Bar Nantucket Cookbook: Savoring Four Seasons of the Good Life,” a collaborative project between Zircher and her business partners, Jane Stoddard and Carlos Hidalgo.
The idea for a cookbook came from one of Cru’s longtime regulars, talent agent Alan Morell. Since starting it, the project has occupied a large portion of Zircher’s time and effort during the off-season.
Because of the seasonality of the island and the nature of their business, the owners of Cru hoped the book would keep the restaurant on people’s minds and in their kitchens throughout the year.
“I wanted the book to be seasonally driven, based on Daffodil Weekend, summer, fall, Stroll and New Year's Eve,” Zircher said. “I try to think about what I would like to eat on Nantucket each season, what's indigenous and sustainable on this island."
The cookbook was intended to be a way to celebrate what Cru has become, which the owners saw as a reflection of who their customers are and what the island has to offer.
Zircher was born and raised in Peoria, Ill. and learned to love food at an early age.
“My grandmother would tell a story of when she was a child, they would butcher a chicken every Saturday to have for their Sunday dinner. That particular chicken recipe was my favorite that my grandmother and mom would make. It was a simple roasted chicken with a sweet onion pan gravy and mashed potatoes. To me, it’s still the best thing ever. As I get older, I find that
I like the idea of keeping things simple and to appreciate food for what it is,” Zircher said.
Her route to executive chef at Cru began at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt. Upon graduation, she started her career as a saucier at The Everest in Chicago. From there she went on to work for Suzanne Goin at Lucques and AOC in California, and spent a year in France working at Le Fleur de Sel and Ma Petite Folie in Brittany.
Eventually she headed back to New England to work for Ana Sortun at Oleana in Cambridge. She developed her pastry skills further at Sofra Bakery & Cafe, also owned by Sortun, who was named Best Chef in the Northeast in 2005 by the James Beard Foundation.
Zircher eventually made her way to Nantucket, and for seven years was the chef de cuisine at Angela and Seth Raynor’s The Boarding House, where she met Stoddard and Hidalgo. In the winter of 2012 the trio left and took over the lease of what had been The Rope Walk at the end of Straight Wharf.
With funding from investors, they completely renovated the restaurant, and in the summer of 2012 launched Cru Oyster Bar, where today she is the executive chef and a partner.
Zircher’s food combines her classical French training with years of travel across Europe to create memorable and sustainable dishes worthy of the island. She offers a fresh presentation of coastal cuisine, while staying true to the Mediterranean flavor profile and classical French training of her culinary career.
The Cru cookbook focuses on crafting simple, seasonal recipes that let quality ingredients shine, such as local oysters, the restaurant’s famous lobster roll, clams stuffed with bacon and herbed breadcrumbs, summer tomatoes with green goddess dressing, dessert favorites and simple takes on the freshest fish and produce available on the island.
It features recipes and insights from a chapter called Raw Bar Basics, which explains how to create Cru’s signature tower of fresh blue crab, oysters and scallops with its various sauces, to another chapter on their signature cocktails featuring cucumbers (with vodka and toasted sesame syrup) or strawberries (in a tequila Valentina) and everything in between. The book highlights the restaurant’s approach of the “Farm to Glass" perspective that resonates throughout the menu.
Zircher has a special fondness for some of the seafood. “The grilled littlenecks are so simple and delicious. They’re perfect to make at home or when you’re out on the beach. I also love the bay scallop pasta. It’s so rich and luxurious,” she said.
Zircher has now lived on Nantucket for 16 years, and when
she’s not busy at the restaurant, she spends as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors with her husband, 2-1/2-yearold son and close friends.
“I love Nantucket so much. I feel really lucky to live here," she said. ///
Diane Bastarache is a professional chef. She writes regularly for Nantucket Today and the “Let’s Eat!” column for This Week on Nantucket in The Inquirer and Mirror.