Return of the Native

Ned Claflin comes home to reimagine a favorite island restaurant, Òran Mór

by: Terry Pommett

photography by: Terry Pommett

While on a summer break from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Nantucketer Ned Claflin invited his good buddy and classmate Jon Tancinco to spend some time with him at his parents’ home in Polpis.

Filled with enthusiasm for their newfound passion, they briefly imagined having a restaurant together on the island. Eleven years later, that random speculation came to fruition. They acquired Òran Mór, one of the island’s top eateries, from Chris Freeman, who had decided to venture across South Beach Street to run the Nantucket Yacht Club kitchen.

Ned Claflin next to Òran Mór’s dining-room wine rack.

Native son Claflin grew up in a family that was always cooking and reaping the bounty of Nantucket’s farms and surrounding waters.

“My folks had an amazing vegetable and herb garden. We fished, scalloped and went lobstering every summer and fall. After a day on the water we’d stop off at Moors End Farm to pick up any produce we might need and sometimes visit the back door of Sfoglia for some fresh bread. So I was familiar with good food and cooking from early on,” he said.

Claflin was also attuned to island culture during his formative years, working in the family businesses. His father Prentice ran the Nantucket Shipyard (site of the current Great Harbor Yacht Club) for many years, while his mother Patti founded Nantucket Bookworks.

“I worked behind the counter and sold kids books to kids and hung out at the shipyard whenever I had time. Some of my best memories were from the Opera House Cup parties. It seems like I always found articles of clothing lying around or hanging from the rafters the mornings after,” Ned said.

Becoming a professional chef didn’t enter Claflin’s plans until after his graduation from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. He was hired as a bartender for the summer at MacKay’s Public House in the same town and within a few weeks, moved to the kitchen as a line cook and sous chef.

“I had a blast that summer, despite having only two days off in three months. I had so much fun, I decided to forgo law school and apply to culinary school instead,” he said.

He built his line-cook experience at island bistros Le Languedoc and The Rope Walk prior to his CIA education. Another year at the Languedoc followed his graduation and then New Orleans and New York became his culinary proving grounds. Among the restaurants he worked at were Restaurant Cuvée, Daniel and Bobo.

“I didn’t want to leave New York until I got the executive chef title, which I did at Tessa on the Upper West Side,” Claflin said.

Tancinco remembers cooking his initial meal from a recipe he snatched from his mother’s first cookbook. Growing up near Cleveland, Ohio, a bastion of meat and potatoes, he broke the mold after brief employment at his uncle’s French bistro in Washington, D.C. Although he enjoyed being in the kitchen, he was more drawn to serving on the floor, creating wine lists and drink menus and all the many details that go into what the customer encounters and expects from a finedining experience.

“I never realized ‘front of the house’ was actually a career in itself until the last 12 weeks of curriculum at CIA. It was what I mostly wanted all along. During that period I learned working the floor on campus along Restaurant Row where we as students cooked and served paying clientele,” said Tancinco, who stayed in the Hyde Park area after graduation, working as a teaching assistant and then honing his table skills and wine knowledge in various restaurants.

At age 22, he received his Level Three Advanced Sommelier Certificate. He bounced around the gourmet world from New Orleans to Chicago for a few years, culminating in the pinnacle of his fine-dining learning experience at TRU and later overseeing a 600-bottle wine cellar at Benny’s Chophouse.

Eventually, Tancinco wandered out to Portland, Ore., hoping to open his own establishment. A phone call from Claflin, however, intervened and the rest is history. Over the years, Òran Mór has established itself as one of Nantucket’s top restaurants. In light of that reputation, Claflin has retained some of its most popular offerings, not exact replicas, but rather presented with his own signature style and recipe.

“You don’t take over a restaurant and then try to

take over another chef’s vision, not unless you’ve worked together for a very long time,” he said.

“Much of the clientele come here for a Nantucket getaway and they expect certain things, like local seafood. We want to maintain exceptional quality in the dishes that have been previously highlighted, with, for example, our Berkshire pork belly, honey Peking duck and the Pocomo oyster dish. There are flavor profiles I grew up with and love from the Cape and Islands, especially those having Portuguese influence. So I’ve included a linguiça-crusted Atlantic cod.”

The delicate pork belly and duck, both with crispy skin and a thin layer of fat topping the succulent meats, are simply mouth-watering.

The salads are unique displays of color and complimentary flavors which include peas and wildflowers and smoked beets. The Kale Marcona Almond Caesar is a surprising twist of classic flavors. Most of the produce comes directly from island farms, including Moors End, Pumpkin Pond, ACK Sweet Water and Lazy Man Gardens. Personally visiting the farms is an important ritual for Claflin.

The homemade Òran Mór pasta dishes featuring seafood are unlike any fare seen in other restaurants. Claflin is particularly proud of his Lobster Gemelli, which has evolved over the years in several restaurants he has worked. The Black Truffle Buccatini is delicate, light and flavorful. The Australian Winter Truffles are not to be missed and can be ordered shaved over any other dish.

The fancifully-named desserts – Òran S’mór, Harold and the Purple Carrot Cake and She Wore a Raspberry Beret – go way beyond the tried, true or standard fare. It’s best to share with a group for such a fun variety. Watch out for a surprising special called the Chocolate Sundae, a dome-shaped chocolate mound that seemingly morphs into a black lotus bloom after being drizzled with hot caramel sauce.

Claflin is quick to point out the strong, complementary nature of his and Tancinco’s relationship.

“Jon has an amazing palate and I value his opinions of my dishes, as he values my input on the wine tastings. We both feel food has to have a sense of place, not just to be good cooking. We bounce ideas, we taste, experiment and reach agreement,” he said.

Tancinco’s cocktail menu is awash with creativity, with some classic drinks given a contemporary facelift, such as the Mórtini, the signature name and headliner on the list. The Spanish Harlem harkens back to preProhibition. Others like The Bolo Tie and the Beach Blanket Bingo, his interpretation of the espresso martini, made with rum and coconut milk, are wonderful and purely original.

“Our cocktails start with the proper stemware and ingredients. They are measured pours from recipes. They are not just free-poured, shaken and strained into a martini glass,” Tancinco said.

The young Turks of Òran Mór are a heady new addition to the Nantucket gourmet-dining scene. They plan to stay open through the fall and close after Stroll. ///

Terry Pommett is a photojournalist who has spent much of his life on Nantucket and is a regular contributor to Nantucket Today.

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