Acclaimed Alum Celebrates Seasonal, Locally-Sourced Cuisine

For Champe Speidel ’00, the Providence Campus’ 159th Distinguished Visiting Chef (DVC), cooking is a mixture of artistry and practicality, craft and commitment.

img_dvc_champ_salmon230x160The acclaimed chef and co-owner of Persimmon in Bristol, RI, first “fell in love” with the culinary industry thanks to a part-time job at a butcher shop in college. There was one problem: he didn’t really know how to cook.

“When I started at JWU I didn’t know anything. I was all thumbs,” he admitted to the packed house at the Harborside Academic Center. He persevered by working hard, devouring every cookbook he could get his hands on, and building his real-world experience. “Use all the tools at your disposal. That’s what I did. I took advantage of everything.”

That meant “getting out there” and getting busy. He honed his craft, first at the Ritz-Carlton’s famed Dining Room in St. Thomas, then at Providence’s top restaurants, including Empire, Neath’s and Gracie’s.

In 2005, he and his wife Lisa opened Persimmon. With just 38 seats and a modest budget, the restaurant’s farm-fresh, technique-driven cuisine quickly drew local and national acclaim. In 2006, Boston Magazine dubbed the restaurant a “hidden gem.”

Speidel admits that running Persimmon can be “a battle” that requires constant commitment. It’s also clear that he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Every day we keep pushing ourselves to get better and better.”

Persimmon’s menu changes seasonally, and the bulk of the produce is grown locally. According to Speidel, all chefs should be thinking about this. “Question your sources. You need to know where your ingredients come from. Does this really need to be flown in? How was this meat raised?”

For a small restaurant like Persimmon, sourcing from local farmers and butchers also makes financial sense. By cutting out the middleman, Speidel can negotiate for better pricing.

As he recounted his life and career, Speidel effortlessly assembled and plated three very different dishes.

Painterly yet precise, his salmon carpaccio was a riot of color and texture, thanks to unexpected touches like a perfectly poached quail egg and a scattering of spicy micro greens and edible flowers. “With a dish like this you need perfect knife cuts, perfect dice,” he noted.

A riff on the classic ballotine, his chicken sous vide with glazed cipollinis, brussels sprouts and infused jus balanced earthy, floral and herbaceous notes, thanks to fresh bay leaves, thyme, rue and the mysterious black garlic, which tasted of molasses.

For dessert, he created a vanilla panna cotta, a lustrous combination of mascarpone, heavy cream and Narragansett Creamery yogurt served with a citrus salad, blood orange sorbet and dehydrated blood orange chips.