Home is Where the Heart Is: Q&A with Chef Michael Scelfo of Alden & Harlow

AldenandHarlow

At Alden & Harlow, in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, Chef Michael Scelfo creates honest American food sourced locally and thoughtfully. For this deeply family-oriented chef, the first inspiration for menu items comes from the home kitchen, and the delicious meals he cooks for his wife and three children. The menu at Alden & Harlow is, in a sense, an extension of that family kitchen table, a place where people can eat simple, elegant meals always with a touch of personal meaning inspired by the chef’s roots. Chef Scelfo spoke with us about the inspiration behind his lauded Alden & Harlow menu, how he approaches the transition from summer to fall flavors, and, of course, olive oil

What role do family recipes and the home kitchen play in your work and vision at Alden & Harlow?

Cooking at home, for me, is the springboard for most, if not all of the ideas at Alden. On Instagram I’ll post pictures of the dinners I’m making at home, and I’ll hashtag it #dinnerathome. To me, that’s a great jumping off point: When everyone gets excited about a dish at home I’ll start thinking—how can I elevate this for the restaurant? It’s a little bit of a challenge to say, I want to take this to the next level for a restaurant dish. It’s crucial and it’s part of my process. I’m heavily influenced by the food I grew up on— Italian classic American food and a diverse set of locations because we lived all over the United States—and that connects to everything that I do.

How do you transition from summer flavors into fall flavors in the restaurant?

Right now, it’s the end of tomato and eggplant season. Mushrooms are starting to spring up. We have a dish that utilizes all of those ingredients. I see that definitely as a transition dish. It’s with braised lamb’s tongue and parmesan – a play on the classic chicken parm. Those are the kinds of dishes that transition you into the fall season. To me, it’s a really awesome time of year to be cooking: You’re getting two ingredient sets playing simultaneously together.

What are some of your favorite fall ingredients?

Up here in Massachusetts, pumpkins, apples, mushrooms, squash, sun chokes. There are so many great ingredients coming up in the fall to play with.

What are some of your favorite ways to use olive oil? Do you have any favorite types of California Olive Ranch olive oils, or specific ways to use different types of EVOO?

We use a ton at the restaurant:  olive oil, salt, citrus, finishing salt. For me, it’s really about finishing. I also really like to cook with olive oil because of the flavor that it imparts on just about everything. I’m constantly reminding those in the kitchen to cook with olive oil, cook with olive oil, cook with olive oil, because I really like the flavor profile. I like a grassy and spicy finishing oil but the best type of olive oil to use depends on the dish. The lighter and fruitier profiles are great for lighter dishes. I’ve liked all of the California Olive Ranch olive oils that I’ve tried. In general, there’s just a lot of versatility and nuance in the flavors. Rather than plop a heavy sauce on a plate, olive oil is nice and light. Finishing with a healthy drizzle of olive oil speaks to the style of cooking that I do. It’s just fantastic. It’s the way I like to eat and the way I like to cook.