Getting her goat
After TV show defeat, Jody Adams redeems herself, and makes some new friends
NEWTON — It all began with a goat.
Specifically, a goat leg. More specifically still, an undercooked goat leg that resulted in the elimination of Jody Adams, chef and owner of Rialto Restaurant in Cambridge, from the Bravo TV series “Top Chef Masters.’’
Adams doesn’t defend her dish (“It was way too rare; it was like goat sushi’’), but she does explain how it happened. “It was a big goat leg, and it was frozen in the center. We had two hours, and I said no way will this be done in time’’ — and in the event, it wasn’t. As Adams explains all this, she peels the label from a brand-new hacksaw and turns to the task before her: Cutting up a whole goat sprawled on the granite countertop in Todd and Anne McCormack’s Newton kitchen. Determined to get right back on that goat, as it were, Adams is setting out to prove to herself that she can make something delicious out of a goat leg (not to mention ribs, loin, saddle, kidneys, head, and tongue).
This time, though, she has some expert help. When a group gathered at Rialto to view the “Top Chef Masters’’ episode that would be Adams’s downfall, Anette LaMontagne and her 19-year-old daughter, Sanley Jean, were among those watching. Contestants on the show donate their winnings to a designated charity; Adams chose Partners in Health, the Boston-based group founded by Dr. Paul Farmer that works to improve health care in Haiti and elsewhere. LaMontagne and Jean live in Haiti and were brought to Boston in February by Partners so that Jean could receive medical care for her ankle, crushed by a collapsing wall in the January earthquake. The injury resulted in a below-knee amputation; she will remain in the United States while undergoing rehab. Mother and daughter have been staying with the McCormacks. (Todd McCormack is one of Partners’ cofounders, and Anne serves on its advisory board.)
When LaMontagne, an accomplished cook, saw Adams tripped up by a goat, she knew what she had to do. Goat is one of LaMontagne’s specialties, and she offered to show Adams the right way to do it. And so it was that on a recent warm morning that Adams, LaMontagne, Jean, the McCormacks, and a group of Rialto cooks, PIH staffers, and assorted others gathered to help prepare a meal that would include goat cooked three ways, served to a group of supporters, friends, and journalists.
Make that goat cooked four ways: LaMontagne’s traditional dishes included a goat “bouillon’’ (actually a rich soup, with dumplings, tripe, and root vegetables); goat sauce (like a thick, spicy stew); and goat tassot, marinated, fried chunks of rib meat. But Adams also took one of the legs, boned it, butterflied it (to the extent that a piece of meat not much bigger than a chicken breast can be butterflied), rolled it around the lamb kidney, and trussed it up. This was to be her “redemption roast,’’ a perfectly cooked goat leg to demonstrate that she could indeed pull it off.
The goat came from Vermont. “I had to buy a new saw,’’ says the chef. “I asked the guy at the hardware store, What kind of saw would you use for cutting up a goat?’’
Once butchered, the head — eyes, tongue, teeth, and all — goes into the bouillon, adding even more savor to an already complex dish. Rib chunks are rubbed with citrus, marinated in spices, and braised till they’re almost crisp and caramelized. By late afternoon, the airy kitchen is a hive of activity, but in the midst of it all, LaMontagne, a bespectacled woman with a broad smile, remains calm. And at the counter, Sanley Jean helps chop vegetables and peel garlic, stopping now and then to answer the cellphone she keeps in her pocket; she, too, has a bright smile, and only the crutches by her side bespeak the challenges behind and ahead of her.
LaMontagne doesn’t speak much English, and Adams doesn’t speak Haitian Creole, but the two communicate in a mixture of French and kitchen. “Plus de sel?’’ LaMontagne says as she proffers tastes of her bouillon to all those standing within reach. More salt? “Peut-etre,’’ shrugs one taster. Perhaps. “No, no more salt,’’ says another. Occean Louinique, a native of Haiti who works as Rialto’s baker, is on hand to facilitate and to translate, and he heartily approves of LaMontagne’s creations. “I grew up with this,’’ says Louinique. His mother and grandmother were both good cooks, he says. “It’s just like back home.’’ The bouillon is a dish you would eat when you were sick, like a Haitian version of mom’s chicken soup.
Somehow, 4:30 p.m.’s chaos segues into a dinner an hour and a half later. Tables are set in the McCormacks’ dining room and on the deck; homemade guacamole, mango salsa, and rounds of mango daiquiris whet guests’ appetites. And then comes the feast. Besides the goat dishes, there are salads, rice made with Haitian dried mushrooms, grilled sausages, bread, and more.
Not to mention the redemption roast. Adams cuts into it and hoots with triumph. “Taste this! Taste this!’’ she crows. “It’s not raw!’’
After the meal is served, there’s a round of applause for the two women brought together by their shared love of cooking and their appreciation for the ways in which a meal can nurture the spirit as well as the body. It began with a goat that spelled defeat for one, and ended with a different goat that became a celebration for both.
Jane Dornbusch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.