Ask many people about coffee cake, and it will likely hold little more importance than a dessert they may favor, or perhaps not.
But for Matthew Boudreau, the current executive chef at the Preston House & Hotel in Riverhead, it helped launch his diverse and accomplished culinary career.
“I can remember my grandmother Edith was a great baker and she made this fantastic coffee cake … and the smells used to just fill the house,” he recalls. “That coffee cake is now on the menu at the Preston House.”
Boudreau’s now signature coffee cake is part of the elevated-yet-approachable dining experience that Preston House owner Joseph Petrocelli envisioned when he hired Boudreau as the boutique hotel-restaurant’s executive chef last year.
The chic farm-to-table New American-style restaurant seats 88, or 160 including al fresco in warmer months. The 20-room, five-story hotel located directly behind the restaurant features studios and suites that offer intimate service. The property built in 1905 was once the home of Henry Preston, the first salaried Suffolk County sheriff.
Other staples at the Preston House include a nice piece of fish, surrounded by quinoa, roasted fennel and local tomatoes; organic roasted chicken, done in an ancho-honey glaze with baby carrots and my summer chana, Boudreau’s take on the classic Indian dish Chana Masala, sans tomatoes and with accents on braised garbanzos and vegetables.
“My philosophy is to give people a new experience in an area that really is starting to come into its own,” says Boudreau, 41, who resides in Sag Harbor. Boudreau says that something akin to a “renaissance” is now happening in Riverhead, similar to changes that took place in Patchogue in the last several years with its resurgent downtown.
“People all over are eating healthy and I strive to make healthier, trendier dishes with more vegetables,” he adds, pointing to his summer chana as a shining example.
Looking back, Boudreau points fondly to his days working alongside his dad outside Fenway Park in Boston, selling sausages.
“I was only 8 years old and I can remember selling those sausages and barking at the fans to get sales going,” he recalls.
Selling those sausages would ultimately pay off, leading Boudreau to a career with more than 20 years’ experience working in kitchens from Los Angeles to London, getting an early start in the culinary world at age 14.
By age 20, he was already working as a sous chef.
And, while Boudreau never attended formal culinary school classes, he had the benefit of learning on-the-job while working at Café Max in Memphis, Tenn., from two established chefs who had attended the Culinary Institute of America.
“It was both a great education ‘cooking the book’ without incurring the debt that attending school usually brings,” he says.
Boudreau’s diverse background as a chef includes working as a part of the opening staff at top New York City venue Balthazar, which morphed into a gig as one of the company’s corporate chefs traveling between Miami, Los Angeles, and New York City.
Working in Europe, Boudreau joined the Formula One culinary team as a personal chef.
During his time living in London, Boudreau was tapped by Chef Anton Edelmann to take over his new restaurant Cru, which focused on now-trendy farm-to-table fare and small plates.
As an avid fan who considers barbecue “near and dear” to his heart, Boudreau competes regularly in contests in Memphis.
“I have a large network of people I converse with down in Memphis and they’re all big fans of barbecue,” he says.
Boudreau also recently won a Dan’s Taste of Summer GrillHampton event in the Hamptons for the third year in a row.
“The event lets chefs showcase their barbecue skills and we can really cook.”
That award-winning approach inspires Preston House’s ingredient-driven and flavorful fare that takes a balanced and traditional approach to food. And the charming ambiance of the historic locale is just gravy.
Says executive director Jennifer Petrocelli, “We’re happy to be part of the revitalization of downtown Riverhead.”
The Preston House & Hotel is located at 428 East Main Street in Riverhead. It can be reached at 631-775-1500 (hotel) and 631-775-1550 (restaurant) or theprestonhouseandhotel.com