When I ask Kelly what dish would represent her, she takes time to consider it. We sort it all out in the car in a trip down Queen street.
She answers “Cioppino!” Why? “It’s the sum of all my parts.”
She starts with linguica.
Born in Hong Kong, and raised in Ottawa, Kelly’s childhood was a mixture of Shanghai and Cantonese cuisine. The latter consisted mostly of steamed fish, and little, if any, seasoning or spice. It was in visiting family in San Francisco (Cioppino’s birthplace) and her schooling in Boston that she came to appreciate a broader take on food. In particular, she mentions this Portuguese sausage as reminiscent of the New England clambakes that captured her imagination.
But more than either the North End or North Beach it was a ‘90s issue of Bon Appetit, an all Italian issue, that introduced to her the idea that there was more to Italian food than spaghetti. So we add dry white wine, dried oregano, onion and whole tomatoes. It was this issue that prompted her to make an arugula salad for her mother’s birthday — with twice the prescripted amount of raw garlic. “It was paint thinner,” she says.
The garlic goes in, but not too much.
When it comes to what she loves, she leaves out the fish and reveals her inner Hong Kong. Her cioppino is pure shellfish: mussels, clams, razor clams, scallops and her favorite, Dungeness crab with a pinch of dried chili (spice, but not too much).
The finishing touches are what truly make this dish Kelly’s.
She cannot escape her love of the New England clambake, so she puts in corn on the cob, sliced into narrow wagon wheels, “I saw it once in another dish, and it seemed like a great idea.”
Then, instead of being served with sourdough bread, this dish has small potatoes, pan roasted in butter. It’s her husband’s favorite, and it’s the “due” part of Tres Parti. It’s excluded from the soup so that it stays crispy, served on the side.
Part three is also crispy and left on the side. It’s a direct duplication of one of her favorite dishes, Rhode Island calamari from Jasper White’s Summer Shack. It’s the familiar fried calamari tossed with sliced hot cherry peppers. Keeping this on the side allows people to spice to their specifications.
Interactive. Engaging. This is Kelly’s Tre Parti Cioppino, “I need a spread, I need a meal, not just a dish!”