Vineyard home cook Charlie Cameron enjoys a laissez-faire approach to cooking. He grew up with parents who went to France on their honeymoon in the 1950s, and stayed for two years. They were “serious foodies,” he explained, who passed their love for cooking on to him. While at Vassar College in the 80s, Mr. Cameron dropped out for a year and a half, because he just wanted to cook for a while.
“I’d heard about this place on Martha’s Vineyard called The Black Dog, where they’d train you to cook,” he said.
“I got off the boat and went directly there. I had to wash dishes for six or eight weeks, then they put me in the kitchen,” he recalled.
Mr. Cameron worked in the Black Dog kitchen, on and off, for a decade.Now he cooks only for family and friends.
A good meal, he believes, should taste like the season. “I get most inspired, foodwise, in the fall,” he said. At this time of year, “I make some kind of chicken and apple dish a couple of times a week — my kids love it — but I wouldn’t do that any other time of year.”
Another favorite, frequently requested by his son Colin, is duck. As we round the winter solstice and official shifting of fall to winter, the meal Charlie prepares for us is seasonal perfection: duck roasted with local apples, carrots and parsnips from Whippoorwill Farm; mashed potatoes with duck gravy; butternut squash souffle with local eggs and “the last little bit of parsley” from his own garden; red cabbage braised with garlic and olive oil; lettuce and organic baby spinach salad; and for dessert, apple crisp with vanilla ice cream and maple syrup.
Mr. Cameron believes “the integrity of the meal comes from the intermingling of all of its natural flavors,” so he never uses soup stock.
This is a time-consuming meal. He started prepping that morning — by butchering two ducks, cutting them into about 24 pieces. He then cooked the duck twice — first in a big pot with finely minced vegetables, boiled down to use as stock for the gravy.
Then he roasted the duck on a tray in the oven, adding large chunks of apple, parsnips and carrots for the last half hour so they cooked in the ducks’ juices.
He refers to ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ cutting; ‘micro’ being the size you cut vegetables for seasoning a meal and ‘macro’ the size you cut vegetables you will serve as part of the meal.
Rather than serving the gravy in a gravy dish, he mixed it right in with the mashed potatoes.
The bright colors, smooth textures, and clean flavors of the red cabbage and baby spinach salad paired well with the rich flavors of the duck, potatoes, and squash souffle.