You won’t find beef tripe on the menu at the Aquinnah Shop Restaurant. It’s made from part of a cow’s stomach, which may be slightly less appealing to Island visitors than fresh seafood caught offshore. But Jacob Vanderhoop, head chef at the restaurant, knows how to cook tripe. He learned this and other exotic cooking techniques at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Cambridge this past winter.
He recalled trying the dish. “It was,” he began and paused, “different.” Something between a grimace and a smile crossed his face before he added, “But you have to try it. You have to try everything if you’re a cook.”
Mr. Vanderhoop has been cooking at his family’s restaurant on the Gay Head cliffs since he was 12. Eleven years later, he stands behind the same stovetop, but with a professional knowledge of food and cooking.
“Culinary school can be like military school,” he said. Mr. Vanderhoop listed the components of a proper chef’s uniform like he was naming body parts. “And all of it has to be perfectly clean and pressed, or else you’ll hear about it.” Male culinary students must also shave every day.
Mr. Vanderhoop tugged at the neck of his black T-shirt and rubbed the hint of stubble on his chin. “This would not be okay.”
But his lax uniform should not fool customers. Working at the Aquinnah Shop does not mean time to relax. “Cups break, plates fall, things spill. The kitchen is tiny and crowded,” he said. Orders pour in at a constant rate and the few kitchen workers race to keep up and put out the tasty food that everyone expects. Mr. Vanderhoop handles kitchen utensils and heaps of responsibilities, but shrugs off the workload. “We work with what we’ve got,” he said.
The Aquinnah Shop started as little more than a small sandwich shop in the 1940s. Thirty years later, Mr. Vanderhoop’s grandmother, Anne, took over the restaurant from her father in law. Mr. Vanderhoop’s father, Matthew (Cully) Vanderhoop, now manages the restaurant and his son hopes to take over that title one day. “It [the restaurant] is just what I do here,” he said. “I always find myself thinking about this place.”
The raised brown scars across his forearms are visual reminders of the hazards of a professional cook. But he shrugs them off, too. “They’re from silly little things. Reaching for pots, grease spattering. If you can’t handle it you can’t have this job,” he said.
Heat, stress, injuries. Hard to find the glory in such a profession. Even Mr. Vanderhoop finds it difficult to describe the job’s lure. “There’s something about being stressed and putting out food that people like,” he said. “I just want to make good food.”
And working at the restaurant in the summers means time with the family. Aside from his grandma and father, Mr. Vanderhoop’s sisters, Grace and Nadia work in the store. His uncles catch fish from offshore. “They’re the hardest working people I know,” Mr. Vanderhoop said about his family. “It’s all about trying to relieve some of their stress.”
On Saturday afternoon, other family members sat in front of plates in the outdoor seating area. “See that little baby over there?” asked Mr. Vanderhoop, pointing to a tiny toddler waving his arms and kicking his feet. “My cousins have had babies. In 10 or 12 years they’ll be working here, too. We’ve got to feed them up good now so they’ll want to stay.”
But staying at the restaurant is strictly a summertime commitment for Jacob Vanderhoop. When the restaurant closes in the off-season, he will set his sights on someplace off-Island. He said he’s not a winter person. He plans to continue the pattern he started when he left for college after graduating from the regional high school. “I want to learn a bit of everything,” he said. “Learn over the winter, come back in the summer.”