LENOX -- When Kemble Inn owner Scott Shortt decided his restaurant needed a hook to encourage the public to discover his fine-dining cuisine in a traditional New England atmosphere, he reeled in a self-taught chef who had pleased the palates of the First Family during the Clinton administration.
Ron Reda, former supervisor of the White House kitchen, came aboard last summer as Shortt decided to rename his dining room Table Six after the roundtable at Manhattan's artsy Algonquin Hotel, where a half-dozen luminaries gathered at a roundtable daily for lunch from 1919 to 1929.
Now, for the first time since his June 2010 purchase of the historic 13-bedroom inn built in 1886, Shortt is keeping his restaurant open through the winter, serving dinner Wednesday through Sunday nights, as well as Sunday brunch. Shortt, 38, purchased the property for $1.6 million and has invested more than $1 million in upgrades.
Reda, 45, a Chicago native raised in a large Italian family, recalled that "I was always around food, but never thought anything about being a chef one day." In 1992, while serving as a computer technician in the U.S. Navy assigned to the U.S.S. Stonewall Jackson out of King Bay, Ga., he offered to "help out in the kitchen for Italian Night."
After Reda prepared meatballs in red sauce, the captain told him, "you're now my cook," despite the budding chef's protestations that he lacked training. "I fell in love with cooking," said Reda, "and realized this was what I was supposed to do. I found my knack."
Back in port, an admiral pulled rank and claimed Reda as his own chef and later offered him to the White House, where he navigated through Secret Service scrutiny and an interview with the Clintons' chief chef.
Rising to kitchen supervisor, Reda encountered President Clinton daily and remained at the White House until 2000, when he moved on as chef for several high-end Washington, D.C., restaurants.
By 2005, as he and his wife Greta awaited their first child, they decided to move to a less stressful rural environment. After relocating to Cambridge, N.Y., where her parents lived, Reda said, "I had no job and began my career all over again." He was employed at the Cambridge Hotel and, later, at the Dorset (Vt.) Inn.
Making his way to the Berkshires, Reda cooked at Aster's in Pittsfield, the Morgan House in Lee and the Shaker Mill Tavern in West Stockbridge.
After spotting the Kemble Inn's chef-wanted ad last April, he "auditioned" by preparing a seven-course meal for 16 guests.
While Shortt acknowledged that he considered Reda's White House credentials "a great accolade, demonstrating a level of sophistication, care and service," in the end, "it was all about the food." By mid-May, Shortt gave him the "keys" to the Kemble kitchen on the eve of a dinner party for 40 patrons.
Reda describes his prime concern as "the best ingredients with the best technique and presentation ... a combination of what I've learned, what I envision and what's available in the region right now."
The goal this winter, Shortt said, is to "reach out and do more farm-to-table sourcing, not because it's cool or trendy, but because we both have enormous respect for ingredients." Future plans include a large, on-site vegetable garden -- a backyard to table solution.
When asked to list his favorite specials, Reda explained that "they're all my passion on the plate. I always tell everyone that everything is special, because to me it is. Every dish is actually my creation."
Asked to identify the clientele he's hoping to attract, Shortt replied: "If you come into this room over a century old where there are antique light fixtures, a roaring fire and a comfortable chair, and you have food that really comes from the heart, made with ingredients that aren't freeze-dried and vacuum-packed, and you appreciate that, then you'll be very pleased and happy."
Declining to typecast the restaurant as a special-occasion destination, he said, "life is short, people are busy, we all work too much, we're all too stressed-out, so if you define a special occasion as just deciding to take a breath and enjoy a little sliver of life for a couple of hours, then we're an occasion place."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
f you go ...
What: Table Six restaurant at the Kemble Inn, 2 Kemble St., Lenox.
When: Open to the public for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, 5 to 8:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 11:30 to 2. (Winter hours)
Prices: Wed.-Fri. and Sun: $37 (prix fixe; also full a la carte); Sat.: $67; Sun. brunch: $32. Menu details:
Reservations: (413) 637-4113.