Getting to know Max Kiperman, The Red Lion Inn's new executive chef
STOCKBRIDGE — Max Kiperman, the new executive chef of The Red Lion Inn's main dining room, Widow Bingham's Tavern and Lion's Den, isn't quite ready to be quizzed on the centuries-old hotel's history.
"I'm still getting acclimated," Kiperman said on Monday afternoon, the first day of his third week at the Stockbridge institution.
But, if Kiperman encounters a guest in the next couple of weeks who wants to discuss, say, the inn's role in the American Revolution, he has plenty of other talking points to steer the conversation in a different direction. For starters, he can chat with travelers about, well, traveling. The 45-year-old Marblehead, Mass., native has lived and cooked in Boston, New York City, Las Vegas, Napa Valley, Hong Kong, Monte Carlo and the Caribbean. And foodies may want to hear stories about working alongside acclaimed chefs, such as Alain Ducasse, whose restaurants have racked up Michelin stars and whom Kiperman calls a culinary world "god."
Kiperman most recently worked as a sous chef at Lucca in Boston's Back Bay. He began his career at Rosalie's Restaurant in Marblehead before graduating from the California Culinary Academy. He spent the next nine years in kitchens at The Ritz-Carlton properties in San Francisco, New York City and Boston. His restaurant stops since have included Ducasse's miX (since closed) and Benoit restaurants in Las Vegas and New York City, respectively.
Though he's spent much of his life in other places, Kiperman describes himself as a New Englander, who loves its sports teams, such as the Patriots and the Bruins, and he's looking forward to continuing his career in the region.
"Hopefully, this is going to be long-term because I really want to find a place to settle. New England's home. Family's here. Friends are here. It's close to Boston, [but] it's a little country. If I need to get my little blast of Manhattan or Boston, it's just a couple hours away," he said.
During a break, Kiperman answered some questions about his new role and the main dining room's menu at a table near the back of the establishment. The interview has been edited for length.
Why did you take this position?
I think in interviewing and meeting people like [Red Lion Inn Owner/Managing Director] Sarah [Eustis], just all the people I've met here, they really have a genuine care for hospitality. They want to please the guests. They really care about good people first, and ... what makes a place special is the people. You can have the most beautiful rooms, the most beautiful china, the best plates, the best food, but ... guests come back mostly for the people and the staff, more so than the physical building or property, I think. ... I really feel like I can bring a lot to the table [by] maintaining the same kind of classics and comfort, and style of food, but just kind of opening it up a little bit.
What are your responsibilities?
I think everything food-related. All food outlets: breakfast, lunch, dinner Lion's Den, Tavern, small functions that go on in the hotel, basically everything staff-related, new menus.
[Vice President of Culinary Development Brian Alberg drops by the table, checking in with Kiperman before departing.]
He and I got together through a mutual colleague, and he's a good person, a good guy, wants to do the right thing, fair and, again, wants to have fun with it a little bit. I think people respond differently these days ... the old days of screaming, yelling, chasing around the kitchen with the hot pan doesn't fly any more.
Were you ever like that?
Yeah, I can be. I don't think I'll be like that here, hopefully. I was classically French-trained with some of the best French chefs. Alain Ducasse, who's probably one of the best chefs in the world. I worked side-by-side with him [in] New York City at Benoit. ... He's like a god in the culinary world, above and beyond any food network.
In terms of the menu, just talking about the main dining room, what do you feel like you have to keep at all costs?
There's definitely certain dishes: prime rib, turkey dinner, chicken pot pie. I would say those three off the top of my head. Before we had any talks or anything, it was like, those dishes are staying. But I also need to maintain that, just because we've been doing it for however long, [there] still needs to be a certain standard and make sure that they're the best that they can be. But there are certain signature dishes that people come back for, and those will stay. But I'll probably add my own.
What are you thinking you're going to add?
I'll probably do some changes in the next couple of weeks. Dish-wise, [Brian] and I are actually going to discuss some dishes tomorrow.
Is that how the process works, [that] you run stuff by him?
Yeah, I think initially he'll want to see. But I also think he feels pretty confident and wants to let me do my own take on things, and he doesn't want to have to micromanage or babysit too much. And he's also a great resource because he know the Red Lion, he knows Stockbridge, and for someone who's coming in new, he's a good resource to ask [about] what the people want, what works, what doesn't work.
What makes for a good menu in your eyes?
I think, at the end of the day, if the food is delicious, it doesn't matter if it's comfort food, fine dining. ... There is definitely a technique. Things should be cooked a certain way. I believe that's where the French come in — French technique with local flavors, local ingredients. [The dishes] definitely need to be photogenic and appeal to the eye, but there's also flavor. ... Some say first is impression; you eat with your eyes. [To] me, flavor is as important, if not more, than the presentation because it'll look nice, and then as soon as you break into it, the presentation's gone, and it's about the flavor. Seasonal things seasoned properly, the right amount of acidity, balance, textures — all that stuff is very important. ... People have so many different allergies and preferences these days, but if you're smart in writing a menu, you can write menus where you can [have] a little of something for everybody. Some vegetarian dishes, some pasta dishes, kind of a hearty, meat-eater's dish, fish, some safe stuff, some stuff that's a little bit more fun or creative. Like the turkey dinner — it's traditional. Here it is. I don't think you can turn that into molecular deconstructed turkey dinner. People do it; they'll do like deconstructed chicken pot pie. And it doesn't have the same kind of taste. It might look kind of cool and sound cool, but when you want chicken pot pie, you want it to be kind of hearty, whole, rustic a little bit. ... It's a kind of balance between looking cool, but also at the same time being able to eat.
When you're working at someplace like the Red Lion, you've got people coming from all over the world to eat here. How does that affect your menu creation?
I keep focused. People are coming to this area. They want to eat food relevant to the area, food that's in-season here. I don't think I'm going to be doing, like, Brazilian night. Places try to do that. When I was in the Caribbean, we were trying to do sushi. People wanted it. And these people are coming from LA, New York, and we're here, down in the Caribbean, making sushi. I think we should focus on local New England traditional food [with] local ingredients.
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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