Field and Cellar takes inspiration from chef's love of farming, Native American heritage

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GREAT BARRINGTON — On a recent Friday morning, Chef James "Jim" Massey was busy creating more than a Cinco de Mayo feast inside the kitchen of Thornewood Inn.

"My goal is to create a community," he said, while putting the finishing touches on a shrimp ceviche.

Massey, who only three weeks earlier opened the doors to Field and Cellar, his new restaurant at the inn, has enlisted the talents of pastry chef Kim Watson, of Mountains of Sugar, restaurant manager and mixologist Nick Martinico and potter Daniel Bellow.

"I want to create a plate that has balance; that looks great and has nourishment from our community," he said.

Follow the chefs on Instagram and you'll see those seemingly effortless plates — bison empanadas, miso-marinated organic pork belly, rabbit confit, churros, chocolate tarts and conchas on dishware crafted by Bellow.

While at its heart Field and Cellar is a true farm-to-table restaurant, the concept behind the menu and restaurant concept is a bit more complicated. That concept, created by Massey and his wife Stephanie, is one where "contemporary American meets local and native" — a tribute to his farming and Native American heritage. The Masseys, he said, are multi-generation farmers. His American Indian heritage, from his father's side, is from the Blackfeet Nation.

"We want to use local farms and grow our own small items to put on the plate," he said. "We're experimenting with heirloom seeds for squashes, melons and beans from the First Nations."

The menu, he said, will be dictated by the growing season, changing monthly at first and then bi-weekly as the season unfolds.

He's also not afraid to incorporate forged ramps, nettles and chestnuts into his recipes, which rely on fresh, local ingredients.

"We'll be using the produce that's around, but the proteins will most likely stay the same. What comes in off the fields will help dictate the menu."

Equally as important to him, he said, is working in his own voice and giving younger chefs, like Watson, the opportunity to have their own voice and the freedom to create.

"Of course you're the happiest when you do what you love," Watson said. "To have the freedom to just be creative, to play around, that's hard to find.

"This is a different opportunity. It's going to let me do a lot more and to get involved in the community."

A little over a year ago, Massey unknowingly began creating the community that makes up Field and Cellar when he decided to leave the comfort of his position at Canyon Ranch. A decision made shortly after Canyon Ranch founders Melvin and Enid Zuckerman and Jerrold Cohen announced their retirement.

"At the time, I had been the executive chef at Canyon Ranch in Lenox for 5 1/2 years," he said. "Change is good. I thought that maybe it was time for a change of my own."

A second generation Canyon Ranch employee, Massey had spent a total of 12 1/2 years working for the company, first at its Tucson, Ariz., location and later in Lenox after spending several years as an executive chef for various hotel groups in Cleveland, Ohio.

To him, the Zuckermans and Cohen were more than employers.

"When I was in Cleveland, I had no idea how I had gotten up to 450 pounds," he said. During a visit with the Zuckermans and Cohen, it was decided that he should go into a "food recovery" program. He spent seven weeks there, where, he says he came to grips with his food addiction.

"The gave me the tools to have an existence. I have a 12-step program and I'm 150 pounds lighter," he said, noting he joined Canyon Ranch in Lenox shortly after that. "For me, the move to New England is part of the chapters in my life."

His journey after departing Canyon Ranch, would lead to a summer as executive chef at Blantyre, where he met Watson, then pastry chef, and Martinico.

From there, he went out on his own.

"I always wanted to have my own place. It's different when it's yours," he said. "It all began as a pop-up dinner concept."

Field and Cellar held its first pop-up dinner, a collaboration with Watson's Mountains of Sugar, at Heydey in Great Barrington in March. That night, the dinner was crafted in rented space at Taft Farms and brought to the gallery where it was served in Bellow's bowls. Shortly after that, Massey began talking with David and Terry Thorne, owners of Thornewood Inn.

"They had a restaurant they were trying to turn over. We looked at the space. It's a really beautiful venue that people have a lot of memories of," Massey said. "My goal was to get to that point [a restaurant] someday. The opportunity just jumped up on me."

For now, the restaurant is starting off slow, opening only Friday and Saturday nights. After Memorial Day, the service will expand to include Thursday nights and brunch on Sunday.


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