“I hate pumpkins. Actually, they’re not that bad. I just hate I am supposed to like pumpkins,” says Jonathan Rapp, owner of the award-winning Connecticut shoreline restaurant The River Tavern, located in Chester, Connecticut. “Every year I get bombarded with questions about pumpkins. People need to be asking about other foods this season like quince, shallots or sweet potatoes.”
With the arrival of chilly mornings and crisp autumn air, fall weather seems to be fast approaching. And with this season comes culinary favorites such as sweet potato apple soup, winter squash, apple cider and pumpkin latte’s.
Not yet ten days into the month of September, Rapp has been getting badgered with continuous questions of what his fall menu makeup will look like. Rapp’s restaurant, The River Tavern, is known for its daily menu changes and use of local foods. Most, if not all, of their ingredients travel no more than 50 miles before reaching the restaurant. Voted Best Neighborhood Restaurant by Connecticut Magazine, The River Tavern has had a long-standing tradition of creativity with their food.
“I’m thinking a lot about squash this fall,” Rapp says. “Squash blossoms are one of my favorite menu item right now and they have become very popular.”
Executive Chief Chris Flahaven echoes Rapp’s excitement for the upcoming fall season and the different opportunities presented to a chef.
“I am always looking forward to the leaves changing,” Flahaven says. “Toward the end of summer we are starting to get a bored with some of the food we have been working with. Fall gives us an opportunity to get creative with food like apples, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and figs.”
One new menu item in particular Flahaven is excited about this fall is a main entrée dish of roasted pork, squash, apple’s, and a host of vegetables. With the butternut squash and apples coming from right down the road at Scott’s Farm and the pork out of Soeltl Farm in Salem, CT.
These fall treats are not only for those who are able to afford a night out on the town. In the Region 4 School District, Food Service Director Thomas Peterlick, is making a conscious effort of getting these same foods available to students of all ages.
Peterlick, who is responsible for overseeing the cafeterias of three different elementary schools, one middle school and one high school, has been working with local farmers and his own staff to find new and exciting items to expose to the students.
“We really want to make sure that we are teaching our kids how to eat healthy,” Peterlick says. “Since coming into this position two years ago, my staff and I have tried to expose students to new and different foods. The fall is always fun because we are able to play around with favorites like apples and pumpkins, but also some different ones like sweet potatoes and kale.”
Peterlick and his staff have been working on some new menu changes with both creativity and practicality in mind.
“I understand not all of the students are going to be excited about figs or even apples in some cases,” Peterlick says. “My goal is to at least expose them to it in some way or another and let them decide.”
Sweet potatoes in particular are a main focus for Peterlick moving forward into the fall. Peterlick sites their delicious taste and relative ease in cooking as to why this could become a main staple of the diet of students eating in the different cafeterias of Region 4.
So whether you are eating the award-winning food of The River Tavern, or simply grabbing a meal in a school cafeteria within these towns during the fall, chances are, pumpkins are going to be brought into the conversation.
“I think I’m not going to have any pumpkin items on the menu this fall,” Rapp says as the sizzle of the grill can be heard in the background. “Actually (laughing to himself) I think these people would riot. Everyone loves their pumpkins in the fall.”