Dining is a Magical Experience
By Stacy Milbouer / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
With a soupçon of faith, a pinch of open-mindedness and a dash of spontaneity, you’re ready for the multi-course, upscale interactive dining experience that is Stages at One Washington in Dover.
Walk into Stages, on the third floor of a renovated mill building, and you’re presented with a piece of paper that’s less a menu and more a list of ingredients – some familiar, some not at all.
The adventure begins. A maximum of nine diners are seated on comfortable high-back stools at a counter table directly facing the kitchen, and the chef, Evan Hennessey.
It’s as if he’s framed in a three-dimensional painting with diffused light reflecting off hanging wine glasses, Mason jars of dried herbs, copper pans, potted herbs and Rube Goldberg-type gadgets – miniature smokers, sous vide tanks, foam canisters. It’s what you might imagine the kitchen at Hogwarts to look like – mysterious and magical.
Stages specializes in what Hennessey calls progressive New England cuisine, working with, and inspired by, locally farmed and foraged foods. He bases his dishes on what ingredients the local farmers, fishmongers and other purveyors have to offer that day. He also grows his own herbs and forages the shores and forests for wild edibles nearly every day.
Hennessey graduated from Le Cordon Bleu at the Atlantic Culinary Academy and is trained in classical French cuisine. He was a semi-finalist for a James Beard Best Chef in the Northeast Award, winner of the national StarChefs.com VitaMix Challenge and was the StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef Winner for Coastal New England in 2014.
He opened Stages about seven years ago as a pop-up restaurant in the renovated Washington Mills.
One might assume the name of the restaurant refers to its eight to 12 courses, each a tasting, all presented in stages, Or the stages in the chef’s career. Or even in the way a guest feels he or she is “on stage” with the chef as he performs his culinary magic show – reaching for exotic kitchen equipment, carefully plating, and pouring sauces or grating a delicacy with a microplane as soon as a dish is placed before diners.
While never breaking his concentration, Hennessey, a Dover native, also answered numerous questions from diners at a recent dinner, including those about his recent appearances on the Food Network show, “Chopped.”
He has appeared three times on the show, which hands competing chefs boxes of unusual and unlikely ingredients in three rounds and gives them limited time to turn them into cohesive dishes – right up Hennessey’s alley.
He first appeared on an episode last May and won the $10,000 prize for turning leftovers into gourmet meals. In the dessert round, he used cold coffee, leftover lemon cheese pie and vanilla ice cream with cherries to make a coffee sponge cake with cherry lemon curd, whipped mascarpone and a roasted grape and coffee sauce.
More recently, he participated in championship programs where he went up against other “Chopped” winners. When the ingredients in the box included a rack of venison, salty licorice, green tomatoes and blueberry pie filling, he was given 30 minutes to make an entrée that would keep him in the running for a $50,000 prize.
Hennessey wasn’t the least bit ruffled. In fact, he was stoked.
He told the judges, “The blueberry pie filling is right in my wheelhouse. Being from New Hampshire, we do a lot of things with blueberries.” In less than a half-hour, the chef presented the judges with blueberry-glazed venison loin, pickled green tomatoes with licorice and herbed yogurt with grilled tomatoes.
“My inspiration for this is joining the flavors of Scandinavia and New England. As soon as I saw the deer my mind went right to that fermented berry flavor,” he said.
Hennessey got rave reviews from judges, with one of them telling him, “Your risk-taking and creativity are unparalleled.”
He told the judges: “I’m from a small town in New Hampshire. When my first competition aired, they played it up on a projector in my kids’ school. My kids were glowing with pride.
“I want to make my kids proud again … It’s important to show your kids strength … I’m a ferocious warrior in the kitchen.”
He won that show but went out on the appetizer round in the second episode of the championship series, no less a culinary hero to his children and his Dover community to which he continually attributes his success.
In an entry on the Stages Facebook page right before one of his “Chopped” appearances, Hennessey wrote, “You all ready? Let’s bring the Nation to New Hampshire! We have a beautiful place here, let’s show them how proud we are of it.”
Stages at One Washington is open Wednesday through Saturday at 6:30 for one, maximum nine-person, seating although larger parties can be accommodated if arranged in advance with the chef. Make online reservations at stages-dining.com/reservations. The price for dining is $100 a person with an option for an accompanying wine menu for an extra $65 a person.