CASTLE STREET CAFE

Chef Michael Ballon features live jazz on weekends at Castle Street Cafe in Great Barrington, MA. INTERVIEW:  "At 5 o’clock the show goes on, and people walk in the front door. They have a sense almost immediately about whether or not things are going well and everything’s in control. Most people have the experience, at some point, of being in a restaurant where their needs aren’t being met, or they can’t get that second glass of wine, or they want the fish done without the artichokes, and 'is that possible?' A good restaurant responds to all those things so that the diner feels like everything’s going the way it’s supposed to."

"Part of the reason that restaurants have become so important is that they’re fulfilling a need which I’m afraid that many families don’t do anymore, which is to make delicious home-cooked meals. And, the kind of classic home-cooked food that I’m particularly fond of isn’t made at home as much. Things like coq-au-vin and cassoulet and osso bucco and bouillabaisse and grilled salmon are the kind of timeless classic dishes which I hope will still be served for a long time."

"I love jazz. And, being exposed to great jazz, when I had the opportunity to expand and create a jazz bar, it was something very much that I wanted to do. I was very lucky to initially get the use of an old baby grand piano which once belonged to Nat King Cole. And, even now, there’s a community of local jazz musicians, and people sometimes disparage the idea that because someone’s local - ‘well local’s good when it’s food’ - but when you’re a musician, ‘well, you’re not really good, you’re just a local musician’. But, in fact, the level of local talent in the Berkshires is phenomenally high."

"I think there’s a real divide in the food world, and on one side is mostly what we have in the Berkshires, which are chefs who are connected to local farms, who are interested in using locally-raised food products, in part because the goat cheese farms and the organic lettuce farms and the local dairies are all here. We’re connected to those places and we use those. On the other side is this high-tech, what is called ‘molecular deconstruction’ of food, where they’re mostly interested in physically transforming greens so that food has different properties like foams and gels and powders and they’re not really interested in the local connection to the farm."

"It’s amazing how territorial people are about where they sit in the restaurant. People will walk in and have a notion in their mind about where they sit or what their table is, and God-forbid if someone else is sitting there. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, someone’s sitting at my table!’ But, everybody has some sense as to where they belong, and that’s kind of a nice thing."

INTERVIEW