Cooking up an English feast

Head cook at Shepherdstown pub prepares traditional British entrees

July 24, 2012|BY CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Lindsay Gaynor is head cook at the Devonshire Arms Cafe & Pub in Shepherdstown, W.Va. The restaurant specializes in British-style pub food and beverages.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — England is known for many things — royal pomp, the Magna Carta, Shakespeare’s plays, colonies around the world — but not necessarily for its cuisine. Still, traditional British pub fare is much like traditional American comfort food — simple and satisfying, featuring protein and starches.

And this week, the world will get a closer look at British cuisine, when the Olympic Games open in London and run for three weeks.

Local residents wanting a taste of British-style pub food can head to Shepherdstown, W.Va., for a bite at the Devonshire Arms Cafe & Pub. Owner Carolyn Litwack grew up in Plymouth, England, trained as a graphic designer, and lived in many countries around the world. She married an American and eventually settled in Shepherdstown and opened her pub.

Lindsay Gaynor, 23, is head cook at the Devonshire Arms. She cooked at its predecessor, the Carriage House, and then at Litwack’s pub since it opened in May 2011.

Gaynor sat down with The Herald-Mail to talk about English food, her childhood likes and dislikes and balancing work with studies at Shepherd University. She said it is more than a little ironic that she works as a cook, because she was not an adventurous eater as a child.

When you were growing up, were there foods you enjoyed?

I was actually a very picky eater. I ate pizza and chicken nuggets and hated vegetables. Working in a kitchen has really helped, because I just can’t be around food for very long without developing a taste for it. So I eat a lot more vegetables now. I love spinach, eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms, stuff like that.

When I was a kid, I didn’t eat a lot of green things — peppers, beans, peas. As an adult, some of those things I really like.

Your taste buds change every seven years, so you never stop developing a taste for things.

I didn’t like olives at all before I started working here. I didn’t like oranges. I didn’t like mushrooms. As you’re making foods, you want to know what it tastes like to know how to improve it. You just develop tastes for it. Just being around it, smelling it, seeing it being prepared. You just develop a taste for it.

How would you describe British food?

It’s very savory. A lot of it is quite heavy.

Are all dishes on the menu characteristically British?

About 10 — there’s the cottage pie, the Welsh rarebit, the fish and chips, the bangers and mash, a ploughman’s (lunch), a Scotch egg, and others.

What’s a Scotch egg?

It’s quite good. It’s a hard-boiled egg covered in sausage, breaded and deep fried.

And the rarebit?

It’s a spiced cheese, spiced with mustard and beer and a couple other things, it’s put on toast and broiled so it gets nice and bubbly, and served with a sauteed tomato on top and a side salad. It’s quite popular.

What ingredients are common in English food?

A lot of meats and starches. Like, the bangers and mash is one of the more popular dishes. It has two bangers — which are English sausages which we cook in Guinness (stout) — and mashed potatoes and baked beans.

Another popular dish is the fish and chips.

And another very popular British dish we have is the cottage pie. That is a layered dish in a crock. That has meat, peas and carrots simmered in a wine sauce in the bottom with mashed potatoes on top of that and cheese on top of that.

So, a lot of meats and starches.

We also have salads and a lot of vegetarian dishes for people who lighter fare.

Did you go to culinary school?

I don’t have any formal chef training. I started working here when I was 20 and just sort of moved my way up. At that point, it was called the Carriage House and the restaurant changed owners about a year ago.

How did you get interested in preparing food?

I just needed a job, and they needed a waitress. And then about six months later, they needed a cook, and I just started working on the food, started working on salads. As time went on, I just kind of worked my way up, and now I’ve been here longer than anyone.

What was it like when you were growing up?

My mom’s always cooked. My dad’s always cooked. They both worked when I was growing up, so if neither one was going to be home, either me or one of my brothers or sisters would make dinner. I’ve always been in the kitchen.

What did you like to make when you were a kid?

I liked sweet things. I’ve always liked to bake — brownies, and French toast and stuff like that. I would make meatloaf and turkey dinners and stuff like that for the family.

(Working here) really helped me to expand my palate, because when I was growing up, my parents always ate bland, American food. This helps me to eat different vegetables.

Did you grow up here in Shepherdstown?

I grew up in Hedgesville (W.Va.), actually. I ended up here because of the college. I’m a Shepherd student.

I generally work whenever they need me — I generally work four or five shifts during the school year, but at the end of the last school year, one of our cooks had to leave, so I took on her hours for the summer.

One of our cooks got sick around the time I had finals last semester, so I ended up filling in during finals. It worked out. There were some days, I had to work half a shift, then go take a exam, then come back and work half a shift.

What’s your major at Shepherd?

Physical therapy. I believe in preventative care, and I think a lot can be done to keep the body healthy before you get sick. And you know, a lot of injuries can be helped with physical therapy.

So this was your first restaurant job?

Actually, I did have one other restaurant job. I worked at a Fazoli’s in Huntington, W.Va., and I had to stop working there when I injured my knee. I put myself through my own physical therapy regimen with walking and biking, to get myself back in shape.

I’ve been working here for three years and been on my feet all the time, and so it’s helped. It’s helped a lot.

I guess it takes a certain amount of stamina to be a chef. You’re standing all the time, and you’re leaning over, chopping, mixing. How do you deal with that?

The right footwear helps immensely. Before I got a good brand of kitchen shoe, my knees would hurt all the time, my ankles would hurt all the time. I bought a good pair of orthopedic kitchen shoes. Posture also helps. There are ways of standing without locking your knees. That’s good for your joints.

Once you’re done with school, will you pursue a career as a physical therapist?

I’m not really sure yet. I will have to go somewhere else for graduate school, because Shepherd does not have a graduate program for physical therapy. But my boyfriend is opening up a restaurant in the next couple years, so I may be working there.

Does he cook?

He’s going to culinary school in New York right now.

When you’re on your own or with your boyfriend, what do you do to chill out?

Actually, he likes to cook. I help him cook, sometimes. I like to bake at home, but I usually don’t cook at home, because I cook all the time here. I usually like to do more active things, like outdoorsy things — hiking and biking and swimming and fishing, sometimes.

Swimming in the Potomac River?

Yes. I like the motivation of knowing you have to get to the other side or you drown.

Shepherdstown is interesting, with the college and things like CATF. You have an educated clientele and a progressive clientele, and also a traditional clientele.

It’s an interesting town. It’s so small, but because it’s historic, there’s a tourist population in the summer, which I never would have expected until I moved here. The town population decreases when school gets out, but increases when the weather gets warm.

Do you see more tourists here or more locals?

We see more locals because we’re not on Main Street like most restaurants. Tourists walk up and down main Street. I know some people like it here because there aren’t tourists here.

What else should people know about this place?

Carolyn, actually, makes it very unique. A lot of people come in just to sit and talk with her. As soon as you come in, she’ll sit and talk. It just has the feel of being at a friend’s house.

 It’s funny, because, a lot of the staff will hang out here after hours. It feels so much like home, being in your living room or in your friend’s living room.

What do your parents think about you working in a kitchen?

They think it’s funny, because I was always a picky eater. But they’re glad I found something I enjoy doing. And I really do enjoy doing it. I know a lot of kids my age just work wherever they can find a job, whatever they feel like at the time. But I really do enjoy working here. I enjoy Carolyn and my co-workers and the food and the regulars.

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