In his late teens, Ben Lightbody, Executive Chef at Grove in Rowley, saved his money to visit as many upscale restaurants as he could. Eventually, he checked every Michelin 3-Star restaurant in the country off his list.
“Once you’ve seen [cooking] done at a high level, you know what you want to replicate and what you want to take away from it,” Lightbody says. He learned aesthetic techniques from world-renowned restaurants, Asian flavors from his wife, Barbara, and his own travels, and creative inspiration from the restaurants where he’s worked—and brings each of these influences to the menu at Grove.
Located right off of Main St. at Briar Barn Inn, Grove offers laid-back, locally-focused New England fare. The restaurant boasts a rustic and secluded spot to dine, and with Chef Lightbody at the helm, delivers a seasonal menu centered around refined food with a hearty soul.
“We’re trying to offer something that connects diners to where they’re from and where they’re eating. I’ve spent many years building relationships with local farmers so I can really offer people a taste of what’s local,” says Lightbody.
After bussing tables at 14, Lightbody worked his way up the North Shore’s culinary ranks without any formal training. “It’s one of those businesses that’s technique-driven. You can learn a lot on your own just by practicing, paying attention, and studying the art of cooking,” he says. “There’s a lot that you come across along the way just grabbing inspiration from around the world.”
Before opening Grove in April of 2019, Lightbody worked his way around the area, starting at 1640 Hart House in Ipswich. He then moved to Luciano’s, now I Pazzi in Danvers, followed by Ithaki in Ipswich and eventually Willowdale Estates, Grove’s sister property. “I got lucky, I kind of walked into [this career]. I didn’t know when I started that I would like it this much, but a couple years in and I was hooked,” he says.
Grove’s locally-sourced dishes are a product of Chef Lightbody’s varied culinary experiences and passion for showcasing what New England has to offer. “I want to show people that there’s still local farmers in the area working very hard and producing great food. I want to make [their products] available to everyone in the area,” he says. With local ingredients as the star of his dishes, he works outward from there, combining flavor profiles, techniques, and cuisines that he’s discovered throughout the course of his career. “It really starts with what’s available and what’s local. I let the product speak for itself.”
When designing Grove’s menu each season, Lightbody has one goal in mind: creative comfort food with an elevated, rustic flair. “It’s walking the tightrope of keeping more adventurous diners entertained but at the same time appealing to someone who’s just looking for a nice meal with their family.” He says even the simplest dish can be extravagant when combined with innovative cooking techniques and artistic plating.
For Lightbody, it’s a deep love for the creativity of cooking that allows him to spend 80 hours a week in the kitchen. “Luckily, I found a creative outlet in food. There’s so many different cultures and flavors, so there’s always something new to create,” he says. “You have a very big canvas and a lot of paint to choose from when cooking.”
For more information about Grove, visit www.briarbarninn.com/grove/.
Bring a taste of Grove to your own kitchen with this tater tot recipe from Chef Lightbody.
Grove’s House-Made Tater Tots (Pommes Paillasson)
4 large gold or Russet potatoes
2 quarts of rendered duck fat
1 3/4 teaspoons of kosher salt
3 tablespoons of fresh-picked thyme leaves
1. Heat the rendered duck fat in a 4-quart stock pot to 200F. Once the fat is up to temperature, shred the peeled potatoes with a food processor or the large setting on a box grater.
2. Place the grated potato directly into the warmed duck far. Stir, very gently, every minute or so for approximately 10 minutes, or until the potato is very tender but not falling apart. (Note: The starches will be sticky.)
3. When cooked, strain the potatoes and reserve the fat. While the potatoes drain, chop the thyme and combine with salt in a small bowl.
4. Move the potato mixture to a sheet pan and mold into a 1/2 inch slab. Cover and place in the refrigerator to cool for at least 2 hours.
5. Remove the potato mixture from the refrigerator and cut the slab gently into cubes or rectangles. Heat the reserved duck fat in a frying pot to 350F. When up to temperature, fry in batches until golden brown. (Note: the tater tots will stick together if fried too closely, so allow adequate room between them.)
6. Move to a container lined with paper towels to drain. Season with salt and serve.