I’ve been a fan of Chef Ben Sukle’s New Naturalism inspired cooking since I first tasted it at The Dorrance in Providence, R.I. in December of 2011. The Dorrance with Chef Sukle was a restaurant that had a lot of potential. It had a great, albeit large and somewhat unwieldy space and it had good, motivated owners. However, despite all of the positives, it was not an ideal space for Chef Sukle’s style of cooking, which begged for a more intimate setting.
This past week, Chef Ben Sukle and his wife, Heidi, announced that that setting will be forthcoming as they are taking the big step into their own restaurant, which they are calling birch. They will not be moving far from The Dorrance, just a few blocks over to 200 Washington Street in downtown Providence. The Sukles promise “a warm, vibrant room that exposes beauty through raw and natural elements. With its high ceilings and exposed brick, birch will be an ideal setting for a modern progressive dining experience that reflects an outlook on pure and raw elements.”
Why birch? According to their press release, “‘We’ve taken the name from childhood nostalgia. Pennsylvania Dutch-style birch beer was something we both loved growing up,’ says Sukle, who along with Heidi is a Pennsylvania native. ‘In the same way a birch tree starts from its roots, we will take a ‘from the roots up’ approach to not only food and drink, but also when it comes to our guests.’ The opening of birch also happens to coincide with the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, for which the traditional gift is wood. ‘The intimate size and ethos of birch will allow us to use limited products that tend to go unnoticed or neglected in our region,’ Sukle added. His dedication to the pursuit of underutilized catch from local fishermen, as well as continuing to establish relationships with farmers and efforts to draw from the wild ingredients that Rhode Island grows will help to create a menu that showcases the very best and unique qualities of New England’s seasonal environment.” They are describing the approach to their food as “modern American cuisine rooted in classical technique.”
I have no doubt that the food and beverage program will be exceptional as Sukle continues to utilize the best farmed and fished products the region has to offer to create a food and beverage program that is both personal and engaging. Sukle learned a lot in his short time at noma as well as his other experiences throughout Rhode Island and the United States. At The Dorrance he wisely did not try to recreate the food of noma or Denmark, but he did instill a sensibility and approach gleaned from that experience, searching for quality, under-utilized regional produce and exploring the best ways to make the product shine to deliciousness while adding his own, personal aesthetic.
Knowing the commitment of the ownership, I have no doubt that The Dorrance will continue to be a very good restaurant without the Sukles and I wish them the best of luck in that regard. I also have no doubt, that in a more intimate setting designed to integrate with the chef’s cuisine, that Ben Sukle’s talent and reputation will both continue to grow in exciting ways at birch. I am very much looking forward to this exciting new restaurant expected to open some time this summer!