Celebrated Chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo spearheads the reinvention of the Roger Sherman Inn, a historic landmark in New Canaan for nearly a decade. The stunning New England restaurant and 17-room Inn will undergo a significant culinary transformation as it remakes itself for the 21st century.
Chef Kwaku-Dongo is introducing a seasonally inspired menu, showcasing fresh, locally procured ingredients. The menu at the Roger Sherman Inn is a culinary tour of New England, its coastal seafood, local family farms, and talented artisans. Using these East Coast ingredients as the foundation for quality and flavor, Chef Kwaku-Dongo applies techniques honed in some of the most demanding kitchens in the country.
“The opportunity at the J-House gave me a real understanding of Connecticut tastes,” Kwaku-Dongo continued. “What was really fun was the chance to open the chocolate factory. Many of those specialties we have brought to the Roger Sherman Inn.”
“I fell in love with the Roger Sherman Inn property the moment I saw it. It had the feel of a great upstate inn with a historical building. At the same time, you could see that the dining areas and back of the house could easily be brought to the 21st century.”
“What I have also learned is that to be successful in a suburban setting, you need to have a dynamic catering business. It is very difficult to run an a la carte only operation that can generate enough volume with limited margins.”
Handpicked by famed Chef Wolfgang Puck to cook in his highly acclaimed California restaurants Chinois on Main, Granita, and Postrio, Chef Kwaku-Dongo was elevated to Executive Chef at the iconic Spago in West Hollywood where Chef Puck’s innovative open kitchen concept was all the rage and Chef Kwaku-Dongo was the star of the show in a city consumed with entertainment.
“The opportunity to work with Wolfgang was so special,” Kwaku-Dongo noted. “One of the very first events I worked with him was at the Academy Awards.”
Chef Kwaku-Dongo went on to open Spago Chicago where he oversaw the development of Wolfgang Puck Catering and Events, a division of Puck’s expanding empire whose clients included Harpo Entertainment and Goldman-Sachs, among others. In 2005 he journeyed to Greenwich, CT to lead a team on the rejuvenation of L’Escale restaurant on Greenwich Harbor with his inspired land and sea menu. He then went on to open the boutique hotel and restaurant, The J House Greenwich and Eleven-14 Kitchen where he created his Chocolate Lab, a pastry and gelato shop featuring hand-crafted chocolate desserts using Omanhene chocolate produced entirely in Ghana.
Chef Kwaku-Dongo serves as the Culinary Director for the Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, the first company to sustain exports of bean-to-bar, single-origin chocolate produced exclusively in Africa. These chocolate masterpieces can now be enjoyed at the Roger Sherman Inn.
In the kitchen with Chef Kwaku-Dongo is Chef Adam Truelove, his protégé from Eleven-14 Kitchen and a masterful chef in his own right.
The lunch, dinner, tavern, and Sunday brunch menus are comprised of from-scratch recipes which run the gamut from comforting tavern fare to more refined dishes, including; House Cured Smoked Salmon; Grilled Octopus with chorizo vin, olives, and fingerling potatoes; Woodbridge Farm Oxtail Raviolo with sun-dried tomato and rosemary jus; Roasted Bronzini with salsa verde, roasted fennel, and fregola; and -Truelove Farms Grilled Pork Chop with braised red cabbage, apples, pancetta, and red wine jus. Tavern favorites and bar bites consist of; Lump Crab Cakes with roasted pepper aioli; RS Lobster “Club” Sandwich layered with walnut bread, tomato and bacon; USDA Prime Black Angus Beef Mini Burgers with Vermont cheddar, shallot marmalade, garlic aioli, and hand-cut fries; artisanal cheese and charcuterie; and Tuscan Kale tossed with chicory, pecorino, walnuts, in a lemon yogurt dressing. Sunday Brunch is made special with organic Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, tomato confit, and hollandaise sauce, and decadent Brioche French Toast topped with stewed apples and vanilla mascarpone.
“One of the key elements to our success at the Roger Sherman has been our ability to source wonderful local product,” Truelove added. “We are sourcing our pork from my cousin’s pig farm in Morris. CT. The Inn’s roots are in classic French cooking. So our approach is to infuse an item like scallops in oil to bring out the kind of sweetness that the scallop farmers envision. So our menus are all about respecting that old school French and blending that with new premium American style items.”
Chef Truelove, a graduate of New York’s esteemed French Culinary Institute, made his culinary inroads while cooking at such high profile New York eateries as; Esca Restaurant under the tutelage of Chef David Pasternak; and Chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s Town Restaurant. Fairfield and Westchester County residents have been enjoying Chef Truelove’s inspired dishes when he cooked at such popular restaurants as Joe Bastianich’s Tarry Lodge with Chef Andy Nusser; Ramze Zakka’s Sole with Chef Albert DeAngelis; and while the Executive Chef of Napa & Company.
Truelove’s road to the Roger Sherman Inn took a different path.
“My Dad was a chef, so for years I had a dream of owning a small little restaurant and it came true in Oxford, CT. It was really hard work and so I decided that I wanted to build my skills and went to the French Culinary.”
“It was an incredibly valuable experience from a program that is designed for people who want to work hard,” Truelove reminisced. “It had a great faculty who taught you the basics but the harder you work the more the instructors will give you.”
“That program then opened doors for me that led to mentors including Tom Colicchio and David Pasternak. I pushed both of them to teach me more. By the time I left, I could work at any given station and was just kind of respected by my peers which became an essential part of my management style.”
With a talented team at the helm and a fresh approach, guests of the new Roger Sherman Inn have much to look forward to. The Roger Sherman “Unplugged” series will continue to showcase live music by local artists in the Tavern, in addition to seasonal events, wine dinners, and visits from special guest chefs, farmers, and artisans. Craft cocktails and local brews are offered, and an accessible and global wine list is being newly curated.
Stunning catered events, weddings, and milestone celebrations are made all the more special under this quintessential New England setting with the addition of Chef Kwaku-Dongo’s new menu, gifted team, and forward-thinking vision.
To learn more about the Roger Sherman Inn, visit their website.