The owners of Bear in Boots Gastropub and their children host a memorable holiday feast, complete with homemade kielbasa, pierogies and macarons, at their home in Falmouth.By Lisa Cavanaugh | Photography by Betty Wiley
It’s the day before Christmas and the busy owners of Bear in Boots Gastropub, Kate and Gates Rickard, are making pierogies, chilling Czech beer and overseeing their three young children who are putting the finishing touches on the family’s elaborate miniature Christmas village. Snow is expected and the Rickards hope all of their guests will be able to make it to their home in Falmouth, not far from their popular downtown restaurant. Gathering an eclectic collection of friends and family has become an annual tradition for the duo, who moved to Cape Cod a few years ago after a decade as chefs in Europe and Boston.
“I always wanted a big house to fill at the holidays,” says Kate. Tonight, both sets of grandparents and four cousins will be staying over, and on Christmas Day the party will expand to include more family and assorted friends. “Everybody arrives at different times on Christmas Eve, so we set out a spread of food and as people get here, they can just grab something,” says Gates. With up to 40 guests dropping by over the next few days, he relishes the chance to do what he regularly does at work—explore different genres of cooking while providing comforting and delicious dishes for all.
“It’s why we opened a gastropub,” he continues. “We have a lot of freedom. On our menu, we have a cassoulet from France, pretzels from Germany, ramen from Japan. It is really a lot of fun for us as chefs to dream up any food we want and serve it.”
The celebratory menu tonight reflects not only the pub’s culinary range, but also the backgrounds of the Rickards and their holiday visitors. Kate is half Italian and half Polish, so there will be from-scratch lasagna in addition to the pierogies, and some homemade kielbasa. Gates excels at sausage making, and he also prepares an impressive charcuterie selection for the buffet. Since their guest list includes his cousin’s wife from Bratislava and a good friend originally from the Czech Republic, the Rickards have stocked up on European beer and wine and made sure to include something familiar for everybody. “We keep adding more food and beverages to match everyone’s background,” says Gates. It makes them feel more at home and welcome at Christmas.”
Just like at Bear in Boots, they make everything from scratch—even the ketchup and mayonnaise. “We do our own butchering, make our own pastas and breads,” says Gates, admitting that it’s a huge amount of work, but it gives them control over the quality of the food they serve.
Kate and Gates met in culinary school, at Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales University, and they had the same desire after graduation to eat, travel and cook. So they worked their way across Europe at restaurants and hotels in Belgium, France, Switzerland and England, but returned to America once they decided to start a family. They were happily living in Boston until one eventful week in which the restaurant where Gates was executive pastry chef closed, their landlord announced he needed his apartment back and Kate discovered she was pregnant. Gates took an offer to work at a seasonal resort on Martha’s Vineyard, which eventually led the pair to open their own bread business and two retail bakeries in Edgartown and Falmouth.
Ultimately, they sold their bakeries to open Bear in Boots in downtown Falmouth. “In London, we lived around the corner from a pub called the Slug and Lettuce,” Kate explains. “We would go to those kinds of pubs all the time. We wanted the same sort of character, so we did ‘Bear in Boots,’ which are the nicknames of my boys, Alex and Charlie.” Their youngest child, Ava, who loves purple and has a tendency to hide things around the house, is represented in the pub’s logo; she is the sneaky squirrel in a purple hat.
“We are constantly trying to balance how to have career and family at the same time,” says Kate, “and we bring the kids to work often. Everything in there is about family.” Charlie helps as the weekend maître d’ seating people and handing out menus, while Alex is learning how to cook and works the salad station. “We wanted the pub to be a nice addition to the town, a home for the town, a public house for everyone to meet, and it’s working out that way.”
That is why their Christmas is both family-centric and expansive. After their protracted Christmas Eve meal, they do a leisurely buffet breakfast for everyone the next morning. While the kids open presents, the adults enjoy Gates’ homemade brioche, bagels and lox, bacon and scrambled eggs. There is a lull in the afternoon when everyone plays games (poker is a favorite), and then once the additional guests arrive, the more formal Christmas dinner is served.
“We like do something opulent, like a roast beef,” says Kate. “At the restaurant, we are putting on a show for our guests and this is the same type of experience for our family and friends. We set up prep lists and have a thousand different things going on, with lots of people coming by. But it’s really not stressful for us to serve a lot of food. We do that every night. Here, it’s more casual and we get to enjoy it, too.”
The evening’s food is nearly ready, and Gates’ parents, June and Dave, help arrange the appealing display. Chalk names on a slate cutting board identify the specialty cheeses that Gates has selected while a tower of homemade macarons sits alongside hand-twisted pretzel bread. The kids are ready to taste everything and eager for the party to begin.
Ava wanders back to the enchanting Christmas village in the front hallway. It’s her favorite part of Christmas, especially the swans that “swim” across a little mirrored pond and the tiny girl posting a letter to Santa. “That’s me!” she says. “It is a lot to set up,” says Kate. “But everything there is representative of the family. My father started it all years ago for my mother and now it’s mine to do since I have the space for it. We are all in here.” She points out small figures and quaint buildings. “The kids love it,” says Kate. “They know the family stories.”
And that is ultimately the most important part of the Rickards’ elaborate days-long feast—the chance to share it all with family and friends. Later that night, after everyone has greeted each other and partaken of the mouthwatering smorgasbord, the best part of Kate’s day arrives. “I will often sleep on the floor in front of the fire. I can hear everyone purring throughout the house. I can tell that everybody’s happy, everybody has a full belly and is sleeping good. It’s really nice.”
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion
2 celery stalks
2 large carrots
4 cloves garlic
1 fresh bay leaf
1/2 pound ground chuck
1/2 pound ground veal shoulder
1/2 pound ground pork shoulder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon clove
2 cups red wine
3 cups imported canned Italian roma tomatoes
1 Parmesan rind (the Rickards like to buy whole parmesan and save the rind for recipes like this.)
2 pounds ricotta cheese
1 pound fresh mozzarella, shredded
2 8-ounce boxes of no-boil lasagna
4 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Warm a pot large enough to hold all the meat over medium high heat. (Bear in Boots restaurant grinds all the meat in-house, but if this is not possible, look for a high-quality ground meat.)
3. Brown the meat over medium heat.
4. Strain the meat into a fine mesh strainer, removing the accumulated fat in the pan. Set aside.
5. Dice onion, celery and carrots.
6. Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat and add the vegetables. Sauté until tender, about 6 to 8 minutes.
7. Chop the garlic, then add to the vegetables and sauté another minute.
8. Add the tomato paste and cook another minute, stirring constantly. Add the wine, bay leaf, clove, salt, pepper, canned tomatoes, parmesan rind and reserved meat. Allow to cook on low for at least one hour.
9. When the sauce has cooled, ladle some into the bottom of a lasagna pan. Layer in uncooked pasta sheets with the ricotta and Bolognese sauce. On the bottom layer, add an additional layer of sliced heirloom tomatoes and repeat on the top layer.
10. Bake for 45 minutes.
11. Sprinkle the shredded fresh mozzarella on top, then return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes.
“The addition of nutmeg and paprika is not orthodox for pierogies, just something I like!” says Chef Gates Rickard of Bear in Boots Gastropub.
8 ounces sour cream
2½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tablespoon baking power
½ teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup onion
2 cups cooked mashed potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
1. Combine the eggs and sour cream in a mixing bowl.
2. Combine and sift all dry dough ingredients.
3. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on low with a dough hook until it forms a ball. If mixer is having difficulty, turn out onto the counter with some flour and knead by hand.
4. Allow to rest at least half an hour.
5. Melt butter in a pan, sauté onion until softened and translucent.
6. Stir in rest of filling ingredients and mix together well.
7. Roll out dough to 1/8 inch. Cut circles 3 to 4 inches in diameter.
8. Brush a little water around the edges of the circles, and spoon some filling into the center. Fold the circles over into half-circles and press to seal the edges.
9. Once filled, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook three to five minutes or until they float. To serve, warm butter in a pan and lightly brown them.
10. Serve with additional sour cream.
1½ cup egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2½ cups confectioner’s sugar
2 cups almond flour
Raspberry (or another flavor) jam
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Make a meringue with the sugar, salt and egg whites. Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer), and beat on medium-high. When eggs are frothy, gradually add granulated sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated. Continue to beat the egg white mixture until glossy and stiff peaks form when you lift the beaters.
3. Combine remaining ingredients and fold into meringue.
4. Place mixture into pastry bag and pipe into 1-inch circles onto greased cookie sheets, leaving room on each side of the macarons.
5. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes
6. Bake for about 3 minutes, then open oven door a crack.
7. Leave in oven until tops are completely dry. Remove and cool.
8. Fill with raspberry jam or another flavor jam (other fillings can include ganache, buttercream or sweetened cream cheese).
9. For colored macarons, add food coloring when you combine dry ingredients to meringue.