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Chef Matthew Boudreau slices white asparagus in The Preston House kitchen. (Credit: Cyndi Zaweski, file)

The simple yet powerful act of watching his grandma transform flour and sugar into coffee cake as a child inspired chef Matthew “Matty” Boudreau’s culinary career. 

Elevating simple, fresh ingredients is the hallmark of the rustic meets New American menu Boudreau created for the newly opened Preston House and Hotel in Riverhead.

“My grandmother used to say that you don’t need a fireman unless there’s a fire, but everyday you eat,” Boudreau said. “When people sit down to eat a meal, it’s something they need to do. As a chef, you have to have empathy — this is one of their life necessities that you are making for them. There has to be a correlation between sustenance and art on the plate.”

All the dishes on the menu — from the pit master bacon appetizer to (grandma) Edith’s coffee cake — tell the story of Boudreau’s global and diverse culinary journey.

The Sag Harbor resident got his start at an early age growing up in Cambridge, Mass., just outside of Boston. By the time he was 8 years old, Boudreau was helping his father cook up sausages for the family hotdog cart near Fenway Park and as a teenager he worked his way up from dishwasher to prep cook in one of Boston’s only Lebanese restaurants.

He travelled the country working under James Beard award-winning chef Charlie Trotter in Chicago, Tommy Giovanni in New Orleans and as a chef for New York City institution Balthazar, where he was a part of the opening team. Along the way he picked up French, Creole and Mediterranean styles.

“Even though I had heard of international foods, that was when I truly understood influence,” he said. “You see the roots in the cooking. Learning solidified in my mind that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Boudreau went on to work at Sunset Beach on Shelter Island, cultivating relationships with local farmers and restaurateurs. After travelling to Europe, living in London as a personal chef for Formula 1 racers, and later as the executive chef at CRU, Boudreau returned to Shelter Island as the chef du cuisine at Vine Street Café for nearly six years. He also briefly opened his own restaurant, Locavore, and most recently served as chef at Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor.

Boudreau jumped at the chance to sign on as chef for the historic Preston House and Hotel when he was approached with the offer last fall. The extensive renovation to transform the 100-year-old house into a modern hotel and restaurant were far from complete when Boudreau did his first walkthrough of the site in October.

“I was instantly in love with it,” he said. “It’s a pretty cool space because of the historical ode with the house being from 1905,” he said. “I am a huge history buff, so anything that has a story behind it interests me.”

A section of second floor of the restaurant. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

With the kitchen work yet to be finished, Boudreau had a rare opportunity to customize the state-of-the-art space before its official opening on Valentine’s Day.

“When you’re designing a menu, you have to set the kitchen up to accommodate it,” he said. “Where your oven is in relation to your sauté station is a little intricate detail that improves flow.”

At The Preston, Boudreau is using his carefully honed technique to create fresh takes on classic standards. It’s about creating an experience,” he said, noting the 30 (mostly local) purveyors he uses to source the menu.

“My kitchen couldn’t run without a relationship with the farmers,” Boudreau said. “I need my greens. Vegetables excite me because they change seasonally. Evolution is a cool thing about what we do.”

The menu also pays homage to the history with the 1905 House Burger and to Boudreau’s side passion of competitive barbecuing.

“We’re not a barbecue restaurant, but smoke is an ingredient,” said Boudreau, who will compete in the World Championship of Barbecue in Memphis this May. “For example, the feta is house smoked. I smoke the sauce for the chicken. The flavor is meant to be peppered into the dishes.”

The restaurant is now serving Sunday brunch with items such as cheddar and sausage strata made with Browder’s Birds eggs. The restaurant is planning to open for Saturday brunch starting on April 21 and for lunch on April 26.

The Preston House and Hotel is located at 428 East Main Street in Riverhead.