WILLIAMSTOWN -- Born and raised in Pittsfield, Robert Beuth has recently returned to the Berkshires, after more than a dozen years away, to take up the position of chef at Hops and Vines restaurant.
"I'm glad to be back in the area, glad to be cooking in the area," said Beuth. "It's nice to be around all my friends and family again. Things have changed a little bit, but it's nice to be back in the area. A lot of friends moved away, but everyone's starting to come back now."
Beuth grew up with a father who owned various restaurants in Pittsfield and Lenox for a quarter-century, including Jimmy's, Silver Screen, Zampano's and Giovanni's. Beuth was in the kitchen from childhood, cooking as early as 15 years old. After cooking in his father's restaurants and taking Berkshire Community College's culinary program, Beuth attended Johnson and Wales in Providence, R.I.
Traveling south, Beuth found work at various resorts, country clubs and private dining clubs in South Carolina, such as the Grand Dunes Ocean Club and The Carriage House Club. After 11 years in South Carolina, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he spent two years working for the Belmont Country Club in Virginia.
Beuth said that he had been looking for an opportunity to come back to the area, and so when he saw the chance to come work as a chef at Hops and Vines, he was eager for the chance to return.
"Some things obviously have changed, people have gotten older and gotten new lives, but it's nice to be back in the swing of things. I think we're going to be in the area for quite a while. ... My wife's originally from the area as well, so she's enjoying being close to her family, and I think we're ready to settle down."
In addition to the joys of returning to the Berkshires, Beuth was happy to get out of the private clubs and get back to cooking every day where he could exert more influence over the direction of the menus. Barely a month into his new position, Beuth has already made many changes.
"We've changed about 70 percent of the menu so far, got some new entrees, new appetizers, bringing in new seasonal ingredients, trying to work more with local farms," he explained. "Right now, we're using our fall purchase -- sweet potatoes, apples, cider in different applications, beets and root vegetables."
When it comes to designing the menu, Beuth is happy to focus on using the locally sourced ingredients and let that drive his decisions.
"I don't worry about what other chefs do," said Beuth. "I like to cook with nice available ingredients. We have a ricotta gnudi on the menu that I don't think you can find on the menu anywhere else in Berkshire county; it's a ricotta dumpling. Ricotta Gnudi is a ricotta dumpling sort of like a gnocci, but nice and light, airy, and served with sun-dried tomatoes, dried sage, parmesan broth."
Beuth attempts to showcase the local ingredients used in his cooking by keeping the recipes simple, often with not more than half a dozen ingredients, to allow the main themes of the dish to shine through without interference from overwhelming flavors.
"I don't like to use a lot of heavy ingredients, just to provide a well-balanced dish that looks nice and tastes great that our customers will enjoy. I don't like to use a bunch of marinades, creams or heavy sauces. I like doing upscale American, trying to use local protein, veggies and seafood, to provide the best product I can."
Hops and Vines is open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday & Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.