October 7 – 20, 2019
Mount Washington — A breeze plays among the slender blades of a lemongrass plant in my garden. The plant is like a graceful fountain lit by the early autumn sun. It seems a breath touches a leaf and the leaf nods. I am in the company of the spirit of Michael Ballon, the longtime chef-owner of Castle Street Cafe, which, until New Year’s Day 2017, was located next door to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.
I grew lemongrass for Michael’s savory dish “Sea Scallops in Lemongrass Broth.” In his “Castle Street Cafe Cookbook,” Mike wrote: “Of all the food items grown in the garden, nothing is as different [from store-bought] as growing your own lemongrass … Fresh lemongrass … is green and verdant, with a very powerful bouquet and flavor.” Mike was enthusiastic about vegetables as décor, too. He often requested a potted plant for his station at the annual Berkshire Grown Harvest Supper. For harvest season ambience, I braided red and yellow onions to hang as complements to architectural features in the Cafe dining room. Mike nodded appreciation of heirloom pumpkin and corn arrangements I added to counters and sills. He especially admired ruddy Rouge Vif d’Etampes, aka Cinderella pumpkins (Curcubita maxima) that served as a premium soup ingredient when displays changed.
Castle Street Café and its artistically designed Celestial Bar, a jazz venue, was a centerpiece of Great Barrington’s social and cultural life. Mike was omnipresent as a magnanimous supporter of community organizations, craftsmen and artists. He died Sept. 26. Michael Ballon’s “Castle Street Cafe Cookbook” and “A Chef’s Life: Farm to Table Cooking in the Berkshires” are available for sale at the Bookloft.
The Bookloft, 322 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Phone: (413) 528-1521 – https://www.thebookloft.com/