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LAST CALL AT THE CAPE Celebrity chef Michele Ragussis winds up her Provincetown stint with a New Year's Eve bash--and a move to the Hudson Valley.

Celebrity chef Michele Ragussis has lived all over the Northeast, hailing originally from Derby, Conn., and studying I in Rhode Island where she learned to love fresh seafood. For a time she was based in the hipster heartland of Brooklyn, and most recently, Provincetown, that LGBTQ oasis on Cape Cod where, as executive chef of Central House at The Crown & Anchor, she turned out delicious classic plates for three years-think freshly-shucked local Wellfleet oysters, baked lobster mac 'n' cheese, grilled rib eye, and on Thursday nights, an Italian dinner featuring her signature linguine and clams with garlic, shallots, chilies, clams, white wine, butter and herbs.

"My style of food is New England seafood with a Greek Sicilian flair," Ragussis told me this fall as she was prepping for the festive season. "I am known for sea food but I also make a lot of pasta--I am half Greek, half Sicilian so almost every dish is influenced by that in some way." she says. Her approach to seafood is seasonal, for example, steamed littleneck clams in the summer match with corn and basil, and in fall or winter she switches to chorizo, white beans and kale to make a heartier clam dish.

While Ragussis has relished her time out on the Cape, loving "the raw beauty of the coast, and the marine life that I get to see when I drive around the beaches," she also feels the pull of spontaneous creativity and of New York. This winter she will relocate to the Hudson Valley, N.Y. where she hopes to tap into the local farm-to-table movement, and plot her next culinary adventure-offering one-off tasting menus of up to 10 courses, and underground pop-ups restaurant dinners that create buzz, enrich local culture, support local winemakers, and tie in charities including animal welfare causes and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"Because you're not doing anything in this world if you're not helping somebody," she says. "I want to help. This world is going to pieces right now and not enough of us are doing our part." The community of food and the ritual of eating together is a way of doing that.

Ragussis, who is currently single, is also looking forward to shorter hours, spare time, and creating more lesbian community. "I've dated on an off but it's very hard, especially working 13 hours a day. You don't want to go out and talk or hang out at the end of the day." She admires and understands the small lesbian and queer pop-up supper clubs such as Queer Soup Night and the frequently sold-out food-focused Babetown parties. Massive restaurants with 100 seats don't allow for creative minds, she says. "Anybody who's creative cannot be boxed. I honestly think, with the world the way it is, people are doing whatever they can to make themselves happy and create a sense of freedom."

In commercial cooking, women, she says, "have to be strong, confident and talented to not be chewed up and spat out" by a still male-dominated industry. But increasingly, consumers are demanding more creativity from the food scene. "People want an experience when they go out to eat and it gets boring to just order a steak or a pasta plate. It's more fun to have an interactive experience, a sense of community, meet new people, and get to try 10 different things that are seasonal, healthy, and delicious--I think that's making a movement right now."

Ragussis has the drive, vision and confidence to have landed herself 13 reality TV experiences, but her own show eludes her. Last year she developed Funny Food on YouTube where she taught comics such as Kate Clinton how to cook. She still thinks it's a good idea for a TV show. "It's hard to get your own television show. I've done a lot of TV and I love doing it so I'm hoping I do more."

But until Food Network calls again, Ragussis is "gonna go and do what I honestly think I have a shot at doing and I'm going to be extremely happy doing it."

And in the meantime, you have one last opportunity to catch Chef Michele's last hurrah the week of New Year's at Central House in P-town. There will be a brunch menu, a dinner menu, and a special menu for New Year's Eve featuring classic dishes such as surf and turf with lobster, and scallops with shaved truffles, asparagus and baby potato hash. Her Italian influence might also make an appearance with a sweet potato ravioli. If you can't take a seat at her table, try the recipe, at right, or follow her on Instagram @chefmichele.

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
SIGNATURE DISH: LINGUINE AND CLAMS

"My favorite dish, and I think I have perfected it!
I always had it as a kid and just thought it was always missing
something. Most people who come into the restaurant say this is
the best linguine and clams they have ever had."--Chef Michele

INGREDIENTS:

16  littleneck clams
1   pint of fresh chopped clams
2   cloves garlic
1   shallot
1/2 tsp chili flakes (add more if you like spicy)
1   lemon
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1   pound linguine
1   cup good white wine
12  bunches fresh parsley, chopped
2   tbsp butter

METHOD:

1 Put linguine on to boil in salted
water.

2. In a teaspoon of canola oil, saute
shallots, garlic, whole clams, chili
and half of the parsley, salt, pepper.

2. When the garlic is a perfect golden
brown, add wine to stop the cooking
and keep the flavor before it
burns.

3. Cover and steam about 8 mins until
clams open and liquid is reduced
by half.

4. Take out clams and set aside in dish.

5. Add 2 tablespoons butter and
chopped clams.

6. When cooked, take linguine
straight from the water and add
to clam mixture. Add 1 or 2 tbs
of pasta water, reduce, turn
heat to low and toss.

7. Add parmesan and parsley, mix
well, and arrange on a platter.
Top with clams in shell, lemon
zest, the remaining parsley,
and top with any leftover liquid
from the cooked littlenecks.

Serves 4
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Author:Johns, Merryn
Publication:Curve
Date:Dec 1, 2017
Words:1033
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