Clinton’s Chamard Vineyard is home to true Lyonnaise dining
When humans first potted wine around 11,000 BC somewhere along the Fertile Crescent, we can imagine them sipping it under Mesopotamian skies, surrounded by natural beauty, enjoying it with their simplest and tastiest dishes.
Eons later, the old ways are still the best: sitting in a working vineyard, tasting the fruit of nearby vines, and dining on fresh local delicacies. The French elevated the whole affair to an art form—nowhere more so than in places like the Bordeaux and Chardonnay regions. That is where food and wine, climate and conviviality, merged to create the farmhouse savoir-faire we still cherish today.
That old-world setting exists today along the Connecticut shoreline. Chamard Vineyards Farm, Winery, & Bistro in historic Clinton, has been operating for 33 years in bucolic surroundings. They grow 20 acres of select wine grapes, produce excellent vintages, and serve them with inspired French-American comfort food.
Chamard’s busy kitchen is the domain of Executive Chef Matthew Bouffard. Like the grapes in Chamard’s award-winning Estate Reserve wines, Bouffard was born and raised in Clinton. He learned to love cooking with his Dad, who owned a tavern. At age 12, his Mother’s Day feasts of homemade pasta were already legendary.
That inborn talent took him to The Center of Culinary Arts, where he learned classical haute cuisine, combining the bourgeois and peasant cooking styles of early 20th century Paris. After apprenticing at celebrated kitchens including New Haven’s Union League Café, Bouffard returned to the shoreline. He worked as chef de cuisine at the popular Madison Beach Hotel, and met a mentor in Chef Brendon Dion.
“At that time it was really a volume seafood restaurant,” Bouffard says. “I was good, I had the speed. But Chef Dion brought me back to classical French cuisine. He started working with a lot of local products and a lot of local produce. That was a true restaurant environment. It’s exactly what we are doing now at Chamard.”
At Chamard’s restaurant, The Bistro, Bouffard shows a flair for cuisine de Lyonnaise, in dishes such as his fragrant vichyssoise with white truffle crème fraiche; his succulent Confit de Poulet with fond de volaille; and his savory assiette de charcuteries served simply, with pâté de campagne and a warm baguette.
Bouffard’s affinity for the Lyonnaise style is important to anyone who craves a genuine farm-to-table meal. That entire school of cooking—indigenous ingredients prepared with rustic authenticity—was invented in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Without the requisite skill and ingredients, it isn’t true farm-to-table cuisine.
“For me this is extremely important,” Bouffard says. “If somebody wants to come and experience our restaurant, we only want to give them what is grown locally. Nothing frozen. The freshest eggs. The freshest meats. At the start of each season, I reinvent my menu around what I’m getting from the farms in our region.”
This is not to say that every dish served at The Bistro is a complex French affair. Bouffard is also a master of American comfort food. His exceptional burgers with Four Mile River Farm beef keep drawing droves of loyal customers. Same with a slew of American favorites, from Bouffard’s exquisite grilled cheese with Gruyere and Gouda, to his Harvest Salad with local pears and candied walnuts.
Bouffard’s inventive nature is also being expressed in the special menus he prepares for Chamard’s frequent wine tastings. This past winter, he created a special five-course chocolate-inspired menu for Valentine’s Day. For that particular Winemaker’s Dinner, Bouffard served up White Chocolate & Mussel Bisque, Chicken Crepes with Chocolate Mole Sauce, and Duck & Chocolate Ravioli, accompanied by wine pairings from Chamard’s own copiously stocked cellar. It was a triumph.
Not surprisingly, word has spread about the charming Bistro situated on a stunning vineyard among forests and fields, not far from Long Island Sound. Chamard was recently voted one of the Top 10 French-American Restaurants in the entire Tri-State area by dining reservation service, Open Table.
“To me it proves all the hard work that everybody does here is being recognized,” Bouffard says. “It’s also extremely meaningful because to rate a restaurant through Open Table, you have to actually eat there. You have to honor a reservation to leave a rating. So it’s an accurate and true forum. And it is a great recognition.”
With warm weather arriving, things are about to go into high-season swing at Chamard. That means a new season of excellent local wines, including three of this year’s most anticipated offerings: Chamard’s rare Viognier; their two-year aged in barrel Pinot Noir; and a truly delicious Chardonnay Port.
How does his unique relationship with a vineyard affect Bouffard’s kitchen?
“It affects it immensely, because you’re always thinking about what will pair with the wines, and about cooking with these wines. The vineyard itself attracts so many people who don’t even know there’s a fine French restaurant here.”
Some secrets are simply too good to keep.