CAPE MAY – One of the newest employees is responsible for bringing a fresh concept to Congress Hall, one of Cape May’s oldest resorts.
Dylan Rutherford, 22, of West Cape May, was hired in October 2014 to work as a kitchen “roundsman,” which he said meant he would be doing whatever they wanted done.
“It was a temporary position. I worked in the pastry station, mostly, until four months ago,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford was about two weeks from graduating from the Culinary Institute of America when he came home for a visit. He and a friend spent an evening in Congress Hall’s Boiler Room, which is a night spot located in the basement level of the hotel.
“At around midnight I was starving and I realized there was no food in the Boiler Room, except some kind of chips,” Rutherford said. “I was thinking they could do pizza here.”
Rutherford returned to Culinary Institute and went to work changing his business plan, which is part of the curriculum. He based his new business plan on a pizza restaurant and bread making. He had already started a bread business in 2010, which his aunt is running.
Rutherford said making pizza was a time-honored tradition with his relatives in Georgetown, Mass., where his uncle would hold an annual “Pizzapalooza” after Thanksgiving. Rutherford used to go there regularly, and started helping out, calling his uncle a big influence on his pizza making interest and skills. After his uncle’s passing he took over the pizza making duties, making the dough, setting up the menu, and gathering the ingredients.
With pizza in his blood and a business plan in his pocket, Rutherford approached Congress Hall owner Curtis Bashaw and set up a meeting at this parent’s house on Stephens Street in West Cape May. Rutherford prepared and served about six kinds of pizza to Bashaw and his business partner Patrick Logue.
“I told them the Boiler Room was a relatively empty space except for two nights per week, and I thought this would work,” he said. “(Bashaw) loved the idea. He said he wanted to have food in the Boiler Room for years and said I might be the right person.”
With the help and guidance of executive chef Jeremy Einhorn, Rutherford started making pizza at the Boiler Room, where a wood-fired brick oven was installed. Rutherford said a gas burner helps ignite the oak wood and keep the oven temperature at 700 degrees Fahrenheit. If the wood is producing enough heat to maintain the temperature, the gas is turned off.
“The wood fire is aesthetic, and it creates a slightly smoky flavor and helps the moisture content,” he said.
Rutherford said he was inspired by culinary training and his own desire to experiment. He developed a half-dozen recipes for his pizzas, including the most popular, a traditional Margherita pizza made with plum tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra virgin olive oil.
“The Margherita pizza accounts for about 50 percent of our sales,” Rutherford said.
Also on the menu is the:
Berkshire Ham: Fontina and ricotta cheese, roasted broccoli rabe, caramelized onions, roasted mushrooms, ham, and white truffles;
Smokey Pulled BBQ: Smokey barbecue sauce, pulled pork, caramelized onions, shaved fennel, fresh mozzarella, thyme, and shaved grana padana;
Pepperoni: plum tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, natural casing pepperoni, and fresh basil;
Beach Plum Farm: Chef’s daily preparation featuring wood-fired seasonal vegetables from Cape Resorts’ Beach Plum Farm;
Sopressata and Capicola: Sweet sopressata, hot capicola, fig jam glaze, rosemary, aged balsamic, grilled red onions, goat cheese, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.
“We had a fig tree in our yard, and my mom makes fig jam. One day I wanted to try it on pizza and it worked,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford said some of his ideas came from going to Seaside Cheese in West Cape May and buying unusual types of salami and cheese for snacking. He said he started putting the leftovers on pizza. He said he also learned about pairing flavor combinations at the Culinary Institute.
The Beach Blum Farm pizza is the one pizza that will change on a regular basis, depending on what vegetables are available that season. Last week it was zucchini, squash, and eggplant. This week it was Japanese eggplant puree, heirloom tomatoes, ricotta cheese, scallions, and fresh basil.
The Berkshire, he said, might also change a little. One week the farm produced a lot of Swiss chard, and he used that instead of broccoli.
Rutherford said he works very hard to keep his tomato sauce consistent, hearty, flavorful, and fresh, which he said is helped by adding a lot of basil.
Currently, pizza is being offered from 5 p.m. until about 10 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; Thursday and Sunday until about midnight, and Friday and Saturdays until 1 a.m. Rutherford said, in general, as long as there is music playing the Boiler Room will be serving pizza. Live entertainment is scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays.
Rutherford said one of his goals is to help make the Boiler Room a year-round restaurant and bar.
“There is no reason this can’t be a local spot in the winter,” he said.
Rutherford said he would like to set up other brick-oven pizza operations in other Cape Resorts locations, including one in Sag Harbor, N.Y. He said he would also like to begin making fresh bread for Congress Hall. Ultimately, he would like to franchise his own L.B. Bread Company.