By Terri J. Huck
Chef Nick Matush has come full circle. He is preparing to open his new restaurant, the Copper Fox, at 56 Main Street in Springfield at the place where he started his career in the culinary arts.
After attending Springfield’s River Valley Technical Center, Matush’s first job was in the dish pit at what was then the Morning Star Café, at 56 Main Street. The owner, the late Robert “Mac” McIntyre, was a mentor for Matush, who said he was such a picky eater as a kid that his parents told him he’d have to make his own dinner.
He gradually learned to do that, but it wasn’t until he met McIntyre that he really became interested in cooking. “That’s when I started to taste new things, and I thought, ‘Wow, food’s really cool.’”
McIntyre’s influence went beyond cooking to how he treated customers. “He’d see someone walk through the door, scream their name out, and run out and give them a hug,” Matush said. “He changed the way I thought businesses could be run. He made the kitchen so much fun that I felt like it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Eventually he put me on the line, and I learned how to cook here.”
Matush went on to study at the New England Culinary Institute’s satellite campus in Tortola. After graduation, he worked with high-profile chefs across the U.S. and in Tortola and learned to cook in a variety of cuisines, including Caribbean, Italian, Cuban and Peruvian. Most recently, he was executive chef at the Hartness House Tavern in Springfield.
He’s always been interested in farm-to-table cooking, and the Copper Fox’s menu will reflect that focus. He also calls his style melting pot cuisine. “I like to do eclectic fare from all over the world using local ingredients from the surrounding farms,” he said. “We can pretty much get all our meat and produce locally,” usually directly from farmers. That’s important to him because it supports the local economy and keeps small farmers in business.
His partner, Elise Ulrich, echoed that sentiment: “There’s something to be said about eating in Vermont and knowing that the food is coming from a local farm.”
Ulrich, who grew up working in her family’s catering business in Connecticut, has held jobs at a variety of restaurants and gradually moved into bartending. Living in Vermont piqued her interest in farm-to-table dining, and she has worked in Ludlow at the Downtown Grocery and Stemwinder, where she learned more about wine and met Matush. Ulrich will manage the bar at the Copper Fox and lend her expertise to the restaurant’s aesthetics.
Rehabbing the restaurant has been a family and community affair. Woodworker George Murray helped build a new bar area using 200-year-old barn wood, the bar’s copper top was created by Mitch Rudman at High Falls Furniture Co., local artist Jamie Townsend painted the mural of a leaping fox on the wall, and numerous family members and friends pitched in to paint and clean.
Because he wants people to experience farm-to-table dining, Matush intends to make eating at the Copper Fox affordable and accessible for people with a wide range of tastes. The restaurant will have beer on tap from Springfield’s Trout River Brewing Co., and Matush said he looks forward to collaborating with other businesses in town, including Gallery at the VAULT right next door.
“Mac had this dream of revitalizing downtown Springfield,” Matush said. “His legacy in this town was definitely to breathe new life into it. I like to think there’s part of that spirit in this whole endeavor.”
The Copper Fox will start serving dinner on Friday, May 18, and will be open for dinner six nights a week and for lunch Monday through Saturday, excluding Wednesdays, when the restaurant is closed.
This article originally appeared in the Vermont Journal and Shopper.