The carcass of half a hog takes up nearly all of the available counter space in the Black Trumpet Bistro’s intimate kitchen. Only three people at a time – the chef, sous chef, and garde manger – can comfortably create the culinary magic that’s garnered top accolades for this restaurant nestled in Portsmouth’s historic seaport. Each evening, renowned chef Evan Mallett and his team choreograph an expeditious dance between the counter, the refrigeration unit, and the stove where flames lick the edges of pots and pans to help usher forth such pleasures as a seafood paella replete with house-made chistrorra, scallops, mussels, whelks, octopus, and local fish simmered in saffron rice or house-smoked pork belly with chowdered potatoes.
Garde manger Christopher Cherim rolls the hog carcass belly up and holds it steady while Mallet begins to portion out the prime cuts. Cherim, a student of the Thompson School for Applied Sciences’ Culinary Arts and Nutrition program, secured this desirable externship at the Black Trumpet Bistro in his second year. Known as one of the toughest jobs in Portsmouth, the garde manger of this esteemed restaurant is responsible for composing all the salads, cold foods, and desserts while also shucking oysters, washing pots and pans, plates, glasses, and sorting silverware. “A lot of people try it and fail,” says Cherim who relies upon the knowledge and skills he gained in his formal education to thrive on the flurry of responsibilities before him.
A non-traditional student the Thompson School, a unit within the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Cherim spent a few years in the workforce before returning to school. During that time, the Nottingham native needed to augment his landscaping work in the winter and made his foray into the restaurant business. At first, Cherim was relegated to washing dishes and says, “It was the most painful thing to watch everyone else cook. I would go home and cook everything in the fridge – and burn half of it.” Cherim’s parents were supportive of his newfound passion and helped him learn the basics. Drawing upon his mother’s experience in culinary school and his father’s cultural interests developed during military posts overseas, Cherim’s abilities blossomed. Soon he procured a job doing line prep and honed his knife skills—and when a local restaurant lost their cook, Cherim stepped right up. “I winged it until I made it,” he says.
Cherim credits Thompson School Professor of Nutrition and Culinary Arts Julienne Guyette—for imparting her knowledge of the science and benefits of foods in the Culinary Nutrition class—and adjunct faculty Jacky Goguelet—for teaching him how to serve 10,000 people a day in the Quantity Foods class that utilizes the University’s Philbrook and Holloway dining halls. He’s also quick to recognize the support of his family, including his sister, Sarah Garstika, a student in the four-year nutrition program who paved the way and encouraged him through the whole application process. Cherim’s dream is to be one of the great chefs. “I want to stay in the field,” he says, “and keep my hands on the food.”