January’s Foodie: Tracey Couillard

Tracey Couillard of The Wine Market in Fountain Square

Photography by Tony Valainis

There’s nothing like the sound of local chefs-in-the-know buzzing about the culinary feats of one of their own. Tracey Couillard has worked behind the scenes helping the likes of James Beard Award nominee Alan Sternberg. Last summer, she took over the kitchen at The Wine Market at Fountain Square, and industry folks started blowing up our phones with pictures of Couillard’s scratch pasta dishes and braised lamb shanks, all done in a tiny kitchen with a pair of burners and one little oven. That’s basically like painting the Sistine Chapel with bulk-bin watercolor palettes. Which is to say, nearly impossible and wildly impressive.

How does she do it? Couillard credits her 20 years of service in the Army National Guard. “You learn to do a lot with less,” she says. “It really kicked up my ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome things.”

Upon retiring, Couillard ended up in culinary school. She spent five years working alongside Sternberg, perfecting a pasta game she shows off nightly with crowd-pleasers like butternut agnolotti (pasta dumplings). “I’m a New Englander,” she says. “I like hearty meals that hug you from the inside.”

She may not be in a tricked-out kitchen, but Couillard is plowing ahead with sold-out seven-course wine dinners. “I work for people who let me experiment and grow as a cook. I don’t work 80 hours a week, and I’m taking care of myself after 20 years of doing a number on my body in the Army. I haven’t been this happy in a long time.”

In addition to her favorite things listed below, Tracey shares her recipe for crab cakes, a top seller at The Wine Market.

Tracey’s Favorite Things:
(1) Peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. “I eat an embarrassing amount of peanut butter and jelly.” (2) Sharp knives. “Don’t be afraid of a sharp knife. If you cut yourself, it’s a clean cut.” (3) Cayenne pepper. “It’s mommy’s little helper, and probably in 85 to 90 percent of the stuff I make.” (4) Danimals. “I’m partial to strawberry.”