Remembering Legendary Nantucket Chef Michael Shannon

Legendary Nantucket Chef Michael Shannon passed away on Tuesday at the age of 89. Shannon was the longtime chef at The Club Car. Nantucket Current reached out to Tom Proch, the culinary instructor at Nantucket High School who worked with Shannon for years, to share some of his memories. Proch worked at the Club Car for 29 years, and 16 of those were under Shannon’s watchful eye, and the rest as head chef.

I remember working at the Opera House in 1983 and first hearing about  Chef Michael Shannon at the Club Car. He was a legend then. Two years later I was working for him. I said to myself “if I do everything he tells me to do, I can’t go wrong.”

Proch and Shannon at The Club Car

He was very particular about how things were done. I witnessed his wrath on many occasions. During my first year at the Club Car my main goal was to do things the way the Chef wanted and not get yelled at.

What turned me on, being in my early 20s, was his stories about all his travels and dishes he had cooked and celebrities he cooked for. Mike Shannon had more stories than the Empire State building!

I was amazed how many people would come into the kitchen excited and so happy to see Shannon. No matter how busy we were, you were like a long lost brother.

He’d always say, as they were making their way to him, “I don’t believe it.” Afterwards I’d ask “who was that?” Sometimes he’d say “I have no idea.” Everyone would sing his praises and people just wanted to be in his company.

Shannon would tell me of his time in Maui and so I just had to go to Maui and moved there the next winter. Of course he had connections there. He told me about his homeland in Ireland, and I had to travel there. He spoke of Lyon, France where he trained as a teenager, and years later I traveled there as well. And his time in London at the Savoy Hotel and also at the Connaught Hotel ( where the chef threw pea soup all over his jacket because it wasn’t hot enough). Well, I had to have lunch with my future wife at the Savoy.

Any classic French dish I could pull out of my Escoffier book, he knew it! And could tell me where and when he made it. I would try to stump him on occasion, haha. Not only was he well versed on classic French dishes, but he was always interested in the latest trends and would eat in the best restaurants in New York City to see what they were doing.

Mike Shannon allowed me to experiment and trusted me to run his kitchen, knowing my love for classic French cuisine and the importance of the best quality meat, fish and produce. I learned to do it without yelling and throwing the occasional pot or pan. I discovered it was wasted energy. Of course I could assert myself when needed. Not so much with my cooks but sometimes with purveyors (insert smiley face).

Some of Shannon’s legendary dishes include shrimp scampi dijonnaise, striped bass “Veronique,” roast rack of lamb, roasted thick swordfish steak with pecan butter and béarnaise, striped bass quenelles “ Lyonnaise,” and of course his crab cake with mustard cream sauce. Let’s not forget his mastery of sweetbreads, veal kidneys, foie gras, calves liver and calfs brains “Grenobloise.”

As I write this I realize I could go on for days. These are just a few of my thoughts and reflections. There is probably enough for a book.


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