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At any Bed & Breakfast, both of the B-components are of tremendous importance. A good night’s sleep can be quickly forgotten in the face of a lousy morning meal. This is why the Cliffside Inn depends on Chef Maryellen Sullivan to prepare scrumptious breakfasts for the inn’s guests. This in turn prepares those guests to get out and around Newport in sanguine fullness, robust energy and enduring cheer. Sullivan is not a traditionally trained chef. She gravitated to the culinary arts out of a long hobbyist’s passion – which is often the purest and most patient kind. Some years back, while teaching elementary school in San Diego, Sullivan decided to take culinary courses at various San Diego restaurants, adding some industry knowledge to the skills she already possessed.

 

 

 

When Sullivan moved back east to Rhode Island, she found opportunities to prepare food for others in increasingly professional circumstances. “My friends always said ‘Oh you should cater, you should cater,’ so when I came back I did a lot of small dinner parties for friends,” Sullivan says. “It wasn’t a business we had, but people would say, ‘Oh can you come in and do a small thing for us?’ ” Sullivan also joined a friend in starting a café in Portsmouth, Rhode Island “from scratch.” Building the restaurant from the ground up was a valuable experience. Sullivan co-made the menu, and when the friend stepped back, Sullivan began to manage the day-to-day operations. “When the [café in Portsmouth] opened, I really spent a lot of time there,” Sullivan recalls. Her co-founder had no restaurant experience and relied on her for many vital things. Together they built up the café into a successful business.

 

During that time, Sullivan was also teaching evening General Education Development courses a few nights a week. Through this teaching, Sullivan met Bill Bagwill – innkeeper at Cliffside Inn – who was also teaching night courses. The two became friends, and when there was an opening at Cliffside for a chef, Bill and his wife Nancy – also innkeeper at Cliffside – brought Sullivan in to run the kitchen. Cliffside Inn offers daily breakfast for its guests. There is a sort of continental breakfast including several staples – fresh-baked muffins and scones, fresh-cut fruit, cereal and a house-made granola. In addition, there is a prepared breakfast special, sweet or savory depending on the day. Rounding out the selection are eggs cooked to order. The special is where Sullivan really gets to do her stuff. When asked what she enjoys most about her job, her answer is instantaneous: “The creativity.” Following closely is the satisfaction her diners get from her creations. “…and the smile on everyone’s face as you’re bringing their food, or they’re finishing their food.” Sullivan enjoys a creative freedom that would turn many sous chefs and line cooks kale-green with envy. “It’s fun, because I can come in and no one really know what we’re having,” Sullivan says. “There’s not a preconceived – people aren’t thinking ‘I’m going to go in and get this particular type of thing.’ So it’s always a surprise.”

 

While this might seem like a recipe for chaos, Nancy and Bill are more than on board, because the results are so consistently delicious. “[Guests] go back to personally thank her for breakfast, because they’re so delighted,” says Nancy. In addition to breakfast, Maryellen plans and preps hors d’oeuvres for Cliffside’s daily wine and hors d’oeuvre reception, which takes place in the afternoon. During the harvest months Sullivan uses fresh herbs and vegetables from the Cliffside garden, as well as from those of the innkeepers and staff. With all the experimentation going on, it would be easy for the results to become lost. That is why Sullivan is very proactive about record-keeping. She uses Paprika Recipe Manager to save ingredient lists and make notes on preparation, portions, flavors and any other noteworthy results.

 

On culinary influences, Maryellen says her mother’s Portuguese cooking was essential, but also points to a broader fascination with food and the preparation of it. “I love food, I love that chefs can put together such creative things, and I’ve always wanted to pick it all apart and try to recreate it at home.”

 

This lively curiosity is why Cliffside’s kitchen represents such an ideal place for Sullivan. She is well aware of how fortunate she is. “I get excited to come to work in the morning,” Sullivan says. “It’s like child’s play – in my big Easy-Bake Kitchen. It’s just fun.” But guests of the Cliffside Inn need not worry that they will be subject to completely unruly experiments. Sullivan has another readily-available cooking laboratory – one with subjects who have little choice but to taste the results of unproven recipes. “I try them out on my children,” Sullivan says, with a laugh.

 

Written By: David Sano

 

 

 

 

 

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