Meet the chef: Bill Snell from Tourterelle in New Haven

Kitchens can be stressful places. Sharp knifes fiercely chop, dice and mince the day’s ingredients. Hot pots bubble on a flaming stove. The chefs and cooks must work efficiently together, without getting in each other’s way, to quickly produce beautiful dishes for hungry customers.
A spill here, a slip there… could be the difference between great success and utter catastrophe. So it’s easy to understand how tensions can run a little hot.
But at Tourterelle in New Haven, head chef Bill Snell tries to keep it cool.
“Those busy three hours are what you’ve been waiting for and prepping for all day,” Snell said. “It’s second nature for me now, but you have to keep calm to make it work.”
Snell has a long and impressive history working in kitchens. He got his start in 1990 under chef Stan Novak (former sous chef at Brooklyn’s River Café) at The Frog and The Peach restaurant in New Brunswick, N.J.
“I got my work ethic from my dad,” Snell explained. “We used to go hunting together for deer, pheasant, quail, duck… we ate everything we killed… Being a chef really was a blue collar job — and still is. I started out washing dishes, and learned how to get organized and ready for the next meal.”
In those first years in the kitchen, then 20-year-old Snell was also trying to go pro as a snowboarder.
“When I was cooking for The Frog and The Peach, I would come up to Vermont to snowboard,” said Snell, who first stretched his legs with action sports when he founded a skateboard company in high school. “I worked in Stratton. I’d wash dishes at night and snowboard all day.”
By the early ’90s, Snell was 12th in the country for amateur half-pipe. But then, he blew out his knee.
“That was it,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘OK, now what are you going to do with your life?’ I figured I’d done a little bit of kitchen work and liked it, so that’s when I started being serious about it.”
In 1994 the New Jersey native, moved to New York City to work with Drew Nieporent (Myriad Restaurant Group) and Don Pintebona at Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Grill. And worked his way up to sous chef and then head chef at City Wine and Cigar Company under Patricia Williams. Snell went on to work as a restaurant consultant, until he and Christine met and married in 1998.
Christine Snell is no stranger to the kitchen either. She is the daughter of a chef and restaurateur from Brittany, France. After graduating from L’Ecole Parisienne de Tourism in 1992, she moved to Miami Beach, Fla., where she managed “Century” (a chic hotel and restaurant). Five years later, she was hired to work as the event coordinator for City Wine and Cigar Company — and, yes, that’s where the couple met.
At the turn of the millennium, Bill Snell was at the top of his game and could have gone down the celebrity-chef path. Christine Snell was up at the top too, as director of sales for the prestigious Bloom Ballroom in Manhattan. But the couple decided to give up the glam for a family life, and started their fist French bistro Loulou (a nickname for their first daughter) in Brooklyn. With such success with their first eatery, the Snells opened a second — Cocotte.
But they gave up both the Brooklyn restaurants for the chance to own an inn and restaurant in Vermont. In July 2009, the Snells purchased what was Roland’s Place on Route 7 and opened Tourterelle (turtle dove).
“You could never do something like this in New York City,” said Snell, who was inspired by the farm to table movement. “Up here it’s more of a lifestyle and I love that aspect.”
The New York City transplants made their home on the second floor of the inn and quickly found friends up the road at Lester Farm. Sam Lester is also from New York City. He and his wife, Maura, grow whatever Snell asks for, and even helps him store veggies overwinter. That’s where the majority of Snell’s ingredients come from.
“I try to keep it simple and work the the quality of ingredients,” said the now 47-year-old chef. “It’s both the simplest and hardest thing to do, but that’s where I am these days with cooking.”
It wasn’t always that way. When Snell worked in those high-end New York City restaurants in the ’90s he was “painting plates” and building “sculptures out of food.”
“I hated painting the plates,” he remembered. “I wanted to focus on the ingredients. That’s how I like to eat and that’s how I like to cook… don’t get me wrong, you still want to stun the customer and make the plate beautiful.”
So that’s just what Snell does. At Tourterelle, you’ll find a classic French menu that highlights the freshest local ingredients, cooked with a modern twist. Snell’s signature dish is his Bouillabaisse — a seafood stew with zesty red curry and saffron aioli. New to the menu are split plates, where customers have the option to select two smaller portion entrees instead of one large one. 
The inn resembles the old Roland’s Place, but a fully finished barn off the back has made throwing large parties and weddings a stable of the Snells’ business. “I’d say we do about 15-20 weddings in a year,” Snell estimated. In addition to the barn, the back patio (finished 2 years ago) hosts a Parilla (an Argentinian-style grill) and a cob oven. “I get to cook every Sunday out there,” Snell said smiling. “Up here we can relax and do the stuff we really want to do.”

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