As far back as I’m able to remember, there hasn’t been a time when food didn’t delight me. I wasn’t a picky eater by any means, and I took pleasure in just about any meal. It didn’t hurt that my mother was basically a much shorter version of Julia Child, or that my father could rock the dad station (grill and pancakes) like nobody’s business.
And speaking of business, my mother opened the Complete Kitchen in Darien, Connecticut when I was twelve, and the Good Food Store next door, soon after. They offered cookware, cooking lessons, catering, prepared foods, a huge cheese selection, premium dry goods from all over the globe, and so much more. They were brilliantly merchandised shops, and I spent hours looking over the shelves entranced by all the gourmet food and equipment. They were also my first job. I was a precocious preteen who could advise my friends’ parents on when a cheese was just ripe enough to serve.
As a teen I worked summers at Provisions and Straight Wharf on Nantucket. I made baguettes, fruit tarts and sandwiches for Provisions. I came up with a chocolate chunk cookie recipe that became a hit, and predated Pepperidge Farm’s "Nantucket" version by a couple of years. I created Straight Wharf’s famous smoked bluefish pâté. I still advised folks on cheese ripeness.
I spent three “gap years” on Nantucket, building houses during the day, and working in various fine dining restaurants at night. I “cut” bay scallops at Charlie Sayle’s for extra cash, and thought (wished?) I might never leave. Eventually I left for Hampshire College.
At Hampshire I was the chair of two Student Council groups devoted entirely to hospitality and student morale. I made baked goods and pastries for the campus coffeehouse. I was president of the Literary and Arts Organization, and Editor-in-Chief of its literary magazine. I published fiction. I was leaving the culinary for the literary, or so I thought. Except that I wasn’t.
Near my final year I approached my thesis committee (actually took them out to lunch), and asked whether I could abandon my extremely complicated novel - a noir-esque crime story full of subtexts and psycholinguistic and semiotic clues - for a scholarly cookbook. Dubious, they asked, “How scholarly are we talking?” “Very,” I promised. And thus began my lifelong quest for an encyclopedic understanding of food, cooking and the many cuisines around the globe.
I finished my cookbook, 250 single spaced pages of text and 36 original recipes along for the ride, and followed my college sweetheart to Chicago. There I worked at several Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, and learned quite a bit from Richard Melman on what to do and what not to do when it came to providing great service. I also worked under the tutelage of Gabino Sotelino, Takashi Yagahashi and Jamie Leeds, before returning east to marry my college sweetheart. I was sous chef to Michael Roller at Blantyre, a luxurious Relais & Chateaux country house with uncompromising and unparalleled cuisine. Blantyre exuded hospitality like nowhere I’ve encountered before or since. Employees adored their roles in executing a perfect experience for their guests. It felt like family. Then one afternoon I happened to answer the phone. It was an impromptu and unexpected job offer.
I began as Chef de Cuisine at the Stonehedge Inn, and was soon promoted to Executive Chef. Ours was a formal French restaurant with seasonally changing menus, extensive private dining, and monthly winemaker dinners. There I learned that winemakers are generally a pretty cool lot. We had just won a Wine Spectator Grand Award for our wine list and for our cuisine. I hosted a dinner at the James Beard House in Manhattan. But, unlike Blantyre, hospitality didn’t seem to be an important part of the culture. I was not happy.
I was in the midst of the interview process to be the Executive Chef of the soon to open Harvest in Cambridge. I secretly met the key players over cocktails late night at Rialto. I prepared an improvised 10 course meal for about 9 managers at Grill 23 & Bar in Boston, Harvest’s sibling restaurant. Everyone loved it! It was April of 1998. Soon after, Grill 23’s chef abruptly quit, leaving behind a bewildered crew with graduation season just around the corner. I filled the gap. I continued to fill the gap for the next 18 years.
When I began at Grill 23, I changed the menu weekly. I tried to really push the envelope of what we could manage within the steakhouse concept, and at such high volume. To me, creativity and ingenuity were the paramount goals of my kitchen. I didn’t view the Capital Grille as competition. Mine was No 9 Park, or Clio, or Radius. By then I had two adorable children, and we had moved from Cambridge to Melrose. Maybe I couldn’t express myself on the plate as much as I'd like, but life was stable. I was director of IT at my kids’ school (yes, nerd) and taught cooking to the students there. It felt fulfilling. And the Grill was never boring. When I began we had 270 seats and no private dining. When I left we had 525 seats and seven private rooms. I managed a staff of over 50. I hosted three more Beard House dinners. I was an emissary at the Nantucket Wine Festival year after year. I was on television and radio and we won all kinds of awards. Not boring, but…
When Josh Foley, my good friend and former sous chef of five years called and asked if I’d like to help him open his dream restaurant, I didn’t even have to think about it. From the get-go I let him know that I had a restaurant up my sleeve, and that I wouldn’t be staying on for good. So I’ve been listening to audio books during the commute to Avenue in Medfield, where I’ve been developing recipes, running daily specials, training both front and back-of-house staff, and paying acute attention to every detail of what it has taken us to get up and operating a very successful business from early on in the process. They bestowed upon me the official title of “Professor, Chef Extraordinaire.” I’ve taken copious notes.