|LIS Interviews Barbara Lynch|
|Features - Chefs and Restaurants|
|Written by LIS Staff|
Certainly food lovers in Boston and well beyond know Chef Lynch as a powerhouse in the kitchen, a focused businesswoman, and an unequivocal hard worker. The 2003 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef, Chef Lynch stands out to Local In Season as someone whose mind and heart fuel her food, and as a chef from whom many lessons can be learned in the kitchen and out.
Local In Season was very excited to get this interview with Barbara Lynch, and, with pride, we present what she had to tell us.
How do local seasonal ingredients play a role in your cooking? Has that increased over time?
We are so lucky to live in New England with access to so many phenomenal ingredients. My chefs and I work with incredible farmers, foragers, and fishermen who continually supply us with such gorgeous ingredients and it’s a treat to see how everything changes with the seasons. I’ve always used local ingredients and cooked seasonally—it’s something that I really developed an appreciation for when I spent time in Italy- and I think it’s certainly gotten easier over the years with the proliferation of farmers and artisans.
How do you go about sourcing local ingredients? Does each restaurant source individually, or is it a collective effort for Barbara Lynch Gruppo?
All my restaurants use the same farmers and food suppliers and the chefs certainly share with each other when they’ve discovered a great mushroom forager or really brilliant oysters. During the spring, summer, and fall, most of my cooks and chefs find a moment to visit one of the city’s farmers markets for inspiration and ingredients. For example, Stir, my demonstration kitchen, will often base the menu for that night on what they’ve found at the farmer’s market.
You started cooking sausage and onions at a rectory and talked your way into a job on a dinner cruise, where did you pick up an appreciation for local and seasonal ingredients and flavors? Was there a “eureka” food moment for you that really changed the way you cook and, even, eat?
When I was in my 20s I went to Italy and stayed with my friend and her mother. The food was life-changing; I was experience food and cooking in a completely new way. There, life revolved around the next meal and the concept of eating locally and seasonally and knowing the source of the ingredients was so ingrained in cooking—it was completely natural. Every day we would go to the market and pick out ingredients for that night’s dinner including the grains, veggies—even the rabbit and lamb. The flavors were pure, intense, and honest and there was a great sense of tradition in the cooking.
Then, in the months before I opened No. 9 Park, my husband and I went to Paris. I felt as though I had a solid understanding of Italian cooking and wanted to master French and introduce some of that refinement to the menu for my new restaurant. We packed over 10 Michelin restaurant visits into a couple of days – it was amazing! I took endless notes and observed not only the menus but the mechanics of service. The elegance, refinement, and discipline exhibited was amazing and absolutely influenced the menus at No.9 Park where I would become known for cuisine that had Italian soul and a French sensibility.
What’s your earliest memory of cooking something and realizing this was what you wanted to do?
When I was about 12 or 13, I was looking through my mother’s Good Housekeeping and seeing a Chinese dish that had about 25 ingredients! It was the most complicated recipe and I thought to myself, I could do this. I trekked to Chinatown to find soy sauce, ginger, and other ingredients I had never heard of before and actually made the dish. It was incredibly exotic and I remember being amazed that I actually made this.
Also, I fondly remember the St. Botolph club, located in Boston’s Back Bay. It was a world away from Southie. My mother worked there and I got a job there in my early teens making beds but I would always make my way down to the kitchen to watch Chef Mario. He was an Escoffier-trained chef and turning out very classic French cuisine with such ceremony—it was amazing. Dover sole, sweet breads under a bell….it was not only delicious but such theater! And I never forgot how happy he made people with his food. I wasn’t sure exactly what he was doing but I knew I wanted to do that.
In the intro to Stir you talk about having a hard time finding good resources when you started cooking. What proved to be indispensable?
Fisherman, Farmers, and Foragers! My kitchens have created relationships with these people and they bring us the best possible ingredients. I know that I am getting all my food from reliable sources and that it is all the highest quality possible. Farming is not easy and we are so appreciative of the hard work and passion displayed by these individuals – they are such an integral part of our restaurants.
Even now, is there a cookbook that you could never part with?
I love Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin – she’s a great chef and friend and it’s food you want to make for friends and family. I have always used Robuchon and Ducasse’s books as resources and I love discovering new cookbooks my book buyer at Stir has just tracked down.
What are your favorite winter pairings? At the end of winter, when I’m dreaming of spring and the thaw, my body literally craves oysters and Chablis. The bright acidity and minerals…it’s just what I want after a long winter! Around the holidays, I love chestnuts and sweetbreads. I make my chestnut bisque often and people love it.
Do you have a winter season food memory from your youth?
Growing up in the projects of South Boston, my mother always made sure we had a hot dinner on the table. It was simple food but it was good. We used to always have family get togethers after church with big roasts that could feed everyone.
You have said you make a lot of soups and salads in your home cooking. In the winter, is there a “go to” favorite soup recipe?
I have two go-to recipes. I am obsessed with my chestnut bisque; especially around the holidays. The rich flavors and silky texture are just gorgeous and it is fun to really “dress it up” with sweet breads, black truffles and hazelnuts. If you are entertaining, it will leave guests saying “Wow!” After all the holidays, I tend to want to get back on track with eating healthy and getting more balance in my meals. I love making soups with all the vegetables in my fridge and adding a little heat from pepperocino. With a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, it is easy, delicious, and healthy!
Winter can be long in New England. Which local/seasonal ingredient do you most anticipate when the spring thaw arrives?
By the end of winter, we chefs are eagerly anticipating something (anything!) fresh and green. Ramps, fiddleheads, asparagus….the first sight of these at the markets is always so exciting—it means spring is here and the warmer weather really is coming.
Along with Chef Lynch, we look forward to spring, the gifts it will provide, and the anticipation of what chefs will do to elevate these spring treats to the next level.
Local In Season would like to thank Chef Lynch for her time, Allie Smith for coordinating this interview, and Justin Ide for his terrific photos.