Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Chef and Future Chef: Tony and Charlie Maws

In 2008, Chef Tony Maws’ life changed in two significant directions. First, in November he moved his lovely and intimate Craigie Street Bistro into a much larger space in Central Square where it became “Craigie on Main.” But before that, in June, he became a first time father to son, Charlie. After having a phenomenal Father’s Day meal at Craigie on Main, Chef Maws kindly took the time to answer a few questions about being a new father. In that brief conversation it became clear that the passion that he shows for food has quickly extended to his son, but that his son is also taking in his parents’ love of good eating.

Unlike my children who started off with pureed chicken (organic, but jarred), Charlie’s first experience with meat took the form of blood sausage! Chef Maws had given his son rice, but his foodie son smartly reached over to his dad’s bowl of dirty rice and began gobbling up the good stuff. Lamb tongues and sweetbreads have already been among Charlie’s first bites, though Charlie is also a huge fan of noodles that he slurps down at Chinatowns’ restaurants while he “double-fists short ribs while laughing.” But Charlie can also be found at Craigie On Main, watching his dad “holding food and cooking. He sits where you sat [kitchenside] and is completely entranced by the clank, clank, clank. He can’t get enough.”

Chef Maws noted that there were two things that directly shaped his childhood memories of food. First, visits to his grandparents’ home was a regular part of growing up. In fact, his grandmother (whose image hangs over the kitchen at Craigie on Main), cooked all the time. Chef Maws fondly recalled “tremendous memories…of the smells that would emanate from her kitchen. They were phenomenal. It was a treat and an honor to be there.” In addition to his grandmother’s cooking, his parents regularly took him to Chinatown to eat authentic Chinese food. So from a young age, Chef Maws learned to use chopsticks and “not to be afraid of anything.”

Chef Maws was clear about two elements that have already contributed to his son’s passion for food. First, Chef Maws praised his wife Karolyn, multiple times (endearingly!), as a “phenomenal cook” who gets “more credit than anything I do.” While Karolyn is a sixth grade teacher, she still somehow finds the time to make homemade purees such as parsnip and celery root that now fill their home freezer. Yet Chef Maws shared the contribution towards the atmosphere at the dinner table. Both he and his wife make sure to put the same food in front of Charlie that they themselves would want to eat. In addition, they make sure “not to act differently at all. If Charlie doesn’t eat it, we don’t make a big deal about it.”

Chef Maws pointed out that he has always been very conscious about what he eats and that he cares deeply about the philosophy and politics of food. To extend that understanding to his son means to not only teach him to cook, but to share the process of watching food from farm to table. So, while I am proud that my 3 year old can help to make bagels, Chef Maws can’t wait to teach his son to fish, and to break down a pig (!). Chef Maws also highlighted that pasta can be one of the best items to cook with children as you can “mess around with it” and it can still turn out well. This year Charlie loved to pick strawberries at Drumlin Farm, but next year Chef Maws is looking forward to transforming those fruits into jams and jellies.

I reminded Chef Maws that Chef Ana Sortun has brought her 3 year old to Craigie on Main. I then asked (somewhat ambivalently!) if he had any plans to transform Craigie into a “family-friendly restaurant.” Luckily for those of us that treasure the more mature style of cooking and the atmosphere at Craigie, Tony said he didn’t have any plans to do so. In part, he noted, because people often seek out Craigie for a romantic dinner, and to have a certain experience. But he also emphasized that brunch at Craigie is intentionally a more relaxed atmosphere that is conducive to bringing children. Other favorite places that Chef Maws highlighted were Sportello in the Fort Point Channel, Highland Kitchen in Somerville and the Blue Room in Cambridge. For a more personal and very funny take on Charlie's eating adventure in Chinatown, you can read Chef Maws’ blog post here.

To talk to Chef Maws is to talk to a man who is already so proud of his son, of his wife and of being a father. I wonder, will Charlie Maws be the up and coming chef we all should watch for in about 20 years?

Craigie on Main 853 Main Street, Cambridge, 617 497-5511

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