Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Interview with Chef/Owner/ Author/Mother Barbara Lynch

Barbara Lynch has many roles. She is chef-owner of No. 9 Park, B&G Oysters, The Butcher Shop and Sportello, as well as Plum Produce, Stir (a demonstration kitchen), 9 at Home (a catering company) and Drink. In addition, in late fall of 2009, she will be opening a new fine dining restaurant in the Fort Point area. Finally, in November her first cookbook, Stir, will be published by Houghton Mifflin. Yet in addition to all this, she is also mother to Marchesa, age 5, and 3 older step-children.

She generously agreed to an interview. What quickly became evident was how much she loves, respects and simply enjoys her daughter. At the same time, it was also clear that her identity as a mother, a working parent, a chef and owner continues to evolve.

FoodieMommy: Do you have favorite foods that you cook for Marchesa at home?
Chef Lynch: She is like every normal kid, pasta, pasta, pasta. When I was recipe testing at home [for the new cookbook, Stir] it was so much fun because I would make a lot of pasta at home. Then I would make it and freeze it. She loves corzetti and gnocchi. She calls the corzetti the “circle pasta.” She likes peas. I always tell her that if she eats a lot of peas, she will be 6 faster than anyone else. So I make risotto with peas. She likes eggs and egg whites. But only if I make them. If my husband makes them, she is like, “What is that?” Chicken, sometimes but we mainly eat vegetables. She eats a lot of fruits-bananas, apples, peaches, plums, grapes.

Do you feel like she has developed more of a love of food because of the foods that she has been exposed to [e.g. at Sportello] ?
She has been exposed to a lot…Is she in love with food now? No. It is totally not on her radar. She is in love with her hula hopes and her scooter. It is funny how they LOVE everything And then there is that routine in the morning. She eats that organic cereal that is wheat with sugar on top. And she is so funny: she will eat it and she will say, “I am all done now” because all of the white stuff [the sugar] is gone. And then it is bagels with cream cheese. She needs to have 3 pieces of bagels, so it is one and half bagels. And I have to spread it perfectly. She has a love of food. She has specifics that she likes. A couple of nights a week she will ask for fried calamari.

Does she cook with you?
Yes. She cooks with me a lot. She peels carrots really well. She picks cilantro and parsley. She always wants to cut so I will let her cut apples. I will try to have her cut a carrot…She likes to add stuff. She loves the Microplane [a tool for zesting lemons or grating cheese]. She will grate the cheese and then she will scoop it up. And I will say, “It has to go on the pasta, love.” And it is all over her mouth.

What about eating out? Is that something she enjoys?
She went through that stage at age of 4 when she would say, “Mommy, why do we have to go to restaurants? I am sick of it.” And now, I don’t know what happened. She is back in and she loves going to them. I think I have timed it better so we go when she is really hungry versus on our time.

Are there places that she enjoys eating at?
She loves B and G [Oysters] and I know she goes to Catch in Winchester…She likes Atwoods and she likes...Highland Kitchen.

Does she eat at all your restaurants?

She loves Sportello. She loves B and G-the French fries. She loves oysters…the littlenecks on the half shell.. She just started eating oysters. She ate one and shook her head. Then she tried another and tried another.

When you designed Sportello, did you envision it as a place people would bring their children?
No. It is not on my radar. Usually people go out to eat to get away…

Was there a time, perhaps as a toddler when Marchesa was more finicky as an eater?
She was terribly finicky, but that may have had to do with her tonsils. We had to get her tonsils out. She was really picky then. Now, like every ½ an hour she will eat. This morning she had cereal and then spaghetti and a meatball.

When she was so finicky, did you cook separately for her or did she eat what you and your husband ate?
Whatever I was making for my husband. You can’t force kids to eat. They know when they are hungry and when they are not. If she was starving, she would eat. It was weird: she ate a lot of ice cream, popsicles and pasta, pasta, pasta. I think also when you don’t eat, your blood sugar levels are off the chart. So she was cranky all the time. It is much better now.

Would you encourage Marchesa to be a chef?

Totally. I just want her to be happy at whatever she does. I want to expose her to everything. I don’t think she will be a chef, but she will be something great. She just has that personality.

Do you have any favorite places to go when just you and your husband go out to eat?
I love Oleana. We love Legal Seafood for the shrimp cocktail. My husband loves Catch… I like Oleana in the summertime. Sometimes Via Matta because they have a nice patio outside in the summer.

In 2004, Food and Wine Magazine wrote an article about a Thanksgiving meal in which you adapted many of your mother’s recipes. Which dish at your current restaurants do you think your mother would most enjoy?

The tomato soup at Sportello. And she would love eating at B& G. She would love the lobster rolls, the chowder, the fried clams, the fried fish, the coleslaw and the pickles.

You are coming out with a new cookbook this fall [Stir will be published in November.] Are there certain recipes that would be most manageable for working parents?
In this book there are really only four challenging recipes. The prune gnocchi is not something that you are going to make as it is a little time consuming. But everything else in the book is pretty doable. The salads and soups. The ham and cheese torta made with puff pastry, ham and honey mustard. You can bake and freeze it. The tomato tart tatin is easy-breezy. You can freeze the Ricotta gnocchi. The poulet en pain is chicken baked in bread dough. The corn soup is super easy. The bread pudding.

Last question: Do you have any go-to meals that you can share with working parents who want to serve their children good food even on busy nights?
I love making farro risotto and will often have that in the refrigerator. I will just add cheese and butter. Also I have Newman’s Own tomato sauce at home. So if I need to make my own pasta, I will make a big batch and add really good extra virgin olive oil. I also know how Marchesa likes it-extra cheese and salt. I always have marscapone cheese and make my own jelly. I will make my own version of marscapone-jelly Crustables. We cut them out with bowls or we cut them out with letters so she can spell her name. She is a kid. I do baked French fries. She likes that with ketchup. She likes hot dogs so I do chicken dogs. Sometimes she will just eat the hot dog roll with ketchup.

Before we finished, Chef Lynch told me a great story and unintentionally provided me with what I suspect will be one of those gems of advice as my son enters nursery school this fall. Chef Lynch Barbara recalled the first time that she realized she needed to provide snack for her daughter’s entire pre-school class. She laughed as she recalled saying, “Snack? Snack? What do they eat?” She went to point out the irony that she “…was more concerned with that than the James Beard dinner in Chicago…So I made yogurt panna cotta with spiced blueberries and put it in little in jars and put a spoon in.” Chief Lynch then said to me with a smile, "You can just bring cheese and crackers.”

No. 9 Park, 9 Park St., Boston 617-742-9991
B&G Oysters, 550 Tremont St. Boston 617-423-0550
The Butcher Shop, 552 Tremont St. Boston 617-423-4800
Sportello, 348 Congress St., Boston 617-737-1234
Plum Produce, 106 Waltham St, 617-423-PLUM
Stir, 102 Waltham St, 617-423-STIR
9 at Home (Catering)
Drink, 348 Congress St, 617-695-1806

Stir, the Cookbook, will be published by Houghton Mifflin on November 2nd.

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