Boston’s always been a city of good grub, but it's no doubt becoming a mecca of even better cuisine. Many well-known chefs around the city find their way from one restaurant opening to the next, building an empire of deliciousness for all those involved. But how do these chefs get to that level of success? What about those who are even more behind-the-scenes, succeeding in the big-wigs' footsteps while not necessarily getting much spotlight?
The following seven young, up-and-coming chefs – working furiously at acclaimed spots across this rapidly growing foodie hub – are making a name for themselves in the industry, even if you haven't necessarily heard it quite yet.
Here's how they've cooked their way onto your plates at some of the city's best eateries. And why you're about to start hearing a lot more about them.
Chef Drew Grosse, Sous Chef, Little Donkey
“It all started when I was young,” said Chef Grosse, 32, whose professional pastry chef of a father sparked his admiration for all things cuisine. “When I got the opportunity to be with him in the kitchen, rolling croissants, shaping bread, I liked it. And that progressed into me being a young teenager wanting to cook."
Grosse gained his experience working in various credible eating establishments, from your “mom & pop pizza shop” to country clubs on the Cape and in the South. He even held a position at Pierluigi in Rome during a stint abroad. And although he planned to continue his Italian venture indefinitely, visa issues brought Grosse back stateside, where a friend suggested checking out Toro for a taste of greatness. After a mouthful of their infamous bone marrow, Grosse said he fell in love.
“As I was eating, I thought to myself, ‘I feel like I know how to make good food, but this is great food. I fucking love this place,” he recalled. From there, Grosse strived for something bigger and better, landing a job at Toro as a line cook and working his way up to sous not long after. Now, he slays the grub at Little Donkey, concocting new and delicious creations on the regular.
But his success didn’t come without years of hard work in the kitchen. “People think that being a chef is like, ‘you have your chef hat on, you don’t have to do this or that,’” he said, but, “becoming a chef is becoming a person of many hats. You’re a therapist, you’re a brother, you’re a sister, you’re a babysitter, you’re a mother, you’re a father, you’re the fix-it-all guy. People are looking for an answer. You might not know it, but you sure as hell will find it… And some chefs aren’t cut out for that."
“Ken & Jamie are looking for cooks who are cut from a different cloth, who are willing to do this," he said. "If you’re not, don’t even bother.”
Brad Whitman, Executive Sous Chef, Eastern Standard
Chef Brad Whitman, 29, proves you don’t have to go to culinary school to be a smashing success in the food world. After attending UNH for business, Whitman acquired his admiration for food while working summers in kitchens around his hometown of Portsmouth, NH, and soaking in his family’s consistent cooking ways. Whitman was fortunate enough to work under acclaimed chef Matt Louis of Moxy and the Franklin Oyster House.
“Being under him, looking at his work ethic, and just seeing how he moves about the kitchen inspired me to keep going with it… I feel lucky, in a sense, that throughout my career I’ve worked with really intelligent people, both back and front of house,” he said.
Lucky for us, Whitman now graces the Eastern Standard kitchen with his master skills, honing in on the importance of using fresh, local ingredients to really vamp up his creations. Seemingly a pattern amongst chefs, “work ethic is the most important thing” to Whitman. “Staying humble is a good trait to have in a leadership role in the kitchen,” he reiterated. And as for the growing food mecca that is Boston, Whitman commented, “It’s pretty inspirational for someone like me to see all these great restaurants going up. That only inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing and to keep getting better and better.”
Preston Miller, Executive Chef, Ruka Restobar
Another New Hampshire native, Chef Preston Miller took the more traditional route to becoming a chef. Miller, now 30, attended the Culinary Institute of America and became the executive sous chef at Michelin-starred Breslin Bar & Dining Room in New York, later heading to Seattle to work under well-known chef Matt Dillon.
Miller quickly became enthralled in the Seattle cuisine scene, and the accessibility and usage of such fresh, local ingredients from surrounding private farms. Working under Dillon was a “cool experience because only used whole animals, and produce that was local to Seattle … the ingredients they have access to is a different world. It’s unbelievable,” he said.
Miller took his newfound knowledge and admiration back east with him, inspiring him to make fresh, local ingredients a priority in his own cooking, while incorporating as much of the ingredient as possible. The Green Noodles dish at Ruka, for example, uses the whole fish to please your palette (and just so happens to be one of Miller’s favorite dishes at this newly opened ethnic fusion spot).
John Tubolino, Chef de Cuisine, Row 34
Although chef John Tubolino didn’t start cooking until college – and would apparently “screw up” when attempting to recreate his mom’s recipes – he kept at it and became a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen. “I ended up getting hooked,” he said, “and started thinking about food all the time."
He eventually dropped his college courses, got a job in a restaurant, and enrolled in culinary school. Today, he’s perfecting those skills at one of Boston's finest restaurants, Row 34, overseeing daily functions of the kitchen, from ordering to prep, service to menu development. And as any successful chef can attest to, Tubolino also recognizes how essential it is to have a group mentality behind the scenes.
“Happy people really do make better food,” he said. “No one starts cooking because they love long hours and working on weekends; they start because they love it.”
Keith Garman, Chef de Cuisine, Alden & Harlow
After graduating with a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales in 2009, chef Keith Garman spent the next several years working around Boston’s restaurant scene gaining invaluable experience. In February of 2014, Garman joined the Alden & Harlow team and “fell in love with the restaurant and made it mission to become the chef,” he said.
Now, he’s taking advantage of his role and mentoring the staff around him, from management to line cooks and prep team. Like many of his fellow Boston chefs, Garman focuses on all things local and fresh. According to Garman, it starts with the ingredients, and “making connections with the land, product, and the great people who provide us with ingredients is always at the forefront of my outlook on cooking."
A dish he’s amped about on the current menu is the Venison Crepinette (a nod to his childhood hunting days in Pennsylvania) incorporating cabbage and nuka, finishing the plate with chestnut and apple butter. And Garman holds strong with his Cambridge pride. “Boston still has a very tight-knit industry community,” he said. “Everyone is always trying to elevate their own game, but also to support each other. Cambridge and Somerville especially have taken the Boston-area restaurant scene to a new level ... you can't really go wrong on this side of the river.”
Meghann Ward and Kevin Walsh, Chefs & Owners, Tapestry
“A lot of our background is together. We were the opening chefs of Earth in Kennebunkport, and met at Radius way back in the day,” said Walsh, referring to the married duo who is chefs Meghann Ward and Kevin Walsh. The two, both 35, also dipped their toes in the Boston scene before starting their own venture, Tapestry, in May – Ward at Coppa in the South End and Walsh at Clio in Back Bay. They even journeyed West, working at Flour + Water in San Francisco, where Walsh says they got their inspiration for the pizza served at Tapestry.
“We have the best pizza in the city,” he said. “And you can quote me on that.”
But Tapestry reaches even past their ‘za, offering two different experiences in one restaurant. The front room, or Expo Kitchen, offers a more snack and pizza focused menu, while the back Club Room provides a more fine dining experience.
Ethan Cassevoy, Chef de Cuisine, Trina’s Starlite Lounge
After training with his father at the family restaurant, chef Ethan Cassevoy attended the Culinary Institute of America, worked under Nookie Postal (when he was running the food service for Fenway Park) and landed a sous chef position at Trina’s Starlite Lounge, which ultimately turned into his current status as chef de cuisine. Cassevoy runs all aspects of the kitchen, including management of staff, ordering and purchasing of product, weekly specials, seasonal menu changes, and nightly dinner services.
He accredits a lot of his learned knowledge to mentor and chef Suzi Maitland. These major skills – plus his hearty, home-cooked style meals – have customers continuously coming back for more at the Starlite Lounge.
“I’m a man of simple taste,” he said. “No one has ever said, ‘that’s too much sauce or cheese.’ I feel my philosophy is different because I’m not trying to take the guests' palate all over the place with textures or molecular gastronomy," he said. "I just want them to eat my food, sit back, relax, and be happy.”
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