Chef Barbara Lynch: An Innovator Creating From Memories

Today, she is still creating new companies, growing and expanding from nostalgia.

Barbara Lynch
PHOTO Barbara Lynch

Barbara Lynch is an innovator from her memories. She believes in honing a craft then build from there. She continues to push the envelope, beyond eight existing concepts and/or restaurants under a highly accoladed belt. Today, she is still creating new companies, growing and expanding from nostalgia. “I’m not a trendy person, my memories are all I have. I’m not going to follow someone else’s exact model. I’ve grown from and built on everything that I’ve personally experienced.” On a stormy afternoon in South Boston’s Waterfront district, the electricity went out as Barbara shares her story in one of her exceedingly successful creations, Menton, a haven of European simplicity and elegance she devised from travel memories in France.

Barbara Lynch
PHOTO Barbara Lynch

Long before her first trip to Paris, Barbara grew up merely a few blocks away from where Menton gracefully rests. 30 years ago, South Boston’s Waterfront district and Fort Point Channel remained stagnant in desolation. Unlike today’s sophisticated crowds who relish in the refined devour of Barbara’s spectacular institutions; back in the day, old warehouses and shipping industry fed the spirt of the unglamorous locale. “Being in this neighborhood, which was surrounded by: post offices, the seaport industry, there was a bar in every corner that opened all night long. It was very hardworking, very blue-collar.” She remembers, “I just knew there was a better life out there, but I never knew I would get this far.”

Growing up as a tough inner-city kid surrounded by troublesome circles, Barbara knew how to delegate and took dangerous risks for survival. She felt she had nothing to lose. In high school, one particular Home Ec class sparked her interest. Amid brutality and fights on campus, the future James Beard Award-winning chef realized she loved cooking. Moreover, she had a natural gift for the craft.

“When I was 14, my mother worked at a private club, so I had started working there as a chamber maid, then graduated to a server. It was the first time I saw extravagant dinners, served with sweet breads and hor d’oeuvres with fancy china and silverware.” Barbara recalls that moment, when the whole picture came together for her. She witnessed Chef Mario Bonello delivering happiness to people with food. She knew, in that instant, she wanted to be a chef. With time and unwavering determination, she was led to work at Olives in Charlestown with renowned restauranteur and celebrity chef: Todd English, who taught her a focus on speed without fear to be creative. After eight years, Todd asked her to design Neapolitan-style pizzas for his new restaurant: Figs. While she got her first bite into opening a business, at some point, despite how much she loved working for Todd, she also learned what not to do from him.

Barbara Lynch
PHOTO Barbara Lynch

After Figs, Barbara was approached by the owners of Galleria Italiana to revamp a little trattoria as an Executive Chef. She brought along Executive Wine Director, Cat Silirie, and made her own bread, pasta and everything else with her own kitchen staff. This career chapter elevated Barbara’s reputation on a decorated, distinguished level with Food & Wine’s “Ten Best New Chefs in America.”

“Then I decided I was ready to open my own restaurant, which was crazy because I was self-taught, I knew nothing about money or running my own business.” Barbara notes, “But I knew what I wanted. I wanted to take reservations, I wanted elegance.” In 1998, she opened No. 9 Park in Boston’s Beacon Hill district. “I knew Italian, I already mastered Italian. I was almost bored with Italian, so I needed a new challenge. I wanted to conquer French.” She translated French cookbooks, traveled to Paris and ate at every Michelin-starred restaurant then wrote down ideas at night. To this day, she still remembers the taste of lobsters, fennels and olive oil left on her pallet from her trip. What she didn’t learn on the Italian side was: precision. Since she deeply wanted No. 9 Park to be “the beautiful and the fresh,” she taught herself: perfection, precision, flavors, less is more.

A few years after opening No. 9 Park, Barbara had developed a staff she adored. She knew, however, if she didn’t grow, she would lose them to other restaurants. In 2003, she opened B&G Oysters (serving fresh oysters and New England classics,) and The Butcher Shop (a wine bar and full service butcher shop.) In 2005, she launched Niche Catour (now 9 At Home,) a catering company with an exquisite wine and cocktail program. In 2006, she opened a kitchen demonstration space and cookbook store called, Stir. With over 3,000 cookbooks, she created a space that emulated her kitchen at home. In 2008, she opened two more establishments: Drink (a high caliber cocktail bar that caters exactly to every customer’s needs without a standard menu,) and Sportello (a modern Italian counter service eatery.) Her ultimate dream, though, was to receive recognition as a world-renowned chef. In 2010, just a few blocks away from her inner-city childhood days, she opened Menton – a fine-dining restaurant that immediately earned “Best New Restaurant” in both Bon Appetit and Esquire magazine. This year, Menton was crowned with AAA’s Five Diamond Award and Forbes Travel Guide’s Five-Star Award.

Barbara Lynch
PHOTO Barbara Lynch

Recently, both Menton and Barbara were included in the internationally acclaimed Relais & Château prestigious club, comprised of mostly male chefs with solely six women in the world. “I happen to be the only woman in North America with a title of Grand Chef, Menton is the first and only Relais & Château Property in Boston. I’m proud to have put Relais & Château 10 minutes from where I grew up, I know I’m very lucky.” But luck clearly does not result in success without determined hardwork. She has also done more in the last eight years of her life than most people with their entire lives.

A significant element to the success of Barbara’s franchise, is her devoted relationships with local farmers. She works with the likes of Siena Farms (a 50-acre market farm located 25 miles west of Boston,) and Eva’s Garden (run by Eva Sommaripa in Dartmouth.) She explains, “These properties allow my guys to go and pick whatever they want. We like to go after overgrown asparagus or wild sumac.” In addition, she takes the time to find magnificent foragers in Vermont with wild angelica and garlic roots. “There are people who grow beautiful things, so I just take my crew there, and we have a ball. It’s great.” Her inspiration is stimulated by museums and artists. During a recent trip in Istanbul, Turkey, Barbara grew inspired by various abstract paintings and objects at the Museum of Modern Art. “I thought, that would make a beautiful confit, eggplant dish. So I built from that, with textures and different added elements.” She drew it all down on paper, how she would design the plate.

Barbara Lynch
PHOTO Barbara Lynch

Back in 1998, when she signed on her first restaurant, No. 9 Park, with $3 million, she wondered why people gave her money to pursue a dream. In that moment, her life changed and she decided she wanted to be brilliant. Not only as a chef, nor as any restauranteur, but one who innovates from nostalgia. “Sportello was from my childhood memories of working at Bringham’s (an ice-cream and comfort food, counter service eatery chain.) And Drink’s idea came from what I didn’t like to see at cocktail bars. When I would ask, ‘what do you have?’ And the bar hands me a menu. The Butcher Shop came from my first memory of Tuscany, buying porchetta sandwiches while visiting a friend (who now owns Porchetta in New York City.) When I die someday, I want to live on for something else. I’m definitely not there yet.” Says the innovator, who continues to build on memories of traveling and experiences of an extraordinary life.

Menton photographs credited to Susie Cushner. Chef Barbara photographs credited to Justin Ide

Wendy Hung

CEO, FOUNDER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!

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