Since opening our doors over 30 years ago, Formaggio Kitchen has worked with some truly outstanding chefs and industry leaders. These inspirational individuals have become our close friends and partners in various ventures. To highlight some of our strongest relationships, we’re launching a Friends and Family series featuring interviews with local chefs, industry professionals, and Formaggio Kitchen alumni.
First up: Owner Valerie Gurdal sits down with Chef Barbara Lynch, Boston legend and longtime personal friend of the Gurdals.
Chef Barbara Lynch making pasta at the summer home she once shared with Valerie and Ihsan
Growing up in the projects of South Boston, Barbara Lynch was introduced to cooking in a high school home economics class at Madison Park High. Barbara dropped out of school and took restaurant jobs all over Boston working her way into some of the best kitchens with acclaimed chefs including Todd English. In 1998, No. 9 Park opened in Boston’s Beacon Hill, and in 2003, Barbara expanded to open B & G Oysters and The Butcher Shop in the South End. She continued to grow and expand her empire in 2006 to include Stir, a demonstration kitchen and cookbook store, and in 2008 opened Drink and Sportello. Most recently in 2010, Barbara opened Menton, a highly anticipated fine-dining restaurant in Fort Point.
Along the way, Barbara met our owners Ihsan and Valerie and the group became close friends. Valerie reached out to Barbara to ask a few questions about her latest endeavors, including a written project. Her memoir “Where Did You Come From” will be released in fall 2016.
Starting second from the left: Valerie, Ihsan, and Barbara with Ana Sortun and other friends at their summer home
Valerie: Barb, going way back to our days when we rented a summer house together and we would have these massive dinner parties, one of the things I remember is that you would always decide we needed "one more dish" and you ran out into the yard and starting picking the wild dandelion greens and some other greens, and whipped up a pasta dish - and this was before "foraging" was a culinary buzzword! Where are you finding your sources of inspiration today for all your restaurants and projects?
Barbara: I still like to look at cookbooks, and traveling gives me a lot of inspiration. I just got back from Italy, I love Turkey, and I can't wait to go back to Japan. I have a couple of vernal ponds on my property, and I was briefly thinking of doing something with frog legs, but I don't want to butcher them.
Valerie: What are you focusing on now?
Barbara: I want to continue helping women get started in the hospitality industry, especially those who have no assets or guidance. I want to be a mentor and guide them on how to get started. I just finished my memoir and I would like to write more cookbooks.
Valerie: You and your restaurants shop at the Formaggio Kitchen stores often. What are your personal must haves (pantry staples) and the restaurants’ favorite products?
Barbara: I love my pantry staples. Things I always have are the Formaggio Kitchen [house] olive oil - I use about two bottles a week, all the Mulino Marino flours, Aldo Armato Peperoncini, Alice’s peanut butter cookies, the big tins of Bonilla chips, Guanciale, and of course cheese.
Valerie: Can you tell me about your new Stir projects? I know you have been spending some time in the Piedmont lately. Is that where you will be focusing your attention?
Barbara: Well there is Stir in Piedmont. I just spent some time traveling around the area. I think it will be a bit like Stir on the Road - sort of like Stir pop-ups and we’ll visit different areas of Italy. We get to meet the makers of cheese, grains, wine, and different artisans. When we do a Stir Italy, people will come for a week and we’ll travel, cook, meet producers, and have some downtime.
Stir Gloucester would focus on Cape Ann. We have fishing, lobstering, and gardening. I planted all kinds of grains and vegetables, and I have fruit trees so we could make preserves. We will do old-school bread baking. I have an old knife sharpening stone. The classes could be one day or night, or they could be longer - a week - and people could come each day and cook together. Gloucester could be a destination cooking location as well - there are lots of hotels and B&Bs to stay at.
Valerie: What is one of the more unusual ways have you used cheese in your restaurants?
Barbara: I made a walnut souffle at No. 9 Park with cumin and then grated aged gouda on top that was really popular. At B&G Oysters, they made a Brillat Savarin cheesecake - decadent! And I would make dehydrated pineapple chips topped with Comté. [Another] favorite is Pecorino Pesto with toasted walnuts and cooked mushrooms.
Valerie: You often credit your Home-Ec teacher Susan Lagozza for inspiring you, what do you think it was she saw in you and vice versa.
Barbara: She saw a talent in me, and I saw a nurturing person in her.
Author, Valerie Gurdal is the owner of Formaggio Kitchen South End in Boston, MA.
This post is part of our Friends and Family Interview Series. Read our next interview with Ana Sortun.