For one week in late April, I had the honor of cooking at my favorite restaurant in Boston, Townsman. Matt Jennings is the James Beard nominated chef/owner of Townsman, which just recently celebrated its one-year anniversary with a kick ass party featuring visiting chefs and bartenders from both Boston and Providence.
I first met Chef Jennings in September of 2013 at the James Beard Foundation’s Chef’s Boot Camp for Policy & Change at Glynwood Farm in Cold Spring, NY. We have kept in touch ever since, in part because we can’t stop eating Townsman’s brasserie-inspired New England cuisine, and in part because Chef Jennings is the type of generous and charismatic person that I like to be around. So when the idea popped into my head of getting into a professional kitchen for a stint, I knew exactly whom I would call.
I didn’t even know what I was doing had a name when I first walked into the restaurant, so when one of the chefs asked me how long I was “staging” for I was dumbfounded. This would be the first of many lessons that I learned over the course of the next six days, and since we live in the era of listicles, here is my top 10 list:
- When chefs and cooks care about the food and each other restaurants excel.
- Cleaning fiddleheads fucking blows.
- I need to go to culinary school in order to work in that kitchen. No doubt.
- Pastry is a lot more interesting and fun than I expected, and Meghan Thompson is a badass chef.
- I like cleaning razor clams. I am slow at it, but I like it.
- It’s an amazing feeling when something you help create gets served at a restaurant.
- In the BOH you can feel pretty disconnected from the diners, and that can be both amazing and tough at the same time.
- Young cooks (at least at Townsman) are much more likely to be patient and helpful than they are arrogant or cocky.
- Cooking other people’s food is fundamentally challenging. Creatively easy, but hard to know when its right.
- Cooking family meal for Townsman’s staff was a gratifying and humbling experience. I will cook for them anytime…but they are better at it.
I got all the way to this point in the post without mentioning Chef Matt Leddy, who was saddled with my inexperience for the better part of a week. He’s a talented chef, great teacher and is incredibly patient. Townsman would not be the same without him.
I’m not sure what’s next for restaurants and me, but I feel like there is a next chapter. For now we have a busy couple of weeks ahead and I have some time to figure it out.
One of my greatest fears heading into this adventure was that once I saw how the sausage was made at Townsman (both literally and figuratively) it would ruin the restaurant for me. It didn’t. It made me love it even more and more excited about the food and the people. In fact, we’re headed there in a couple hours. Cheers!