Best New Chefs 2009
Hungry Mother, Boston
Born: Saltville, VA; 1975.
Education: New England Culinary Institute; Montpelier, VT.
Experience: l’Espalier, Sel de la Terre and Lumiere, Boston.
We loved: Warm beef tongue canapé; fried green tomato, grilled homemade bacon and red remoulade sauce.
What he did before cooking:
Served in the Army Reserve. “I did a brief stint after high school. I did mechanics and engineering.”
How he financed part of Hungry Mother:
A grassroots campaign and PayPal. “We started with friends and family, asking them to donate $5 to $500 to help offset the costs, and the word spread. We printed business cards with a website on the back. We got contributions from as far away as California; we raised more than $10,000. We had someone come in and stencil all the donors’ names on a wall at the restaurant. They all got 20 percent off their first meal, no matter how much they donated.”
Memorable cooking experience:
Making lunch for Julia Child. “When I was cooking at Sel de la Terre, she came in, right before she left Cambridge for California. I was running the kitchen at lunch, and I knew she was coming. I made a classic soupe au pistou [vegetable soup with a pesto-like sauce] as the lunch special, because I recalled her saying it was one of her favorite dishes. She loved it.”
“At the soft opening for Sel de la Terre, we did a cocktail party for investors. There were 20 people in the kitchen making 500 of each kind of hors d’oeuvre, and we were stacking trays on the speed rack. It was getting full, so I decided to roll the speed rack into the walk-in refrigerator. As I was pulling it up the little ramp, I lost my balance. The whole rack fell over. I can still remember the crashing noise, and then the dead silence—there were hundreds of canapés on the floor. Everyone looked at each other and made it happen, and the investors got their hors d’oeuvres.”
What keeps him going:
His new son (Dylan Maiden was born February 4).
Hominy and sorghum. “I use blue hominy, yellow hominy. I just got some sorghum from Muddy Pond in Tennessee. We use it in savory preparations, make gastriques [sweet vinegar sauces] with it and use it to finish sauces.”
Favorite childhood dish:
His grandmother’s biscuits. “They weren’t the best, but she’d take the leftover dough and make one extra-large biscuit. That was mine; no one else could touch it. I still keep making those big biscuits. And they’re usually just for me, too.”
Favorite kitchen tool:
Cookshack Smoker. “It’s the reason we can make bacon. It looks like a small refrigerator. I couldn’t live without it.”
“One summer I was on Cape Cod with a friend who had a shellfishing license. We plucked littlenecks and steamers from the sand and gathered ingredients to make clam chowder—potatoes, corn, sausages. We dug a hole and made a fire, and I ate raw oysters for the first time, standing with my feet in the water. We were spitting out sand and grit, but it was still so memorable.”
Favorite cheap eat:
Gauchao, in Somerville. “I’m a big fan of Brazilian food; my wife is Brazilian. The place serves food by the pound, they slice meat straight off the grill for you.”
Manwich. “Sloppy Joes in a can. My mom has it for me when I come home. Actually, they’re still too good, still too sweet. I probably have some cans in my own kitchen.”
Eastern Standard, the Boston brasserie. “I love that place. They do such a great job, and it’s such a good atmosphere. They recently started serving food later—steak tartare, burgers, oysters.”
What he’d be if he weren’t a chef:
A cross between an FBI agent and a forest ranger. “Growing up, I wanted to work in the bureau. But such a big part of me loves the outdoors. Maybe I’d be an undercover forest ranger.”
Menu item he’s most proud of:
Beef tongue canapé. “I like beef tongue, so I put shaved beef tongue on thick toast with mustard and melted Gruyère cheese. People don’t usually like tongue—even my mother didn’t want to try it—but I’ve been able to sell it. People come in and order six at a time now.”
Favorite cooking show:
Old episodes of the 1980s PBS series Great Chefs. “I still watch those old episodes—people like Jody Adams, Gordon Hamersley. You don’t see that rawness anymore. I still enjoy the boring let’s-make-a roasted-half-duck-with-the-kitchen-noise-in-the-background.”
Favorite YouTube videos:
The “Little Gordon” series, clips showing a young British boy in a chef’s jacket who looks a lot like British bad-boy chef Gordon Ramsay, throwing fits over restaurant meals and his school lunch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcZqwR9tbJE
Hungry Mother, 233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Boston; 617-499-0090.