the big dig

Boston Isn't New York, and Let's Everyone Just Get Over It

The fateful tome.

The fateful tome.

Boston chef Brian Poe goes on the record in his Boston Herald blog insisting that some people (such as, ahem, author Scott Haas, who gave a slightly cutting interview comparing Craigie on Main rising star Tony Maws with superchef Daniel Boulud) need to stop it with the New York lust. The Haas piece rankled Boston's chef community, who really hate those nudging reminders that Boston isn't New York and never will be. Kudos to Poe, who is talented and honest, for spotlighting this relationship, ambivalence topped with indignation and a twist of hometown pride. We have just one issue with his post. He writes: "I believe that Boston is on the cusp of breaking into the label “food city.” Can't we quit it with the labels? The more people jump all over themselves insisting that Boston is just fantastic the way it is, the more it seems like those countering opinions actually, you know, matter. Didn't high school teach us anything? Didn't Guy Fieri?

After all, Boston is its own feisty beast. It's a city with exceptional food in a compact space of narrow streets and outsized personalities. As Poe points out: "Boston has Lydia, Jasper, Gordon, Jody, Barbara, Joanne, Ken, Jamie, Dante, Schlessinger, Andy, Will, Louis, Tim, Coombs, and page upon page of great Boston chefs that put our city on the map," It also has Tony Maws. It also has terrific seafood, pockets upon pockets of ethnic neighborhoods with restaurants that don't make headlines and are just as succulent nonetheless, and a sense of history that's pretty much unparalleled nationwide. This is true because it's true, not because it's true only in relation New York.

We actually read Scott Haas's book, Back of the House, when it came out. And yes, he does compare Daniel Boulud's philosophy with that of Maws, but it's instructional rather than a dig. Haas, who has a psychology background, spent countless hours in Maws's kitchen, meeting his family, getting to know his cooks. His mission was to figure out what makes a kitchen tick. He didn't set out on a mission to trash Tony Maws and worship at the Boulud altar. He also didn't set out on a mission to remind the world, one more time, than New York is just plain bigger, badder, and better. Our takeaway is that Haas thinks that Maws is a talented but inconsistent chef who has trouble letting go and allowing underlings to take the reins. It's something that Boulud, and other empire-centric chefs, have perfected. Boulud has been in the game a lot longer. And Maws will probably learn this crucial letting-go lesson sooner rather than later, since he's opening a second restaurant in a few months.

This has to do with philosophy, not geography. So let's get over the whole city-versus-city complex, once and for all. Criticism is only as powerful as the response it provokes.

Food Writers and Food Makers [Herald]
Related: Go Behind the Scenes With Tony Maws in a Juicy New Book
Add Tony Maws to the List of Star Chefs Opening Casual Restaurants
Scott Haas on Tony Maws: "He's a Work in Progress"

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