With a cooking style that blends pork pyrotechnics — a Vermont pork trio of suckling confit, grilled belly, spice-crusted rib, for example — and a deep knowledge of New England fishing and farming, Tony Maws has become one of Boston’s kitchen heroes.
And with awards from the James Beard Foundation (Best Chef Northeast 2011) and Food & Wine (Best New Chef 2005), the country has taken notice as well. His Craigie on Main in Cambridge has roots in France, where Maws worked before opening the smaller Bistrot in 2002. Prior, he worked under Kenneth Oringer at Restaurant Clio and at East Coast Grill.
We asked the chef for some of the memorable moments that have shaped his career. And about a run-in with Sean Brock’s “fermented corn consume” (read: moonshine) after a long night behind the burners. He told us all about the last time….
…he spotted a big-time critic in his restaurant
Jonathan Gold came in the night after the James Beard Awards. We were all tired and hungover and my staff was dousing me with buckets of iced water and I looked over and there he was in the restaurant eating. I had stood up on stage at the Beard Awards [the night before] and told everyone I would be behind the line the next night, and that was the plan. But it was unexpected how many people were excited to celebrate. It was one of those rare nights that I wasn’t actually cooking. I did introduce myself to him, while soaking wet, and he seemed to be having a great time. As for his writing, it’s brilliant! There are few people out there whose writing I enjoy reading more.
…a chef inspired him
That’s a hard one. Anybody who has ever picked up a pan inspires me. I was in San Francisco recently and went to Daniel Patterson’s Coi. He comes at food from a very different direction than me. It was very enjoyable and enlightening.
…he fired somebody
A couple months ago it happened. Luckily, we have not had a whole lot of character flaws at our restaurant. Sometimes, as much as people might love food and cooking, they may not have the skills to do it.
…he kicked somebody out of your restaurant
About five months ago, an older man who had had too much to drink. He was treating the managers poorly while waiting for a table and we let him know there wouldn’t be a table for his party that evening.
…he read something false about himself in print or on the Internet
On Chowhound very recently, there was a thread about how we wouldn’t make a substitution for a dietary restriction (not posted by the person who had the issue, but by a friend that wasn’t at the table). We want everyone to enjoy tasty food, and if we can make the needed substitution on a dish we absolutely will.
…he took his staff on a field trip
Last summer we went to Westport, in South Dartmouth, to a farm where we get a lot of herbs. Oh my God, the herbs were amazing! Apple mint, ginger mint, you can walk through a plot of herbs. It smelled intoxicating. Annis hyssop, cicely… it just goes on and on. We’re working on going apple picking later this year.
…he witnessed a bloody kitchen injury
Oh man, I’ve seen some bad kitchen injuries, luckily nothing lately. The last bad one happened to me about six or seven years ago at Craigie Street Bistrot. We were closed one night and I was there working by myself, prepping. I had just made a stock. I was trying to move it and I fell into it — then promptly drove to the hospital. I still have a splotch of a scar, where the skin peeled off of the top of my foot. It’s about six inches across.
…he traveled overseas
Mexico around Christmas and France and London last March. In Mexico, there was this incredible taco stand that, even on the way to dinner, my wife and I would stop at. We have a great food moment with our son, who reached over and ate my tripe taco. The Eagle in London is a great gastropub. It’s more fun than great, and just an overall awesome dining experience.
…he got drunk at his restaurant
When Sean Brock was here cooking for a special dinner, there was moonshine involved. We worked hard all day, and at the end of the meal, Sean brought out from his coolers what he had labeled as “Fermented Corn Consume,” and began passing it around. Luckily this was toward the end of the meal, but it lead to a whole other level of festivities.
…he dated a staff member
My wife, before we got married. Karolyn was a bartender at Cleo. We were actually both seeing other people. When I came back from France we were both single and she didn’t recognize me. She tried to set me up with one of her friends. I had to convince her to come work for me at Craigie Street Bistrot.
Use Tony Maws’ knowledge of fishing to your advantage in the kitchen with his Smoked Bluefish Rillettes Recipe.