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'I Just Wanted To Be Something': Chef Barbara Lynch Reflects On A Career In The Kitchen

"Out of Line," by Barbara Lynch. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
"Out of Line," by Barbara Lynch. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Barbara Lynch grew up in a housing project in South Boston, never finished high school and didn’t go to culinary school. Now she’s a James Beard Award winner, overseeing seven restaurants in the Boston area.

She’s also published a memoir, “Out of Line: A Life of Playing With Fire.” Here & Now‘s Robin Young meets Lynch (@barbaralynchBOS) at the first restaurant she opened, No. 9 Park, to talk about the book.

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The No. 9 Park kitchen. (Robin Young/Here & Now)

The No. 9 Park kitchen. (Robin Young/Here & Now)

Editor’s Note: The excerpt below contains some explicit language.

Book Excerpt: ‘Out Of Line’

Chef Barbara Lynch (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

By Barbara Lynch

With my key staff in place, I started writing a kitchen manual, covering everything from sanitation (noting, “God knows we have enough hand sinks”) to job descriptions and ideal hires. I knew the kind of employees I wanted:

All our staff should possess a sense of style but no pretension. We should also hire people with good intuition, so they can sense how much attention a customer wants… Passion is all-important. We should actually hire an inexperienced person if he or shoe demonstrates genuine enthusiasm.

I listed guidelines for the waitstaff under the heading, “My Feelings on How to Reach 4-Star Service in an Unpretentious Manner” – I hated the fuck-you attitude of too many fancy restaurants – and also for kitchen behavior:

Being a sous-chef is like coaching… You want to get the best work out of your people but to motivate by example rather than intimidation. I favor a calm supportive tone…

… They grasped that I wanted to create a different kind of restaurant, staffed by professionals – not moonlighting actors or students or whatever, but lifers, to whom hospitality was a career. I wanted them to have predictable incomes, not crumpled wads of random dollars at the end of a shift, so they could raise families, buy houses, pay taxes, and lead regular adult lives. Like Mario Bonello, I wanted them to find dignity in their work and take pride in being part of a food and wine culture.

That’s why my kitchen manual was so idealistic, upholding the vow that my restaurant would be educational. Cooking to me, was a vocation, and I wanted to give my employees the chance to discover that in themselves and to learn the way I did – not in cooking school, but on the job. I wrote:

No. 9 will be one of the most challenging kitchens you will ever work in. Our staff has been chosen because we feel strongly that you, collectively can promote the kind of atmosphere we love… Teamwork is an assumption. Running an exceptional restaurant is our mission. We want to have fun, which includes listening to music during prep time or joking around on the line. However, we must still be focused…

Everyone in the kitchen should be learning constantly. The atmosphere should be one with an open exchange of knowledge… Take this opportunity to put hard work into the restaurant and food; it is an investment in your future. Read (and swap) cookbooks whenever you can; go out to eat as often as you can afford. Experience, live, and think about food. Your part in No. 9 is more than a kitchen job.

Excerpted from the book OUT OF LINE by Barbara Lynch. Copyright © 2017 by Barbara Lynch. Republished with permission of Atria Books.

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