CRAIGIE STREET BISTROT | Boston
For 35 year old Tony Maws, chef/owner of Craigie Street Bistrot
in Cambridge, cooking was not something he felt he could personally
learn best by studying in a culinary school classroom. Instead,
the Belmont Hill School and University of Michigan grad embarked
on a nearly 10 year quest to learn his trade from the food world’s
best. “I learned to cook the same way that musicians used
to learn to play their instruments” jokes Tony. “By
traveling around, watching the great masters at work, and learning
whatever I could.” The list of chefs under whom he trained
reads like a “Who’s Who” of culinary icons: Chris
Schlesinger of East Coast Grill, Mark Miller of Coyote
Café, Ken Oringer of Clio, Bernard Constantin
of Larivoire, and Roland Passot of La Folie.
It was while Tony was living and cooking in Lyon, France, that
he experienced the philosophy of the bistrots modernes – and
he was hooked. “The chefs have all had classical French training,
but the new cuisine is made with simple, fresh ingredients and is
creative but never pretentious. And the restaurant style is relaxed
and comfortable, not intimidating.” With this concept as his
inspiration, Maws returned home to Cambridge and began planning
his vision of a French bistrot moderne in Cambridge – Boston’s
answer to Paris’ Left Bank.
A visit to Craigie Street Bistrot affirms he has succeeded in achieving
his vision. The dining room is warm and inviting with decorations
that include a framed photo of Maws’ true culinary idol, his
grandmother Hannah. Craigie Street Bistrot’s homey and friendly
feeling is genuine. After all, the restaurant is very much a product
of the efforts of Maws' family and friends, who have rolled up their
sleeves and given of their time and energy and experiences to help
open the restaurant. Maws hopes all of his patrons feel part of
the extended family when dining at Craigie Street Bistrot –
tucked into a neighborhood somewhere between Harvard Square and
Since opening Craigie Street in 2003, Tony has received a continuous
stream of accolades, both local and national, including “Best
New Chefs – 2005” by Food & Wine Magazine,
“Best of Boston – Top Rising Chef” by Boston
Magazine, and one of 5 Best Restaurants in Boston by Gourmet
AT: Did you attend culinary
school? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
TM: No. At East Coast Grill,
I kept saying I was going to go to culinary school, but I kept putting
it off because I kept cooking and getting paid at the same time.
Chris definitely takes care of the people who work hard for him.
And then one day he said, “Where do you want to work next?”
So I decided to go to San Francisco to work at La Folie. It was
a very intense place.
Culinary schools at one point showed a commitment to the craft.
But they really churn them out now. More than 50 percent of people
who go to culinary school aren’t cooking after 2 years. We
have a lot of people in our kitchen who went to college. They have
an ability to learn. They come to this place because this is where
they want to be. I have a high success rate with the people I hire.
The people who come to me at age 22 or 23, they have a hard work
AT: Can you talk about your
TM: There are different people
who I consider mentors for different reasons. To this day I think
Chris Schlesinger is one of the best restaurant business people
around. He has a winning formula. He doesn’t do a whole lot
that fails. Chris never told me how to open up a restaurant, but
one day I went into his office and said, “Chris, I’m
going to do it.” And he said, “Don’t do it. But
if you do, be the cheapest you can be. Don’t fall into the
bells and whistles crap.”
Roland at La Folie was a mentor in terms of actual food. He’s
a control freak. Ken Oringer gave me food inspiration –he’s
got a lot of guts. He was never afraid to try anything. He taught
me a lot about taking chances and putting in hard work, but also
putting something on the plate that was different. A lot the fish
was flown in from Japan. I got my hands on so much. Coming from
Clio to Craigie, we have fewer resources, and we have to make the
most out of the kitchen. So we have to be more creative in a sense.
I don’t have a convection oven or a dehydrator, but how do
I get that same effect?
AT: What is your philosophy
on food and dining?
TM: We’re not trying
to recreate the wheel. I don’t always want to live on the
extreme. Sometimes good honest food is what we crave the most. So
we’re trying to cook good food. I love throwing a good dinner
party, and I feel like that’s what I get to do at Craigie
Street every night. You’re going to come and have a good time
– good service, food, and wine. I like looking out on my dining
room and seeing people having a good time. We’re in a weird
neighborhood, and it still baffles me that people show up.
AT: Are there any secret
ingredients that you especially like? Why?
TM: There are a lot of parts
of animals that are underappreciated and underused. When we work
with a whole animal there are a lot of parts. It’s not weird
if it’s prepared right. Coxcomb, pigtails. We do a lot with
AT: What is your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
TM: I wish I could say it was
that easy. It takes a little bit of time to see if they are going
to cut it. Even out of one interview or a couple stages. But I want
to know – if you’ve quit a job, what made you quit?
And what’s the definition of a bad boss? What are your ambitions?
I want to know where you want to be in a year. If you come work
for me, where do you want to be? I should be honored that they are
working for me.
AT: What tips would you offer
young chefs just getting started?
TM: Don’t worry about
getting your name on your jacket. Just cook.
AT: What trends do you see
emerging in the restaurant industry now?
TM: Technology. Whether it’s
being used well or not is a whole other topic. I get really ticked
off when I read articles about being high tech in the kitchen. Like
you have to do this type of food to be a good cook nowadays. But
people are coming back to the dinner table to appreciate food. They
have more of an educated palate. People are willing to try wine
other than Bordeaux. They’re willing to try new things both
in terms of food and wine.
AT: Where do you see yourself
in 5 years? In 10 years?
TM: I’m fortunate - I
love what I do and I have a family and friends who love what I do.
I don’t get pressure to get out of the kitchen. It’s
where I plan on being. Am I going to be at Craigie Street Bistrot
in 10 years? I don’t know. I know it’s not the prefect
restaurant – I don’t know what the perfect restaurant
is. Maybe I need a bar since no one has a place to wait. I’ll
still be wearing an apron and sharpening my knives!