Interview with Chef Rachel Klein of Aura – Boston, MA

November 3

Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Rachel Klein: When I was younger, I was fascinated with the traditional, old-school Eastern European cooking my grandmother did for my family. I would follow her around as she spent hours in the kitchen, and then we’d sit down together to watch “The Frugal Gourmet” and “The French Chef with Julia Child,” both of whom happened to be great chefs of the Northeast. Taking this appreciation even further, I elected to do a high school internship at Cucina in Brooklyn. While my classmates all interned at law firms in the city, there I was, as the chef’s administrator, at this great place out in Brooklyn. As soon as I stepped foot in that restaurant, I knew that this was the life meant for me. The energy, the creativity, the personalities—it all just resonated with me.

AB: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with or without a culinary background?
RK: As a graduate of New York Restaurant School, I value the technical skills and knowledge I learned at culinary school. While it’s important to have this sort of traditional background, I’ve found that a culinary school education does not necessarily equal a good chef. What it comes down to is passion, work ethic and attitude.

AB: Who are your mentors?
RK: As the first real chef I worked for, Mark Spagenthal was an incredible influence and mentor for me. Mark was the sous chef for Gotham Bar and Grill and now is the executive chef at the Hudson Hotel. He has a very Gotham style, with precise knife cuts and amazing plating. My appreciation for fine dining comes from Mark. In addition, I really respect Anito Lo for introducing me to Asian-influenced cuisine in a way that the flavors infuse the food without overwhelming them.

AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
RK: I had always come from independently-owned restaurants, so adjusting to a hotel restaurant environment was difficult at first. It took me some time to figure out how to navigate the waters of Aura and the Seaport Hotel. Now that I’ve figured it out, it feels like home.

AB: If you had one thing that you could do again, what would it be?
RK: If I could do one thing over, it would be my first job right out of culinary school. I would have gone straight to the top of the culinary world – L’Espinasse, Daniel or Picholine at the time. I would have forced my way into those kitchens and tried to absorb as much from those chefs as possible. As it were, I had no idea at the time that places like those existed!

AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
RK: After having my son Ethan two years ago, I realized the importance of family time spent around the dinner table. That’s why I helped develop a family dinner series at Aura called Fine Dining, “Family-Style.” Families can come to our special family dining room on Friday nights; the parents enjoy a prix fixe meal and the kids get healthy options like sweet potato fries and all-natural chicken fingers. I am also involved in local efforts like Chefs in Shorts and the Chefs Collaborative. And in 2010, I’ll be doing Cooking for a Cause for the East End House. What I’d really like to get involved with is school lunch programs, helping schools promote healthier eating. With so many obese and diabetic kids out there, I feel strongly that this is an important way to make a difference.

AB: What does success mean for you? What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
RK: Every chef’s ultimate dream is to one day own a place of their own; a project that reflects them as a chef, seen in everything from the food to the ambiance and the art on the walls. Before you do this, it’s important to know your style. I’m just starting to get to a place where I’m comfortable with my own style. I know what I like and what works.

AB: Describe the extent of your Food and Beverage Operation here. Do you do catering, banquets, or room service?
RK: The Food & Beverage operation at the Seaport is pretty extensive – we have Aura restaurant, Tamo bar, private dining rooms and room service. It’s exciting to be involved in so many different aspects of the operation. The Seaport Hotel also does banquets, though those work off a separate line.

AB: Describe the relationship between the hotel and dining room. Are most guests hotel guests?
RK: As part of the Seaport Hotel, it’s interesting to see how our clientele finds us. We do have a lot of guests of the hotel come in to dine, but we also have a lot of neighborhood regulars, as the Seaport district is really picking up steam from new condo and retail developments.