Chef Gabriel Frasca of Straight Wharf Restaurant Boston Rising Star on

Photo Credit: Becca Bousquet

Gabriel Frasca
90 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 772 0202

Straight Wharf Restaurant
Straight Wharf
Nantucket, MA 02554
(508) 228 4499

Recipe »

Amy Tarr: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Gabriel Frasca: It seemed a lot more interesting to me than a lot of the other jobs I could do in high school. I started doing prep at a catering company first and then plating desserts and prep at a restaurant on the north shore of Massachusetts. At the time it seemed glamorous!

AT: How did it become a career?
GF: I thought I’d be a writer and, in particular, a journalist – that was my other job, working at newspapers. I went to Kenyan College in Ohio. I loved it, but after a year and a half, I needed something more urban. So I decided to transfer, and took a semester off in the process. I talked my way into a job at Hamersley’s Bistro. I wasn’t exactly hooked, but fascinated. It’s nice to think of it as creative, but cooking is production driven, with multiple deadlines that come up often. It was perfect for an ADD guy like me – the job changes every 5 seconds. But I was in way over my head at Hamersley’s. I really sorta sucked. Just as I was beginning to figure it out (after 1 ½ years) he canned me. I have zero hard feelings for Gordon. I would have canned me too, I hope.

more >>

Gabriel Frasca

Gabriel Frasca began cooking in Boston’s North Shore kitchens at the age of 15, but attended college to pursue journalism as a first career. A semester off and a good deal of luck changed his professional plans. In 1994, a 20-year-old Frasca landed a position under James Beard Award winner Gordon Hamersley at Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston’s South End. Exposed for the first time to the world of fine-dining and French cooking, Frasca put writing on the back burner.

In 1996 Frasca took a position at Chez Henri in Cambridge, where he worked under critically acclaimed chef Paul O’Connell. In the kitchen of Chez Henri Frasca met Amanda Lydon. In the spring of 1997, Frasca and Lydon moved to Provence and together entered an apprenticeship at the Michelin two-star L’abbaye de Saint Croix.

With a healthy dose of classic French technique under his belt, Frasca moved to the culinary mecca of San Sebastian, Spain. There, working under three-star chef Martin Berasategui, he learned classic Basque cooking as well as the cutting-edge ingredient pairings and avant garde aesthetic that made Berasategui an international star.

Frasca’s next stop on his European tour found him in northern Italy’s Dolomites where he helped chef Norbert Neiderkofler earn his first Michelin star at St. Hubertus. It was here that Frasca met four-star American chef David Bouley, who invited Frasca to help open his next restaurant, Danube, in New York. Frasca moved to Manhattan in the spring of 1999 and helped Bouley Bakery earn four stars from The New York Times before launching Danube, a restaurant that received three stars of its own and was named “No. 1 Newcomer” in the New York Zagat Survey.

In 2000 Frasca returned home to Boston and accepted his first head chef position. Working with old friend Seth Woods, Frasca opened Aquitaine Bis and was recognized as Boston’s ”2001 Rising Star” chef by The Improper Bostonian. With his clean, inventive style honed, Frasca next headed downtown to work with Radius chef Michael Schlow. As Radius’ first-ever chef de cuisine, Frasca was responsible for managing the kitchen staff and put his signature on one of the country’s best restaurant menus. With Frasca in charge of the kitchen, Radius earned Boston Magazine’s “Best Overall Restaurant” award, and Gourmet magazine named it one of the “Top 25 Restaurants in the Country.”

Frasca joined Spire as executive chef in November 2003, where he offered inventive ingredient-driven cuisine with influences from France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. He was recently named “Best Chef, Up and Coming” by Boston Magazine and was awarded three-stars by Boston Globe food critic Alison Arnett.

Beginning the next phase of his exciting culinary career, Frasca and Lydon have signed on as co-Executive Chefs of Straight Wharf Restaurant in Nantucket, MA, set to open Memorial Day weekend, 2006.

back to top

Interview Cont'd
AT: So then what?
GF: I figured I’d go back to school. As I was reapplying to places, a friend of mine was working at a café and needed a hand. He was working with a chef who had been an instructor at Cambridge Culinary. After 6 months of positive experience there, I decided to stay longer. Then I decided to go to culinary school.

AT: So you went?
GF: My chef said to me, “Different people require different things. Culinary school teaches 10 people how to make a cake in an hour. I know a guy who can cook 10 cakes in an hour.” So instead of culinary school I got a job at Chez Henri, and that’s where I met Amanda.

AT: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today? Do you like to hire cooks with culinary school backgrounds?
GF: It doesn’t’ factor in so much because what interests me more is what books they are reading, what restaurants are you going to. How hungry are you? When you trail, how many questions are you asking? Are you writing everything down? Cooking school for the right person is a huge leg up. But you are what you are. Whether you’ve gone to cooking school or not isn’t going to change you. Cooking-wise it can be an advantage for me because I don’t have to think outside the box, I am outside the box. I don’t know what the box is.

AT: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
GF: Gordon Hamersley taught me to want it. Gordon Becker taught me to love it. Paul O’Connell taught me about the business. Martin Berasetegui taught me about the beauty. And Michael Schlow taught me about the perfection of it.

AT: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
GF: Whatever it is, just attempt to fully realize it. It sounds incredibly simple but if deconstructing floats your boat, great. If making a really yummy hot dog is what you want, go for it. There’s no sin in being really humble, but there is a sin in not doing something as well as you can. There’s this John Gardner quote: "The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."

AT: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
GF: My cooks make fun of me all the time, because I assume everyone loves tarragon. I use it a lot in my dishes. It’s a flavor that I often crave – I love the bright anise bite.

AT: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
GF: Probably a Vitamix. We’re never going to win people over by doing something new. However sometimes we can present something familiar in a different way. The Vitamix can be fantastic for that. You can take familiar flavors and present them in a different texture – it’s so good at what it does.

AT: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
GF: Cooking things in their own juices (like the Chantenay carrot soup demo at NEFS 2005). I’m trying to intensify things by using their own ingredient.

AT: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
GF: I want to know what’s the last good cookbook you’ve read. I’m looking for conviction – it doesn’t need to be The French Laundry Cookbook, but it should be something interesting.

AT: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
GF: Be patient, don’t chase the money. The money will come if you’re smart and work hard. That will all take care of itself.

AT: What are your favorite cookbooks?
GF: I love the Babbo cookbook. Martin Berasetgui has The New Basque Cuisine, which is pretty remarkable. The French Laundry is an absolutely gorgeous book. They have such a style of their own.

AT: Tell me about your experience abroad? How did you hook up with Martin Berasetegui?
GF: Amanda gets all the credit for that – we applied to a bunch of places. A million rejected us, but finally someone took us and it was in Provence. It was not really what we were looking for. They wanted prep hands and had very low regard for Americans. I talked to the chef and said, “We’d like to do more, we want to be more helpful.” And he said, “In France if you want to make a salad, first you must bend over in the garden.” Frankly we weren’t really comfortable with that. So we called a bunch of different places. Amanda had this dog eared article on Martin Berasetegui – she talked her way in and it was incredible.

AT: Why is it so important to get culinary experience abroad?
GF: Culinary experience aboard is not necessarily more important than here – it’s about being immersed in a culture. You literally live in the restaurant (in the basement, in our case) and then work all day. It was very intense. We didn’t get paid at all.

AT: What are your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path – in Boston?
GF: House of Siam on Columbus in the South End. Anna’s Taqueria for yummy burritos.

AT: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
GF: In JB Prince there’s now all these immersion cookers, dehydrators, and things that were sort of my fantasy a few years ago – it’s the “Wylie-ization” of all of us!

AT: So tell me about what’s next for you after Spire?
GF: Straight Wharf Rest in Nantucket. We will be partners in the restaurant with the guy who’s owned it for 30 years. We’ll be open 5 or 6 months a year. We’re trying to be true to Nantucket and cook beautiful food. There’s going to be a lot of staff issues, seasonal turnover. We’re planning to be open on Memorial Day for this summer.

back to top

   Published: March 2006