STRAIGHT WHARF RESTAURANT | Boston
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.