2015 Boston Rising Star Chef Cassie Piuma of Sarma

2015 Boston Rising Star Chef Cassie Piuma of Sarma
March 2015

A native of Duxbury, Massachusetts, Cassie Piuma is as locally bred as a chef can be (with a brief stop overseas). After graduating with honors from Johnson & Wales, where she met her husband and future business partner Matthew, she completed a final semester at the At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy in Singapore. Fortunately for Boston, the rest of Piuma’s culinary growth would take place back in New England.

Back Stateside, Piuma honed her skills first at Providence institution and proving ground for great chefs Al Forno, playing in various pockets of Italian regional cuisine. Moving to Boston in 2002, Piuma dove into French cuisine at Sel de la Terre. Piuma next took a job as sausage maker at Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop. But no doubt the most formative of her career choices would come next, when Piuma took a job with StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef Ana Sortun at Oleana.

Piuma worked with Sortun for 11 years, learning the nuances of Middle Eastern cooking while she worked her way up the ranks from line cook to sous chef and ultimately chef de cuisine for her final seven years at the restaurant. It was this experience, and Sortun and Gary Griffin’s backing, that helped Piuma and her husband open their dream restaurant, Sarma, bringing Piuma’s vision of inspired, spice-driven Middle Eastern cuisine to a neighborhood not very far from home.

Interview with Boston Rising Star Cassie Piuma of Sarma

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
Cassie Piuma:
I was pre-med and I liked it, but I was missing creativity. It felt so cut and dry. My mom could see right through me and asked: What is it you really love? And I thought, I love to eat! I didn’t really cook as a kid, but I always loved to eat. There’s a lot of cool ethnic food—there are exotic places you can go and learn to cook. That took me to Johnson and Wales. I got into the kitchen and something sparked. It was so exciting and suddenly school wasn’t enough—I wanted to get a job. I started working at Al Forno [in Providence, Rhode Island]. I would trade my whole culinary education for my time there. 

CH: Who's your mentor?
George Germon [of Al Forno] was the first person to teach me to care about ingredients and to “work smart, not fast.” He taught me to focus on efficiency. It changed my world. I always want to do my best and find the best person to study under. When I moved to Boston, I happened to have dinner at Oleana and had this magical experience with my mom. The colors, the shapes, the spices—I was enchanted by the whole experience. I wrote Ana a three-page letter. It resonated. I met Ana and we hit it off. She’s so down to earth, hospitable, easy to communicate with. We don’t have to talk that much. We encourage each other.

CH: How do you describe your cooking style?
I’d say I have a casual approach to fine dining. I worked in fine dining for a long time and I grew tired of the format. I love that aesthetic and quality, but I wanted something more casual.

CH: What's your five year plan?
I’ve always had this dream of opening my own place. I will live and die on the line. I like being first here and being last to leave. It’s where I feel the most comfortable, myself. Other people want to branch out, or to write cookbooks. I’ve always wanted my one place and to do it really well. Sarma is my dream, actualized. It’s hard for me to see beyond these walls right now.