Interview with Boston Rising Star Carl Dooley of Craigie on Main

by Mary Choi
April 2015

Mary Choi: Where are you from and how did you get your start?
Carl Dooley: Cambridge, Massachusetts. I moved around the city area for work. I attended the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) in Vermont, worked in London for six months at the Fat Duck, then came back to Boston. I worked for Tony Maws and then moved to Washington, D.C. for about five years to work under Frank Ruta at Palena Restaurant; and then at the Four Seasons Washington, D.C. for Eric Ripert. After that I moved to New York for a year and worked at Battersby. Then my wife and I knew we were going back to Boston.

MC: What was your very first cooking job?
CD:
My first cooking job was at a lobster shack in the summer in Maine when I was 16. I really liked the lifestyle and the older guys gave me gin and tonics at the end of the night; I really liked working with my hands. The craft of it really appealed to me. I worked at Formaggio Kitchen in high school and got to work with some amazing ingredients. I would buy cookbooks and skip school to cook at home. When it came time for me to pick a school for college, I knew I couldn’t go to a regular school, so I enrolled at NECI.

MC: Who has been your most influential mentor throughout your career?
CD:
Definitely Tony Maws; he’s someone who took me on when I first got out of school. I had a lot of energy and was excited, but I didn’t have the discipline. He taught me how to be a restaurant professional. Coming back to work with him—after a few years away—in a leadership role, has been truly rewarding for me.

MC: How would you describe your food philosophy?
CD:
Make delicious food. The reason I love Craigie on Main is because our theme is deliciousness. In this day and age, people don’t want specific themes, they just want something good to eat. I think we get caught up in trying to explain and talk about food. I mean, I just want people to want another plate of something.

MC: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to deal with?
CD:
Well, other than the standard chef problems, the biggest challenges are from the management standpoint and to help people grow and work hard. The challenge is to be a good food chef and a good manager, and being responsible. You have to play a lot of roles and ultimately you want to collaborate with all your cooks to run a productive kitchen.

MC: What’s your five year plan?
CD:
I like having the freedom and having different directions to go, to work with different people in different places. I got into the industry because of that aspect of moving around and learning new things. So ultimately, I’m excited for what lies ahead, but again, I can’t say for sure what that will be.