Paul Wahlberg’s Stuff


Photo: NATALIA BOLTUKHOVA

He comes from one of Boston's most famous families of entertainers. But unlike brothers Mark and Donnie, Paul Wahlberg does his best work in Hingham, not Hollywood. He entertains from the kitchens at his well-regarded Italian restaurant, Alma Nove, as well as the casual spot Wahlburgers, which first fired up the grill last fall. Celebrity-affiliated restaurants are a dime a dozen, but Wahlberg is a serious chef whose restaurants have been credited for drawing city folk to the suburban Hingham Shipyard. (Mark and Donnie are mostly behind-the-scenes business partners.) And slated to open by early May is his third spot there, Pizzeria Diciannove, featuring wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas and Italian small plates. But when he's not concocting menus, Wahlberg can often be found building creations at home with his table saw. We talked to him about how he's learned to construct successful businesses - and, while he's at it, a sweet back porch.

So you caught the woodworking bug? I'm a frustrated carpenter. Everyone always asks me, "Do you watch all those food and chef TV shows?" I do, but I mostly watch This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop. I started maybe 20 years ago. I'm still not very good at it. My brother Arthur is an extremely talented carpenter. But hey, he has to call me about cooking.

When the restaurants were being built, did you have the urge to pitch in? Absolutely! I was like, "I'm going to come over and help you." The general contractor is like, "No. No you're not." In my original dream, the restaurant was something my brothers and me built together. We were in there hammering
and nailing, putting up walls and tiling. I realized it was a much bigger
project. . . . But I was in there all the time. I'd be up on those tall metal stilts that the plasterers use, walking around. [Laughs] It's not as easy as it looks.

Are there any similarities between carpentry and cooking? Like any job you do, there's a sense of a start and a finish. But I like making things that last. When you make food, you make it and it's gone. Consumed. Someone tells you they enjoyed it, and you're proud. But with wood, there's an opportunity for something that will last, that my kids can look at. When I was building my back porch, my daughter was a year and a half old, sitting in a high chair watching while I ran the table saw. It was so much fun. Then she decided she wanted to help me paint, and that's how I ended up with a white deck - as opposed to the color it should have been.

You grew up in a big family. Were you always the cook? I loved to play around in the kitchen. But in a big family, you learned early on if you were hungry and it wasn't mealtime, you were fending for yourself. I mean, I also learned how to sew in fourth grade - but out of necessity, not out of desire.

What's it like working with family? Do you ever get caught up in "sibling moments"? Absolutely. You say stuff to relatives you would never say to a business partner. But we get along fantastically. It's funny: I lived in DC, and when we moved back up, we stayed with my mother while looking for a house. The minute I moved into my mother's, I became my mother's son again. A father? A husband? A grown man? Nah. I'm back to being my mother's son, and now that my mother's working for me [as a hostess at Alma Nove], I'm reminded of that three days a week. 

I know there's a reality show about Wahlburgers being shopped around. But would you ever go on a chef-competition show like Hell's Kitchen? No. It's just not my personality. I'm amazed by those people - by their skills and by how quickly they pull things together. But I'm more methodical. And I've got a long way to go cooking-wise. I'm always learning and trying to hone my craft. I'm never satisfied.

What's your favorite part of being a chef? I have a need in my life to make people happy. . . . What food evokes in people is amazing. My favorite scene from a movie is in Ratatouille, when he [the restaurant-critic character] takes a bite of food and is transported back to his mother's kitchen. To give someone that experience is a very special thing.