Paul Wahlberg’s Stuff
Photo: NATALIA BOLTUKHOVA
by Scott Kearnan
| February 13, 2012
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.