Retrospective: Lydia Shire and Jasper White


Photo: MICHAEL DISKIN

Boston is lucky to have some local legends who've kept us fed - and fascinated - for many years. Consider chefs Lydia Shire and Jasper White, two top-tier, nationally recognized talents whose decades-long friendship has led to some sweet partnerships, as in the case of Towne Stove & Spirits, where they now serve as co-culinary directors. And 2012 marks 30 years since they together opened Seasons at the Bostonian Hotel, a seminal moment in Hub dining history. So we thought it an appropriate time to cull some career-spanning reflections from these culinary greats.


Lydia
Shire is like the Meryl Streep of the culinary world. Her projects push boundaries. (At Locke-Ober, she made history by becoming chef-owner of a spot where women were once prohibited.) She's universally acclaimed, having won a James Beard award for Best Chef: Northeast, the number-one slot in The Daily Meal's list of America's "most badass" women chefs, and the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs' 2011 Golden Whisk award. And the Scampo chef-owner remains supremely likable, with a wit as sharp as a kitchen knife.

LYDIA SHIRE ON . . .

. . . the most memorable meal she's prepared. There are many, but I suppose when I invited Julia Child to my home. . . . Julia sat at my counter as we cooked, devouring almost a pound of Iranian Osetra caviar. In the dining room, the first course was turbot I had flown in from France with fresh porcini mushrooms and a classic bonne femme sauce. Then I made pressed duck as they do at Tour d'Argent in Paris. . . . For dessert, pithivier from her book. A night to remember!

. . . her greatest challenge as a chef. Cooking is easy, relatively speaking. It comes naturally when it's your passion. Managing people is not always easy. It is something I work hard at.

. . . a memory from the business that always makes her smile. How I learned to make scallion pancakes. I arrived early at a little restaurant in Chinatown. My girlfriend, who would translate the chef's instructions, was late. I knocked, the chef let me in, and he immediately started kissing me and had "roaming" hands. I thought, "Do I leave? Do I stay?" I stayed - and learned how to make delicious scallion pancakes!

. . . the next generation of Boston-based chef greats. There are many, but my favorites include Simon Restrepo and Mario Capone, Ken Oringer, Tony Maws, Ana Sortun, Jason Bond, and Tiffani Faison, to name a few.

. . . the recipe for success. Knowing more and working harder than the person or persons you work with.

. . . what she admires most about Jasper. I would need to write a thousand-page book about my love for that man. He has truly been my best friend since the day he walked into the Biltmore Plaza in Providence looking for a job in the late '70s. Jasper is smart. I always go to him for advice. . . . Over the years we have helped each other through trying times. . . . We love the same foods. . . . And we both love football so much!


Photo: MICHAEL DISKIN

Jasper White's career has run the full gamut, from the fine dining found at his beloved, bygone Jasper's Restaurant to the more casual fare of his Summer Shack locations. He's received multiple James Beard Award nominations, winning for Best Chef: Northeast, and published several successful cookbooks, among other accomplishments. Sounds like a recipe for a well-rounded and well-regarded career.

JASPER WHITE ON . . .

. . . a memory from the business that always makes him smile. The summer of 1977, when I was chef on a small dude ranch in Montana, outside of West Yellowstone: living in a magnificent setting, cooking for people who were really hungry. You know the ingredient that makes food taste best? Hunger.

. . . the biggest change in Boston dining. Everything has changed since 1979, when I landed here. There's an old joke that Irish food is like English food - but less spicy. You could have substituted Boston in that joke. There were no chef-owned restaurants then. It's almost impossible to describe the positive changes.

. . . his greatest source of inspiration. The ingredients themselves are my biggest source of inspiration. They talk; I listen.

. . . his greatest challenge as a chef. After I left fine dining, my greatest challenge was transitioning to the role of a CEO: running multiple restaurants, not being able to always control the quality of every single dish, learning to accept criticism for my food, when I knew if I had cooked it myself the problem wouldn't have happened. . . . I just had to add a few layers of skin.

. . . the recipe for success. That is different for every chef and every sentient being. Success is not a goal for me - it is a result of many things, including luck.

. . . what he most admires about Lydia. Lydia is fiercely loyal to family and friends. . . . We met in 1978, when we worked together at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence, and have been like brother and sister ever since. She is the most fearless, passionate, bordering-on-insane chef that I have ever worked with. Her palate and sense of artistry are impeccable.