Q: Do you intend to keep the café focused on Dudley Square, or is your goal for it to be a dining destination for people from other areas?
A: I think we really expect it to just be a community restaurant. Maybe people will come [from other places] if itís really good. At this point, I think our goal is just to make it fly in Dudley Square. Maybe some people from the South End will come, but itís more like weíre trying to stop people from Dudley Square from going into the South End, because thatís what they do now, to go eat. We certainly donít want it to be right away a destination restaurant. That would turn off the community.
Q: Youíve had a relationship with Haley House prior to this, right?
A: You know City Feed & Supply [in Jamaica Plain]? I used to make muffins for them when I was in transition between restaurants, and when I opened up Veggie Planet, they were like, "People love these muffins; weíve got to find someone who can make them." They said, "Do you think you could teach the Haley House how to make them there?" So I went to teach them, and thatís when I struck a deal with them and they were like, "We know how to make pizza dough," and one of the guys is from Clear Flour, so he started making our pizza dough. Theyíve been really like the foundation of our business, the dough.
Q: Veggie Planet is nontraditional, being in the middle of a folk-music club, and this Haley House job is obviously somewhat nontraditional, too. Do you just prefer cooking in more offbeat locations and organizations?
A: I guess I go where my heart goes. I sat and listened to some music at Club Passim, and I knew they were looking for some people, and I got taken up with the idea. I was kind of swept away with the idea. The same thingís true with this business. Itís more than a job; itís like an adventure. I like to be in places where I can learn from other people. Iíve always been kind of rebellious, and I never really enjoyed working in high-end restaurants. I thought the pressure there just seemed kind of silly, and I just didnít think it was healthy. Talking to my staff and talking to customers, the whole idea of community ó thatís what excites me. So I have to just go in that direction.
Q: What have been the most challenging aspects of running a restaurant thatís in the middle of a live-music club?
A: Itís really hard sometimes to see things from their eyes, and for them to see things from our eyes. The people who work at Club Passim, their world is folk music, not food, and any kind of growth in the food, they see it as a pain in the neck, kind of a nuisance. That has been difficult, that they put the music way before the food, and theyíve been here for way longer than we have. By us being successful, I think theyíve realized that they are benefiting; people will come in more often because they like the food, too. But in the beginning, I wanted to strangle all of them. I think after being here for a year or so, I started to understand that their love for folk music made this place all that much more special. Itís not just a typical folk-music venue. People are really passionate. But for me as a chef and a foodie, yeah. I find myself dreaming a lot of having a place thatís just about the food.
Q: And where you could make noise in the kitchen.
A: Right. I mean, thereís just a lot of freedoms that I donít have here. I feel like this is one more step to me eventually having my own business. I really do see that happening, but Iím taking the long way there, because I want to do it right, and I donít want to get in over my head. I want to know what Iím doing.
Q: How did you originally get involved in the vegetarian movement?
A: It was kind of circuitous. I was a vegetarian when I was young, but then I let that go because I was studying cooking in France. Then I wanted to write a book of cheap eats in Boston, my own little version, and I went to a publishing company with the idea, and theyíre like, "You shouldnít be doing that; you should be writing a cookbook. Youíre a chef. Why donít you write a vegetarian-tortilla cookbook? Thatís what we could use." So I thought about it, and Iím like, what about global vegetarian? So they said okay, and I wrote that. Seven years later I opened this vegetarian restaurant. Iím not a strict vegetarian; Iíll eat meat. I believe in the movement, I believe that people need to know how good veggie food can be. Thatís my mission. Itís not to never eat beef again. Because unfortunately Iím just way too culinary. I canít give up those flavors. But I probably eat meat [only] once a month now.
Iíve been educated and politicized by having to write that book. That forced me to become more aware of the whole politics of how we eat and what itís doing to our economy and stuff. So from a political point of view, I think being a vegetarianís a great idea.
Q: What are your guilty-pleasure foods?
A: When Iím scooping out the Christinaís mint-chocolate-chip ice cream, sometimes Iíll grab a little bit with my fingers and Iíll eat it; just a really chippy part. And the mac and cheese that we sell here. Iíve learned to lessen the guilt by combining it with our tofu-ricotta mixture. Thatís really good. I donít hold back that much.
Tamara Wieder can be reached at twieder[a]phx.compage 2
Issue Date: March 11 - 17, 2005
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