Published on July 4th, 2016 | by Anne-Fleur Andrle Stephan0
Welcome to The Table Cambridge restaurant in Massachusetts !
Over the last decade, cooking shows of all kinds invaded both French and American television. From “Top Chef” to “Masterchef,” and from “Un Diner Presque Parfait” to “Kitchen’s Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay” – there is something for everyone.
Growing up, I have always had a special taste for cooking. I love the conviviality generated by what I make in my kitchen. I love the emotion my guests have as they try something new, or simply something different. I love discovering new techniques from different regions of the worlds and innovative associations of flavors. I love cooking.
Back in December, I attended a dear friend’s holiday party in the Boston area. There, I met a young woman who explained to me her husband was about to open a restaurant near my house, in the trendy Davis Square. The restaurant was going to feature great cuisine, the concept original, with the influences of both French and American cooking to only name a few. I always love to discover a new chef and new source of inspiration: I was sold, I had to try this new place. The name? Simple and straight to the point: The Table.
The restaurant was scheduled to open on January 12th, 2016, so I naively thought I could attend the opening night. Or week. When I tried to make a reservation early in January, I quickly realized how popular this place was going to be before it even opened. Hmm, suspicious? I could either get a table at 10:00 p.m. or wait 3 weeks and get a table for dinnertime. Done!
Last Friday, the big day had come. My husband and I were very excited – so excited that we arrived pretty early at the restaurant. The Table is located on Massachusetts Avenue in the Davis Square area at the border between Cambridge and Somerville. As we pushed the curtain to get in, a wonderful positive energy welcomed us. Our table was not ready (but we were pretty early), and we were offered to wait at the bar. The bar is actually not quite a bar: inside the bar “walls” is the kitchen, where you can see Chef Carl Dooley, Jon Heilman (sous chef) and Mary Edinger (Pastry Chef) meticulously working on gorgeous dishes.
I am not entirely sure how long we waited to be seated, but I know one thing: I was captivated by the precision and methodology of what I was seeing, like when you attend a ballet and are amazed by the elegance and technique of the dancers on stage.
As we approached our table, I started searching this place on Google using my phone. There: Chef Carl Dooley participated in Top Chef. This season, no doubt, which is currently streaming on Bravo. Needless to say, we do not know, for confidentiality reasons, how he did yet – as the season is still being shown on TV. However, my intuition tells me he is doing great there.
The Table is an open kitchen restaurant with 20 seats. Some guests were sitting at the bar – like a front row seat at a performance, but you can also get a table. The atmosphere is full of energy and everyone is very welcoming and knowledgeable. Chef Carl Dooley takes the time to come by and greet you, and not only once – he comes and delivers the fruit of his work and tells you a little more about the dish and flavor associations you will find inside.
Another important detail was the tone of the place. Anyone could tell this place is going to boom with popular demand very soon. However, nothing is overdone. You will instantaneously feel comfortable. Not like a typical “Restaurant Gastronomique,” where the ambient feeling is more uptight. Here, you can come as you are.
Now… The food! The menu is a four-course prix fixe: a starter, two mains, and a dessert. For each course, you will have the choice between two options. My husband took the beer pairing, and I took the wine one. I was delighted when I realized I was greeted with a pear cider from the region I was born, in France, though the menu changes regularly. To start, we both ordered the terrine of vernison and pork as a starter, with tasty, shaved foie gras on it. Then, we tried to each order something different to explore the menu completely: from roasted sweet potato with beef tongue and kale to house-made garganelli with mussels and lemon bread crumbs, or from braised pork neck with boudin blanc and green apple to glazed cod and butternut squash curry, or finally from crumble, magical lemon curd and grapefruit sorbet to a dark chocolate marquise and coffee ice cream.
Overall, we had an absolutely wonderful diner. Every detail was chosen with care and caution, and the food was simply spectacular. If you are looking for a great place in the Boston area, which your lover does not already know, for Valentines Day or any other surprise, I cannot recommend this new restaurant enough.
French Quarter Mag wishes Chef Carl and his team all the success they deserve!
I had the chance to meet with Chef Carl Dooley a few days after discovering his restaurant. Here is how it went:
– French Quarter Mag (FQM): Good morning Carl, and thank you for agreeing to meet with me.
– Carl Dooley (CD): It’s awesome, and I really liked the gastronomy section of French Quarter Magazine, thank you!
Who is Chef Carl Dooley?
– FQM: First thing I was reading about is that you are only 30 years old. That is very young to start a restaurant, isn’t it?
– CD: Yeah, I have been cooking since I was 16 and drew my career around cooking. I was a dishwasher, a prep cook, a line cook, a sous chef and then a chef. So you know, this feels like the right time in my career to take on an executive chef role and I am really excited!
– FQM: To begin with, I want to over your story, the cooking one. How did you get on the cooking tracks? Has cooking always been “your thing”?
– CD: Yeah, well I started when I was 16 up in Maine in a little lobster shack kind of a thing. I was washing dishes, boiling lobster, and frying clams. I became really attracted to the lifestyle and the high-paced energy in the kitchen, and frankly, I thought all the other guys in the kitchen were really cool. They were not chefs, but they were cooks, and super manly, and I thought this was a wonderful multicultural environment, which I had never really associated with cooking before. I loved the high energy, the fact that you work with your hands: it was fun. The rest of my friends were working at coffee shops, and on my side, I was cooking until the end of the night, and I thought that was the coolest thing. And then, once I realized it was something that I liked, I got really into it. So in high school, I worked at Formaggio Kitchen (Cambridge, MA), which was a huge eye-opening experience for me. I really learned what good food is and how to choose good products like great cheeses and meats – you know all these things which I had no idea about, back then. And this led me to start cooking at home a lot. My mother was really supportive. She would give me 20 bucks and say “ok, go find some groceries and make us dinner,” and I was happy to do so. It appealed to a lot of things I was getting into. I was working with my hands, I love being artistic, and the immediate gratification that comes from creating and sharing something was really what I wanted. It was really fun. I started skipping high school, and I would go the Harvard Bookstore, sit in the basement all day and read cookbooks. I remember going through some French books and thinking, “Oh my God, this is crazy, I would love to be able to do this!” And at the time, I had no idea of the level it took to reach and be able to deliver things like that. It just seemed really romantic and cool. I would come home from school and would watch “Great Chefs of the World” on Discovery Channel. I was so drawn by all these men and women plating this beautiful food – this was like my fantasy world, it captured all of my attention.
Chef Carl Dooley at Top Chef
– FQM: Really inspiring, thank you. Now, just two words about the Top Chef adventure: how did you decide to participate? Because it seems like you already had the network and professional connections, as well as the experience? What was the challenge there?
– CD: I just thought it would be a really fun adventure, something that would be really exciting to do. I mean, I have been a fan of the show for years, and both my wife and I watch it. It seemed like a really great opportunity to cook in really cool locations, for amazing judges and overall to challenge myself, meet and compete with other chefs, and do something kind of crazy, you know? My wife ultimately made me do it: I was a little on the fence, and she just told me, “You have to do it,” so that is how I went!
– FQM: That is great! Did you expect anything special to come out of it?
– CD: I am not sure. At that time, I had just left my chef position in Maine, and I was not quite sure of what was next. So the timing was really good. And I knew that if I wanted to do something down the line, like opening a restaurant or writing a book, that this would be a really good platform for exposure. So I did not have a specific objective in mind, but I knew it was too good of an opportunity to pass!
– FQM: Great. Next, I want to talk to you about Chef Carl 2.0: it looks like you are very connected and all over Instagram! Why is that?
– CD: Yes. The thing I really like about Instagram is that you can see what all of your peers or other chefs that you admire are doing, it is a great way to be connected to all these chefs all around the world. Within five minutes, I can see what chefs in Australia, Puerto Rico or Germany are up to. It is a really good way to feel involved in the global chefs community, which I think is really important. Nowadays, there is less “secretism” and propriety than they used to be. I remember some stories from some of the guys I used to work for. They would trade recipes and would go like, “Oh, I have this Robuchon recipe and I will trade you for this one.” And now, it seems that with Instagram, and everyone having books, people are a lot more open to sharing. Like I have friends I used to cook with who now live in Hawaii, and I see and think to myself, “Oh cool, Josh is cooking this!” and that is really awesome. I have not seen him for years but can still see what he is up to. To me, that is the best part of the whole Instagram thing, it is about staying connected with the global community of chefs.
Chef Carl Dooley and his restaurant, the Table.
– FQM: Now, moving on to your restaurant “The Table”. When did you actually start working on this project?
– CD: In October of 2015. I had met Robert, who is the owner, through some mutual friend. I started talking to him, and he expressed wanting to create a restaurant out of this space, and the size of the project really attracted me. It was something really approachable – we could execute it with a really small team. Once I saw the space, I also thought it was a really unique for Boston/Cambridge. To me, it reminds me of a restaurant I would find in Brooklyn or in Paris, in a really small neighborhood. I loved the kind of a “bistro moderne” idea. When I saw the space, I was intrigued, but after talking with Robert, I realized we were really on the same page, and I think both our personalities work really well together. As we started talking about the project, we figured we had the same vision, which got us really excited. Part of it comes from the fact that we did not completely know what we were doing (laughs) but also mostly from the enthusiasm. After that, it really just comes to bringing really talented people to the team and creating a theme that we all feel really good about.
– FQM: Can you explain the concept of the restaurant?
– CD: Hmm, the concept is to make delicious food and make people happy. I know it sounds so simple but we really strive to make delicious food and provide our guests with a really unique experience. That comes from the kitchen side of things, but also from the space itself – you are sitting here and you can always see the kitchen, smell everything, and have a really good time.
– FQM: Do you realize it is actually pretty hard to get a table here, right?
– CD: Yes, I heard! It is great, people have been really supportive, and I am very grateful that the community embraced us.
– FQM: Among the many great things I could go on about having dinner here, I really appreciated the fact that you deliver the dishes in person to the table. Is that important to you?
– CD: Yes! Few things. First, it is a small space and we cannot fit many more staff anyways. So we knew from the start it would be important for all of us, not only me but also our sous chef and pastry chef, to run the food ourselves to the “end user”. There are quite a few places with open kitchens now, but rarely does the person who did prepare the plate serve the customer. It is a really important experience for the guest, but also for us to take so much pride in preparing a dish and getting the immediate reward by delivering it to the customer in the restaurant in person and seeing their reaction, “Wow, that smells awesome!” I think that is gratifying for both the diner and us.
– FQM: About your team actually, did you guys know each other before? How did you bring everyone together?
– CD: Yes we worked together in the past. Most importantly for us was that we wanted to bring in people with an awesome attitude. You know, working in a restaurant is a lot of hours, it is stressful, there is a lot of work, there are ups and downs, and we spend a lot of time together, so it was very important to form a team that got along and had the same goal: let’s make awesome food, let’s work hard but also get along.
– FQM: You are basically describing a really cool startup restaurant?
– CD: Yeah, yeah! We are really lucky to have only 3 cooks, which are the 3 “front of the house” employees.
– FQM: The show is actually very entertaining, to see you all work on the dishes when we first enter the restaurant: that is amazing!
– CD: Thanks! Yes, I think it definitely contributes to the energy of the place. Overall, it is great to know that the people I work with care about our guests and the food as much as I do, and they take a lot of pride in it. It is fun!
– FQM: About the food you serve: how often do you plan on changing the menu? Are you trying to work locally as much as possible?
– CD: Yes, absolutely. As we get more comfortable with the space, the menu will change more. It is great for us as cooks to be stimulated but also for the guest to be able to come once a month and get something new. About the food itself, yes we work with a bunch of farms around here, our meat is sourced through our local butcher and that is all very important to us. But you know the way we cook is also a global pantry, so the spices or the foie gras we used just cannot be local. Anyway, we have the best intention and try to support our local farmers, and overall, the most important thing is to put something delicious on the plate that we feel really good about.
– FQM: You got quite a lot of press coverage, which means food reviews too. Is that something that you pay a lot of attention to?
– CD: Yes, but honestly, the most important thing to us as a team is that everyone who comes here walks away feeling great. That’s the bottom line. If it is a reviewer, then great, if it is just a regular guest, it matters just as much. We are a small restaurant. In order to cook great food the way we want to, we need to be busy. The space we work in also allows us to treat every single customer as a critic.
Chef Carl Dooley and France
– FQM: What is your favorite French dish? To eat and to cook?
– CD: To eat… I am a huge fan of charcuterie and terrines, so for me a simple and well-executed pâté is something that I love. It is both very simple and very complex, technique-wise, at the same time. I think that is what my background in French cuisine taught me – using great products with the correct technique through the entire process, whether it is a simple marinated sardine or something as complex as a veal blanquette, you know? It is the whole process that will guarantee the results, and the attention to details will make the difference. Because anyone at home can make beef bourguignon, right? But why is it better someplace? It is the marination, the seasoning, choosing the right meat, taking the time, cutting the vegetables not too small and not too big… it is all these details that are, to me, what cooking is all about!
You know, last time I was in Paris, it was a few years ago and we were in Saint Martin and we found this great little wine bar. We were sitting there, it was the end of the night, the kitchen was kind of closed. We had just flown in, we were having some great wine, and the bartender brought us some bread with something which I thought was cheese at first. I asked him what it was and he said, “fjdnsijhf,” so I was like, “Hmm, I don’t know that cheese,” and after trying it I realized, “Holy cow, this is butter!” So it was just bread and butter, but really, really good. See, bread and butter is the simplest thing but that tasted amazing. The right cow, the right process, taking time to age the cream… It is something that is so simple but then you eat it and it is spectacular. To me, that is what French cuisine is about. It is not about the truffle or the foie gras, but it is about something that is really, really well done.
– FQM: Allright, so that was for your favorites. Now, what is the weirdest French food you ever had? Americans have issues with foie gras once they know what it is, for example. What is it for you?
– CD: Oh yes. We were in Lyon, and it was late at night, and there was a cart with calf’s heads on it. The people were doing the jelly calf’s heads. I stood there and I was staring at it wondering, “Is that what I think it is?” Then I looked at the whole process, it was steaming, and he was cutting pieces. And I finally thought to myself, “Alright, I think I can get into this.” You know, with Dijon mustard and some parsley and garlic. Frightening at first but a great surprise overall! This reminds me of something. Actually, I was very fortunate I worked with Tony Maws [famous Boston chef] for a number of years, and I remember walking into his restaurant, the old one: I had never seen half the things that were in front of me. I specifically remember one day as I was arriving, there was a meat delivery, a whole box. I decide to help out, and I open it up and bam! It was all lamb heads! Fifteen lamb heads just looking at me, and I was like “Wow!” As I went back with Tony, he showed me how to saw the head open and take the brain out, like a surgeon really. Then he taught me how to roast it perfectly with capers and brown butter. Honestly, at first I thought I’d never eat that, and now I can tell you it is really delicious! In cooking, there is always funky stuff and I think the French do it best!
– FQM: This did not scare you at all actually – you are serving beef tongue in your restaurant!
– CD: Exactly!
– FQM: This did not scare you at all actually – you are serving beef tongue in your restaurant!
– CD: Exactly!
Chef Carl Dooley in the global community…
– FQM: Now onto your travel and world influence! Who inspires you in the world? Do you actually enjoy traveling and following gastronomy trends you find along the way?
– CD: Actually, traveling is one of my favorite things to do. My wife and I are really lucky – we traveled to a bunch of different places. In France for example, we spent time in Burgundy and in the Loire Valley. I think it is a great way to get out of your comfort zone, especially for cooking, and see how others do it. It is truly inspiring! We went to France, to Spain, to Germany, I also had a chance to live in Central America for a while, which was a really cool way to be exposed. The great thing about food is that there is always more to learn. It does not matter how many times you have tasted something, there is always something new, whether it is new products or an association you never thought of. That’s why I love it, and travelling is the best way to see on the ground. There are always books or Facebook pages but until you actually eat it, you do not know what you are talking about.
– FQM: Is there a particular cuisine that influences you?
– CD: We are lucky we are not a specific cuisine-type restaurant. We pull from a lot of different things. However, one thing that is always in the back of my mind is the tradition of techniques, whether it is to do pasta a certain way like they do in Italy or making the boudin blanc the way they do it in France, you know what I mean? That is my culinary backbone – work with great techniques. As a chef in a global community, we get to pull flavors from everywhere and incorporate them in how we cook.
– FQM: Following the same idea, do you follow particular chefs?
– CD: Yes! When we were in Paris with my wife, we ate at Chateaubriand, which is Inaki’s restaurant [Inaki Aizpitarte]. His food I thought was a really good example of what contemporary French food is today – fantastic technique, fantastic products, but again drawing flavors from all over the world. Or someone like Pascal Barbot, just even looking through his book, he has a whole chapter on citrus! On how they all are different and from all over the world. Pascal Barbot to me is like a genius! On a plate, his food looks so simple, it is like four or five ingredients but everything together is amazingly complex and just out of this world! And you know what? He only has three people in his kitchen… (laughs)
Chef Carl Dooley on the spot!
– FQM: Do you have one kitchen disaster to share with us?
– CD: Yeah. When I was working at the Bistro, I was in charge of cooking the octopus. We cooked like 15 octopuses at a time in olive oil in these big stockpots. We started cooking it towards the end of service, it was somewhere around 2 in the morning that I was supposed to pull the octopuses out before going home. And I totally forgot about it. The next day, I had to open the restaurant. I get there at seven in the morning, I walk in, and this smell comes to me. And bam! Oh sh*t! It is bubbling everywhere and the whole place smells like octopus. I got the dishwashers and was so stressed out, I kept telling them, “We have to clean this up before the chef gets here!” It was terrible. We even had to put Febreze in the dining room. Seriously, it was such a disaster! I was only 21 years old, and every time I smell octopus, I think about that!
– FQM: You are on an island, alone. What are the 5 ingredients you want to have with you?
– CD: Five ingredients? Hmm, green Tabasco sauce, verjus that I use in almost every dish for the brightness and the acidity. Wait, I can fish! Scratch that! I want some really good tortillas, I’ll stick with the green Tabasco sauce, a lot of cilantro, and probably some white soy sauce as well because if I am on an island, I will probably eat a lot of raw fish. Fish tacos and sashimi!
– FQM: What is the most essential item in a kitchen?
– CD: Seriously, a really good attitude. That is the most important, it is really hard, it takes a long time, it is difficult some days, but if you have that, you will get to wherever you want to be and become who you want to be.
– FQM: What is the dish you are the most proud of?
– CD: This was a few years ago, it was for my nephew. He was turning 5 and was really into whales. So I made him this whale rice crispy treat birthday cake. It was three layers and this giant whale on it. It had these Swedish fish on it. It was really stressful. I was just there on vacation and made this giant cake. Once I saw how excited he and his friends were about it, I was so happy. And proud!
– FQM: What is your favorite newly discovered ingredient?
– CD: Tough one! We get this thing from the Indian market in Central Square in Cambridge, it is like a carrot pickle, and it is absolutely amazing. It is so good, and super spicy. Crunchy, sour, spicy… So good.
– FQM: Last question: if you had not been a chef or in the food business, what would you be?
– CD: I would probably be either a really bad professional tennis player or a really good high school tennis coach. That is sort of my dream some day. I went to high school in Cambridge. They have a culinary program, which I did, and they also have a great tennis team, which I was a part of. Those were my two favorite things about high school. Someday, when I am retired and all is well, I want to teach high school culinary and coach the tennis team.