Jody Under Construction

By Erin Byers Murray | Boston Magazine |

Hamersley’s was intense—shot-out-of-a-cannon intense—and Adams fit right in. When she sliced her hand on a tin-can lid one hectic Saturday night, she ran to the emergency room and returned, heavily bandaged, to the line, shoving Hamersley off her station so that she could resume her shift. When a roast chicken wasn’t done properly, she threw it across the kitchen in frustration. And when she gave birth to her son, Oliver, in 1989, she was back to work in just three weeks.

But being driven sometimes means having to make difficult personal choices. Adams was clocking almost 100 hours a week. She finally pulled her boss aside. Hamersley says her request to scale back her hours was like “a bucket of water had been thrown over me. It made me realize these people have lives, too.”

The battle for work-life balance has been a constant one, Adams admits. “Ken and I made this agreement that one parent would be at home,” she explains. “I said, ‘I don’t want to be the parent at home.’” Though Rivard always worked (as a ghostwriter, he’s published four books), he was the primary caregiver for their two kids, Roxanne, now 15, and Oliver, 21. That meant Adams missed bedtime baths, story time, and tagging along on her daughter’s first bra-shopping excursion. But, Rivard notes, that was their choice. “The responsibility of our family has always been in her hands,” he says.

“It was not easy for me at all,” says the working mom. “There were plenty of times when I was done, saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I want to be at home.’ But I’d made my choice.”

Shortly after Adams’s son came along, both she and Hamersley recognized that it was time for a change. An executive chef position had opened up at Michela’s, a restaurant owned by Michela Larson, and Hamersley encouraged her to apply. “I sort of threw her out of the kitchen,” he says. “It wasn’t so much that I wanted her to go, but it was time.”

“I was perfectly happy,” recalls Adams. “I was not looking to leave. In fact, when I gave my notice, I cried. But it was the right thing for me. It was a small restaurant. It was time for me to take the next step and leave, so that somebody else could come in.”  

Compared with the tiny South End kitchen she’d come from, Michela’s was a beast: lunch and dinner service in the dining room, plus an all-day café, seven days a week. Adams was stepping into the shoes of a powerful predecessor, Todd English, and she fought to make the place her own.

“The first thing she said to me was, ‘I’m really sorry, but I can’t have a chicken on the menu,’” recalls Larson. Instead, Adams needed to create her own signature dish, one that wasn’t linked to her past. So she developed a “drop-dead, absolutely delicious” crispy roast duck, says Larson, a dish that still appears on the Rialto menu today.

Adams continued to work hard, and it paid off. In 1994, an opportunity for partnership came along: The Charles Hotel was looking for a restaurant, and Larson was looking for a new project that would allow her to share ownership. With Christopher Myers and Karen Haskell, Larson and Adams opened Rialto, focusing on Mediterranean cuisine. It was the first time Adams had control over her own menu. Right out of the gate, Rialto received four stars from Globe restaurant critic Alison Arnett.