Jody Under Construction
Still, it took a while for Adams to warm up to the spotlight. “She was shy about coming out to the dining room,” Larson recalls. “She had to put on another face. At the beginning, it was like, ‘Jody, you have to comb your hair.’”
“I didn’t see myself as the world saw me,” Adams says. “I saw myself as being the chef in the kitchen, always connected to the staff.”
Thanks to Adams, Rialto began to produce some of the city’s top cooking talent—a string of notable protégés who share Adams’s no-nonsense work ethic. There was Joanne Chang, whom Adams hired with barely any experience in a restaurant kitchen. Despite lacking dessert skills herself, Adams helped turn Chang into one of the city’s most respected pastry chefs. “She took the dishes that were spinning through my head and showed me how to make them great,” says Chang, who went on to open Flour Bakery + Café and Myers + Chang.
Then there was a young guy named Dante de Magistris, who worked at Rialto early in his career and later was the chef at Blu inside the Sports Club/LA, which Adams and her partners ran for several years. De Magistris credits Adams for mentorship that went beyond the stove. “At the time, I was just thinking about food: where it was coming from, the history. She was trying to get me out of that, to think about the bigger picture and become a better manager,” he says. De Magistris now owns Dante and Il Casale.
And there have been countless others: Chris Parsons, who would later helm Catch and Parsons Table; Tom Fosnot, who went on to run Rocca and now Gibbet Hill Grill; Nuno Alves, currently cooking at Tavolo; and a tenacious young toque named Carolyn Johnson, who today can be found at 80 Thoreau. More than any other restaurant at the time—or, for that matter, since—Rialto became the place for rising stars to cut their teeth.
But for Adams’s partners, it wasn’t enough that she was developing menus, educating a new generation, and leading her staff. Dick Friedman, owner of the Charles Hotel, wanted Adams to be the face of the restaurant. “In the early years, Jody was always just in the background,” says Friedman, adding that he didn’t “think it would be a detriment to her food if she were out promoting more.”
Larson urged her to offer cooking classes for restaurant patrons, something Adams did reluctantly at first but quickly embraced.
Outside the restaurant, Adams’s name was growing. Food & Wine called her one of the nation’s best new chefs in 1993, and 1997 brought the prestigious James Beard Award. By the time Adams put out her cookbook, In the Hands of a Chef—coauthored by her husband—in 2002, she and Rialto were synonymous with fine dining in Boston. A collection of important regulars started filling the place, and became friends. People like Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl from Partners in Health, one of three nonprofits she supports. (The Greater Boston Food Bank and Share Our Strength are the other two—Strength cofounder Billy Shore even held his wedding reception at Rialto.) Jack Connors, the former head of the Hill Holliday advertising agency who is now a philanthropic powerhouse, was a prominent fan. “I’m crazy about her,” says Connors, who handed Adams what might have been her most prestigious cooking opportunity to date this past spring: He invited her to prepare the menu for a $35,800-a-couple fundraiser for President Obama. The big shots came at first for the food; they returned to catch some face time with the rising star who was now walking the dining room with ease.