Q&A: Paul Wahlberg Talks New Wahlburgers Show
The chef discusses starring in the new A&E series with brothers Mark and Donnie, the fine art of Boston dining, and what it’s really like to be the boss.
Between Mark and Donnie, the Wahlbergs are kind of a big deal in these parts. Chef Paul Wahlberg, the ringleader of Alma Nove and Wahlburgers—neighboring restaurants in Hingham—is a friendly addition to the now trio of Wahlbergs in the spotlight. He stars alongside Donnie and Mark in A&E’s new docu-series Wahlburgers, which follows the family as they run their burger joint.
We caught up with Paul at the premiere of Wahlburgers on Wednesday night. He tells us about family-inspired dishes, the challenges of running two restaurants at once, and what it’s really like working with Donnie and Mark.
First, congratulations on such a great night! I’m getting a really upbeat vibe from Wahlburgers, especially in the kitchen. What kind of environment do you like promote and share?
I love what I do. I have been cooking for a long time, and I’ve been worked for people who’re adding a lot of pressure—shall we say—during the course of the job. For me, the best part of this job is making people happy, and that’s going to translate [through] the food, so you need to have a staff that’s upbeat and excited about what they’re doing. When I walk back there [to the kitchen], I just make ’em laugh. I also teach them when they’re supposed to be taught, and I’ll explain what I’m looking for. But at the same time, I just want them to be excited, and to be happy to put the product out. It’s a view kitchen, you know? It’s a show.
What’s the best and worst part about being the boss?
Well, first, the worst part is having to do the boss stuff. The best part is making my staff happy. Because I work for them—I work for the customer and I work for my staff. I’ve worked for crazy people, and I decided I want to keep my staff and the people growing. It’s more exciting for them and they do a better job. For example, a few years ago we had a broken stove across the street at Alma Nove. And I had to explain to the guy fixing it that my chefs are going to be thinking about the stove—not thinking about their job or the food they’re putting out, because they’re stressed about the stove. I said, “Happy cooks make happy food.” And happy food tastes better. It really does. Some restaurants that go through the motions—there’s no passion, no love, no excitement.
Between the two restaurants, is there one where you spend more time than the other?
It depends on the day, the needs, and the situation. I spend quite a bit of time at Alma Nove because that’s where I cook all the time. And then I come over here because I want my cooks and my managers to be able to develop themselves. I’ve been very fortunate to surround myself with really good people. I’m fortunate that I get a little bit of latitude. And my attention span is very short, so I get to run back and forth all the time.
In terms of your show Wahlburgers, what is your role like in comparison to your brothers?
Well, [the viewers] are going to see what we do at the restaurant because that’s the most important thing. And Donnie and Mark are there, and they do their things. Donnie does a great job, and Mark’s unbelievable, too. They like to push my buttons. That’s the fun part. But it’s always been that way with us. They’re the youngest so that stuff used to go right downhill. We try not to take it too seriously with each other, and that’s the best part. Life’s too short. When we’re together, we want to make the best of it.
We can see from the Wahlburgers menu that you have a bit of an influence from family and friends here (between Mom’s Macaroni and Jenn’s chicken sandwich). What else would you say influences what’s on your menus?
I’m inspired by a lot of restaurants in this area. Anybody who’s in the business…restaurant owners, chefs, and front-of-house managers who have to put up with people like me on a regular basis. Anything like that. A lot of these dishes pay homage to my family and to me.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
The Smahlburger. And the tater tots. I love tater tots.
Is there a certain restaurant in the Boston area that you go to frequently?
It depends on what we’re doing and what we’re in the mood for. We are so fortunate for the quality of chefs here and there is no one place [in particular]. My family and I like to go to out-of-the-way, smaller places. But we don’t tell people because these places change. I love Sweet Cheeks [Q in the Fenway]. I love sushi, I love everything. And what this city has to offer is incredible. I was at this Jamaican restaurant over on Washington Street in Copley Square. I had never seen it before, but we were doing an event over there. So I was out looking for a Coke and we walked into this Jamaican restaurant. And they said they don’t have any, so I asked for a meat pie. But they said they didn’t have any meat, but they had chicken pies. Oh my god. Unbelievable! Finding those types of places is great. There are so many talented people in this city, and being so fortunate to work for them and to be exposed to them…I’m so blessed.
Paul Wahlberg’s new show Wahlburgers airs Wednesday nights at 10:30 p.m. on A&E. (You can watch last night’s premiere on AETV.com.)