Table Talk: Carl Dooley of the Table at Season to Taste
The star chef on Indian food, springtime garlic, and Fireball.
Welcome to Table Talk, a series where we get to know your favorite local food industry professionals.
Since chef Carl Dooley’s intimate venture, the Table, opened at Season to Taste in Cambridge last year, its 20-seat dining room has filled up fast. That shouldn’t surprise the polished palates among us, though: The Top Chef contestant and Craigie on Main alum has proven his kitchen prowess by now. The vibrant, seasonally shifting prix-fixe he brings to the Table might manifest as whole wheat ramen or veal short rib, and soon, he’ll debut some a la carte options that will only strengthen that culinary portfolio.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your favorite ingredient?
Right now, it’s green garlic. We use it in everything from our pasta glazes to our sausages; really anywhere you would use regular garlic, we sub in green garlic in the springtime. It adds this great brightness and fresh flavor to all of our dishes.
What kitchen tool have you worn out at the restaurant?
Definitely our scales [laughs]. Everything we do in the kitchen at the Table, we weigh out. All of our recipes are based on weight, and percentages, in order to be super consistent. And, to have a good point of reference as we move forward. We’re constantly weighing how much salt is in our blanching water, to how much garlic is in our lamb sausage.
What music do you rock while you cook?
It’s pretty eclectic. We listen to a lot of Latin music during the day to prep. To get us pumped up for service, we’ll put on some Manowar from the ’80s and just rock out. And at the end of the night, when we’re cleaning up, we’ll have a glass of wine and put on some Robyn.
Is wine your go-to shift drink, then?
I’m a big fan of Fireball [laughs]. It’s sort of become our trashy cult drink of choice around here. We have a liquor store next door, so after a busy Saturday night shift, there’s always some nips of Fireball in the ice bath to reward us. We’re strictly high-end around here.
When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?
When I was 16, I was washing dishes at a lobster shack up in Maine. I just remember being in awe of the kitchen atmosphere. It was this high-intensity environment, but there was this great, sports-like camaraderie about everything. I thought it was the coolest thing. I saw the lifestyle, and just thought it would be a perfect fit for my constant energy.
At the time, I had no idea what it would take to be a chef, or all the nuances and hard work that went into it. I just got sucked in, like a lot of people. Then, all of the sudden, you’re on the line. One thing leads to another, and 15 years down the road you have your own restaurant.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
When I was a senior in high school, I was really into cooking, and my mom took me to No. 9 Park for my birthday. That was sort of in the heyday of [the restaurant]. I had never seen that level of service, attention to detail, or flavors. That was the first fine dining meal I had that really opened my eyes to what this level of cooking could be.
Do you remember what you ate there?
We had this baby octopus. I had never had octopus before, let alone baby octopus. So [I was] eating it with no context: it was crazy, and so delicious. It was a super simple dish [with] lemon juice and olive oil. I think back to that meal a lot.
If you could collaborate with anyone locally, who would you want to work with?
I’d love to do something with the guys from La Brasa and Fat Hen. They have such an unique setup over there, and I love all the food they do. It has its own voice. I’d love to get over there and play on those wood grills, and in that [wood] oven, and just do something in that space.
What’s your favorite food?
I’m really into Indian food. That’s my go-to at home with my wife. We’ll make an Indian dish, or something that’s vegetable-focused and Indian-inspired. The combination of spices, chilis, acidity, fresh vegetables: it’s a cuisine that represents everything that’s awesome about cooking, and how different it is region to region in India.
If you could grab coffee with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
Alain Ducasse. My background is in French classic cuisine, and [he] has done so much for nouvelle cuisine, and really how we cook in fine dining restaurants today. It’d be cool to sit down, have coffee, and chat about food.
The Table, 2447 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-871-9468, cambridgetable.com.