The Secrets of the Chefs


Whether he’s serving up Occidental-meets-Asian cuisine at Blue Ginger or inspiring home chefs by the millions on his public television and Fine Living Network shows, star chef (and general good guy) Ming Tsai has encouraged us—nay, commanded us—to expand our palates beyond borders.

Chin Enterprises “This is where serious Chinese cooks shop for Chinese gadgets. You’ll find traditional iron woks, giant Chinese cleavers, tongs, spoons, strainers, and steamers, all at half the price they cost elsewhere.” [33 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-423-1725]

Sapporo Ramen “Order the miso butter noodles. The bowl is twice the size of my head.” [1815 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-876-4805]
Noodle Alcove “It’s unbelievable to watch the noodle guy roll, twist, fold, and pull noodles into long strands. The best way to eat the noodles is in soup, because you want to savor the texture. Chinese noodles are not al dente. They have jing jier, or bounciness. They’re not mushy, not hard, not soft, but still tender.” [10 Tyler St., Boston, 617-542-5857]
Chinatown Café “I always stop on the way home from Logan to get a whole red roast duck, pork belly, or the stir-fry noodles for dinner.” [262 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-695-9888]
Silvertone Bar & Grill “This is not a place to ‘be seen.’ But on a cold night there’s nothing better than a cocktail and a bowl of their phenomenal mac and cheese.” [69 Bromfield St., Boston, 617-338-7887]

Mandoline “If you’re not handy with a knife, this slicer is the answer. It has interchangeable blades to cut vegetables to any size.” [From $29.99. Available at Bed Bath & Beyond, 401 Park Dr., Boston, 617-536-1090, and other locations;]

Japonaise Bakery “Ken Oringer introduced me to this Atkins Diet nightmare. The adzuki-filled doughnuts, dusted with powdered sugar, are to die for.” [Porter Exchange Building, 1815 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-547-5531; 1020 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-566-7730]

Super 88 “This amazing supermarket has 15 to 20 kinds of dim sum—fully cooked. All you have to do is re-steam or re-sear it at home. At around 50 cents apiece, it’s the cheapest, fastest way to throw an impromptu party.” [73-79 Essex St., Boston, 617-423-3749; 50 Herald St., Boston, 617-423-1688; other locations;]

Asian Ingredients, by Bruce Cost “It’s okay to look like a nerd. This book has a picture of every kind of soy sauce and condiment and tells you what to use it for. Bring it with you when you shop.” [Morrow Cookbooks, $18]



Born and raised in coastal Italy, Marisa Iocco has cooked for and owned several of Boston’s most celebrated restaurants, including Galleria Italiana and La Bettola. Today she’s executive chef at Bricco, Mare, and—our pick this year for best new restaurant—Umbria.

Harbour Food Service Equipment “Harbour furnished my first restaurant in 1992. They have everything: inexpensive, very expensive, Rosenthal dishes, Limoges dishes. If they don’t have it, they’ll make it happen.” [229 Marginal St., Chelsea, 617-884-3900]
Regina “They have everything you can imagine for Italian food: jarred tomatoes, homemade sausage, artisanal pasta, a huge variety of extra-virgin olive oil. The best is their great selection of Italian biscotti, which I love to eat at night with a glass of milk.” [203 Main St., Everett, 617-387-1655]
Lilly’s Gastronomia Italiana “My favorite pasta is the simplest, but Lilly makes fantastic pumpkin, chestnut, and lobster ravioli.” [Retail sales: Blackjack Pasta Bar, 210 Main St., Everett, 617-387-8787]
Mike’s Pastry cheesecake/Modern Pastry pasticiotto “My first job in America was at Mike’s Pastry. My favorite thing was the cheesecake, but I gained so much weight that I had to stop eating it. Now it’s a treat. At Modern Pastry, they make a pasticiotto, a little pie stuffed with ricotta; the freshness and la fragranza are amazing.” [Mike’s Pastry, 300 Hanover St., Boston, 617-742-3050; Modern Pastry, 257 Hanover St., Boston, 617-523-3783, and 20 Salem St., Medford, 781-396-3618]

Caffè Graffiti “They have great espresso and everyone is very friendly. I bring my dog in, and they’re like family there. They all speak Italian. I go almost every morning.” [307 Hanover St., Boston, 617-367-3016]
Trattoria Il Panino “It’s close to where I work, and the food is simple and fantastic. The chef is from El Salvador, and became an Italian chef. There’s something magical about his passion and love for food.” [11 Parmenter St., Boston, 617-720-1336]
Billy Tse My favorite takeout is [pan-Asian restaurant] Billy Tse. Get the tofu and basil chicken with brown rice or noodles. It’s very simple, very spicy, and very satisfying.” [240 Commercial St., Boston, 617-227-9990]

“I always keep on hand a bottle of olive oil, some cheese, bread, and olives. Together, that is the best quick dinner.”

“Imagine the food as a photo and the dish as a frame. Make it symmetrical; use a single-color plate and garnish with fresh herbs. I believe that people eat first with their eyes, but anything can look professional if it’s made with love.”



Some might call Tony Maws fanatical about picking the perfect produce. We prefer to call him passionate. “An apple isn’t an apple unless it was grown in just the right way and picked at just the right time,” says Maws, who practices his philosophy at critics’-darling Craigie Street Bistrot. “And I won’t buy it unless it is.”

Verrill Farm
“I really have to trust the people I buy from. I can trust these guys. They won’t sell it to me if it’s not the best.” [11 Wheeler Rd., Concord, 978-369-4494]
Bay End Farm community-supported agriculture program “Join a vegetable subscription program: You invest in the farm and get a supply of fresh veggies each week for 20 weeks. Bay End has an especially great program—and they deliver to Central Square.” [$500 for the season, which runs mid-June through October. Buzzards Bay, 508-759-8050]
China Fair “You can find it all here: cheap plates, cheap bowls, discounts on gadgets. They have all the small odds and ends like whisks and peelers, the things you just need .” [70 Needham St., Newton, 617-332-1250]

Omega Juicer
“I juice everything: carrots, fennel, potatoes. We juice beets and drizzle them over a dish to achieve concentrated flavor.” [$200. Kitchen Arts, 161 Newbury St., Boston, 617-266-8701,]

Banyuls Vinegar
“It’s made in the Banyul Collioure region of the French Pyrenees, right near the border of Spain, and it’s based on a fortified wine. It’s absolutely insane.” [Formaggio Kitchen, 244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-4750; South End Formaggio, 268 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-350-6996]

Buffalo wings
“When I was at the University of Michigan and I worked at the ‘nice’ bar on campus, we used to make our own buffalo sauce. Now I eat them at Wings Express. I can eat them until I lose all sensation in my mouth, which starts to happen around number 24.” [Wings Express, 563 Washington St., Brighton, 617-783-9464]

B-Side Lounge
“We go there after work a lot. I used to get the Windsor Hi-Lo—a Chartreuse frappe with a Schlitz chaser. It would be my recovery after days working in the Clio kitchen.” [92 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-354-0766]

“A big lamb shank or a whole fish always impresses guests. All you need is a little salt and some olive oil before you throw it on the grill. Everyone will go nuts.”



Getting your hands on the freshest fish is all about who you know, says Tony Ambrose, chef-owner at Blackfin Chop House & Raw Bar. With 25 years of experience, Ambrose has connections—for everything—around town.

Federal Shell + Fish
“This is where you get chefs’ jewels. You can find seaweed salad, sea urchins, and estuary oysters including bluepoint and Wellfleet. They also have a lot of Japanese specialty items like fresh wasabi, which you should never buy smaller than 1 1/2-inch circumference—it doesn’t have the heat. Ask for Robert.” [139 Newmarket Sq., Boston, 617-541-5800]
Going Bananas “Owner Frankie Scire hand-selects all the fruits and vegetables here, and they’re of pristine quality. If you’re buying in bulk for a holiday party, call ahead with a list. They’ll have everything ready and boxed up for you when you get there. And, they’ll sell it to you at the prices they charge the restaurants.” [65 Salem St., Boston, 617-227-5245]
Penniman Hill Farm “This farm stand has everything you can imagine, but I go for the butter. It’s from Amish country and it tastes like the best butter from Normandy. Whatever you do, don’t refrigerate it. It’s meant to be left at room temperature.” [272 Whiting St., Hingham, 781-749-5443]

Sea to You “Most of the local tuna owner Bon Koo gets is so good it’s exported straight to Japan. But he’s just recently started a storefront that offers sushi and sashimi to go. They’ll cut your lunch right off a 700-to-800-pound tuna.” [212 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-350-0130]

Kikuichi knives “If I could take one thing to a desert island, it would be my Kikuichi knife. The company, which is Japanese, originally made samurai swords and these knives are equally well crafted. I use mine to cut sashimi and sushi, but they’re great for everything.” [$110-$150 for entry-level knife. Available at Stoddard’s, Copley Place, Boston, 617-536-8688, and The Mall at Chestnut Hill, 617-244-4187.]

Indoor hibachis “I arrange platters of skewered fruits, vegetables, meat, or fish. Then I set up indoor hibachis—the professional kind from Japan that get really hot—and let guests cook their own. It looks sexy and it’s a great way to help guests move around and mingle.” [Request a catalog from Consumer versions, such as the DeLonghi cast-iron indoor grill, $89.95, are available at Williams-Sonoma, Copley Place, Boston, 617-262-3080, and other locations;]



The East Coast Grill’s Chris Schlesinger likes to joke that he’s just a pyromaniac who’s managed to channel his habit into a constructive activity. But now, with the beloved grill having reached its 20-year anniversary, there’s no doubt he’s Boston’s barbecue master.

Hi-Lo Foods
“This is the place for Spanish and Caribbean ingredients you won’t find anywhere else: chilies, patatas, yams. Every visit is like a trip to Puerto Rico and the islands.” [415 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6364]
Formaggio Kitchen “I go to Formaggio for the leftovers. I buy prosciutto ends and scrape the meat that’s left into salads. Then I use the bones to flavor beans or greens. I also go for the odd-end cheese bin. It’s a good way to try a bunch of cheeses without spending a lot of money.” [244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-4750; South End Formaggio, 268 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-350-6996; formaggio]
Christina’s Spice & Specialty Foods “The thing people don’t know about spices is that freshness is important. Ray Ford always has hot and exotic chilies. When we do our Hell Nights, we really rely on him.” [1261 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-492-7021]
A. Russo and Sons “Russo’s has the best selection in the city. Where else can you find four kinds of bok choy? For variety, quality, or cost, this place is it.” [560 Pleasant St., Watertown, 617-923-1500,]

Izzy’s Sub Shop “I love Puerto Rican cuisine and here it’s at its most authentic. I get the tripe soup or an octopus salad, which is the special one day a week. For the less adventurous, there are great plates with rice, beans, and plantains.” [169 Harvard St., Cambridge, 617-661-3910]

“I couldn’t do what I do without a pair of long-handled tongs. Skip the fancy ones and go for the simple, strong—and maybe a little ugly—kind we use in the restaurant.” [$7.50. Available at Eastern Bakers Supply, 145 Washington St., Boston, 617-742-0228.]

Make-your-own-drink bar
“On Sundays at East Coast, we have a make-your-own bloody mary bar. I do the same at home. In summer, I set out limes and squeezers and it’s make-your-own margaritas, or mint with a mortar and pestle for mojitos. In winter, it’s old-fashioneds or bourbon sours. It takes a load off the host and gets people their drinks faster.”



Trained in Paris, Ana Sortun was later seduced by the exotic flavors of the Middle East. After she opened Oleana, it wasn’t long before we were seduced, too. This year, the James Beard Foundation named Sortun the best chef in the Northeast.

Sevan Bakery
“We buy here for the restaurant, up to three times a week. You can’t beat the price or quality anywhere for olives, yogurt, spices, chilies, and flatbread. One of my favorites is mantee, toasted Turkish ravioli stuffed with ground meat. I put them in chicken broth and finish the soup with yogurt for a winter treat.” [599 Mount Auburn St., Watertown, 617-924-3243]
Alyson’s Orchard “This farm has more than 20 kinds of heirloom apples with gorgeous names like Maiden’s Blush and Dolgo Crab, even one called Winter Banana. Pick your own or buy at the farm stand.” [57 Alyson’s Lane, Walpole, NH, 800-856-0549,]
Violette Wine Cellars “This funky shop specializes in organic and biodynamic wines that normally end up only on restaurant tables. The owner, Richard Kzirian, is extremely knowledgeable and passionate. Just tell him what you’re having for dinner and he’ll pick you out a great bottle.” [One Belmont St., Cambridge, 617-876-4125]

Belle Isle
“This is the best place to get a lobster roll outside of Maine. Even better, it’s open all year round. The owners pick up fresh lobsters every day. They toss in the tiniest bit of mayonnaise and that’s it. It’s like a whole lobster in a bun. To die for.” [1267 Saratoga St., East Boston, 617-567-1619]

Mortar and pestle
“There’s no substitute for grinding spices the old-fashioned way. Buy one big enough that you can fit a couple of cups of stuff in it. I use one made of olive wood to make caesar salad dressing. It doesn’t taste the same if I make it any other way.” [$78. Available at Williams-Sonoma, Copley Place, Boston, 617-262-3080, and other locations;]

nuts are irresistible. You can get simple roast almonds or cashews or mixes with dried fruit, dried chickpeas, and legumes. They’re available at several places, but the company’s own retail store in Watertown packages them up beautifully.” [598 Mount Auburn St., Watertown, 617-924-8787,]

Quick fix
“I’m not a fan of prepared foods but I always keep lahmejune, flatbread pizzas topped with meat and vegetables, in my freezer. If people come over, I reheat them like tortillas in a nonstick pan. Then I cut them into wedges and serve them with yogurt.” [Available at Sevan Bakery, 599 Mount Auburn St., Watertown, 617-924-3243.]



Forget the debate over grass-fed or grain-fed. It’s all about animal husbandry—proper breeding—says Grill 23 & Bar’s Jay Murray. We think that after seven years at the helm of one of Boston’s top steakhouses, Murray knows where to find the best beef.

River Rock Farm
“River Rock [just southwest of Worcester] does it right. Owner Jon Konove treats his animals humanely, so you won’t get a tough steak from him. I often make a special trip, but you can order online and they will deliver.” [81 Five Bridge Rd., Brimfield, 413-245-0249]
J. Pace & Son “My son likes rabbit and it’s always available there. You can get great duck, too, and they have some incredible homemade sausages.” [75 Blossom Ct., Boston, 617-227-6141; 325 Main St., Saugus, 781-231-9599]

Chili Garden
“They have such good Szechwan food. It’s awesome but so unassuming, a little hole in the wall. It’s BYOB, too, which is great. Try the braised duck feet and a plate of wild vegetables.” [41 Riverside Ave., Medford, 781-396-0817]
Kyotoya Japanese Restaurant “This place has a sushi chef, Cathy Lei, who wraps up sliced cucumber, making an ‘ice cream cone’ with spicy tuna. It’s a hand roll with no rice. She’s trying some interesting things with good flavors.” [58 Montvale Ave., Stoneham, 78   1-438-9688]
Taqueria la Mexicana The best taqueria. I had them cater two of our annual parties at the restaurant. I love the tamales, which are made with real Mexican seasonings and the proper peppers. The chicken mixture, the poblanos, the grilled onions. . . everything is good.” [247 Washington St., Somerville, 617-776-5232]

Mismatched tableware
“Forget pricey, proper sets of service wear. Instead, mix and match shapes, sizes, and patterns for added ‘pop’ value. Try flea markets or yard sales for fun platters and bowls. I also love using a wooden pizza peel to serve cheeses.”