By just after 9 on an overcast Thursday morning in November, a motley platoon of exercisers—men and women, twenty-something and middle-aged, svelte and not—was already doing jumping jacks, jogging sideways, and punching the air at Peter Welch’s F-15 gym in South Boston when Barbara Lynch walked in. The chef and business mind behind No. 9 Park, Sportello, and several more of the city’s most celebrated restaurants had stayed up until 1:30 the night before, for a wine-and-martini-fueled event, and was irritated at being a bit late for her hour-and-a-half workout.
She fell quickly into the routine, a relentless mix of cardio, core, and bag-punching that soon had her winded and sweating. During a one-minute break, a middle-aged guy in a baseball cap named Norton started needling her. He accused her of spraying fake sweat on herself to make it look like she was working hard; he told her she couldn’t stay on her feet in the ring. “That’s why we call her canvas-back,” he said.
“What’s that, muffin-top?” Lynch said, giving him the finger.
Lynch knows Norton from having grown up in the projects, which is also how she knows Welch, the boxing trainer for the reality show The Ultimate Fighter. As the class continued, so did Norton’s trash talk. “We also call her A.T.,” he said, as in “All Talk.” Lynch was on her back now, about to do leg lifts. From the mat, she flipped him a double bird.
Lynch built her restaurant empire on bold moves, and in a few weeks she’ll make perhaps her biggest gamble yet by opening a fine-dining venue in Fort Point Channel.
Lynch’s dominion already includes four restaurants, one bar, a cookbook store/demonstration kitchen, and a catering company. Her food is homey Italian with French influences, haute restaurant flair, and a New Englander’s appreciation of the sea and its fruits. Critics have waxed orgasmic over her crispy duck, chestnut bisque, and vanilla bread pudding, and in particular her house-made pasta. In one of her most popular creations, she takes a regional Italian dessert, prune gnocchi, and remakes it into a memorably savory dish by adding foie gras and vin santo glaze. By serving some of the city’s most sophisticated (and pricey) food and drink in some of its most sophisticated rooms, Lynch, 45, has won some of the dining world’s greatest accolades, from a James Beard Award to the Food & Wine title of Best New Chef.
Her cozy-fancy flagship restaurant, No. 9 Park, is located in Beacon Hill, but the rest of her realm exists in two geographic clusters. Around a single intersection in the South End, she has B&G Oysters, an upscale raw bar/seafood joint; the Butcher Shop, a wine bar meets charcuterie; and Stir, which contains a lovingly assembled wall of cookbooks overlooking a central island/oven where classes are taught. More recently, in a former industrial building in Fort Point Channel, she opened Sportello, an Italo-contemporary riff on a lunch counter; downstairs is the bar Drink, which offers vintage cocktails in a sleek, modern space. The new restaurant, Menton, will share a building with Sportello and Drink and, if Lynch succeeds, will be one of the few truly fine-dining venues remaining in Boston, along with L’Espalier, Radius, and Clio.
Because Lynch has consistently earned praise and made her own name, her supporters are willing to curb even their own skepticism about the viability of the venture. “She feels there are enough people in Boston to support fine dining, even after I pointed out to her that the Four Seasons couldn’t support fine dining,” says Arnold Hiatt, the former CEO of Stride Rite and one of about 26 of Lynch’s original investors. Hiatt is talking about Aujourd’hui, which closed in June. “She may see a world that other people may not fully understand. She’s been right so far.” Young Park, the developer of FP3, the wharfside condo complex where Lynch has leased 15,000 square feet for Sportello, Drink, and the new restaurant, says, “I’m a great believer in her instincts.”
Lynch deploys those instincts down to the minutest level. One recent Thursday she stood in the raw space that would become Menton. She was dressed in a thoroughly black ensemble that matched her thoroughly black hair: black clogs, black scarf, black button-down shirt, black jeans beneath a black skirt printed with a subtle pattern of skulls.
Colin Lynch (no relation), her companywide executive chef, and Eli Feldman, the operations director, helped spread out samples of Garnier-Thiebaut linen, Spiegelau crystal, and Ercuis silverware on a carpenter’s worktable, in order to winnow the selection.
Lynch pulled a grubby, crumpled cloth napkin from a cardboard box and laid it out for comparison. “This is from Eric Ripert’s restaurant in DC, Westend,” she said. She had been in Washington the week before, for a conference, and had eaten at the famed Le Bernardin chef’s bistro in the Ritz-Carlton. “I took it,” she said of the napkin, with an only mildly sheepish laugh. “I wanted to compare the sizes.”
She and Feldman and Colin Lynch spent the next half hour arranging various configurations of plates and bowls and wineglasses and flatware on the makeshift dining table. Though the restaurant was still coming into focus, some decisions had been made. There would be two dining options: a four-course tasting menu and a seven-course tasting menu. Diners would begin the meal with an amuse-bouche and end with mignardises (bite-size desserts). There would be more space between the tables in the 62-seat dining room than at, say, No. 9 Park. Beyond that, Lynch was still researching and thinking, trying to define what fine dining should be and how her new restaurant would surpass the L’Espaliers and Clios and Radii of the world.
Lynch and her executives kept working on the table composition—some glasses were too clunky, a bowl was too small—but they had already begun to favor a minimalist place setting of water glass, bread plate, butter knife.
“I kind of love it,” Lynch said, standing back to look at their progress. “I really love it. I love the ‘less is more.'”
When Park was courting Lynch as a tenant, in 2004, he took her on a walking tour of the wharf area. He had promised her lunch. “The whole time, I was thinking, Where do I take this world-famous chef?” he recalls. “But she said, ‘Don’t worry, I know this great place.'”
Lynch took Park to the Quiet Man Pub, a few blocks deeper into South Boston; Lynch’s older brother Paul owned it. Park, the president and owner of Berkeley Investments, is a real estate developer given to wearing suits with French-cuff shirts and cuff links glinting at his wrists. The Quiet Man was a shot-and-a-beer joint filled with Edison and T workers reading the Herald. Park and Lynch shared the John Wayne platter (steak tips, chicken, sausage). “She knew everybody,” Park recalls. “It was pretty amazing to see her hanging out with the locals, this famous chef in her element. That’s when I understood the essence of who she was. She’s definitely of that neighborhood, but at the same time she can transcend that and be worldly.”
Lynch herself has compared her story to Good Will Hunting, and there are striking parallels between her background and the film’s tale of lone talent struggling to escape the stultifying gravity of South Boston’s white underclass.
Her father died a month before she was born, and as the youngest of six children brought up in the Mary Ellen McCormack housing projects by a single mother who worked two jobs, Lynch largely reared herself. She says she started smoking cigarettes at age seven (“Winchesters. Ten a day”). As a teenager she ran numbers for bookies.
Her mother had always made sure the kids got three meals a day, simple fare like Cheerios, a sandwich, roast beef or fish, hot dogs and beans. Somehow, Barbara was drawn to cooking and beauty. “My mother used to say, ‘Oh my God, you have champagne taste on a welfare budget.’ I’d listen to opera when I was 10. I listened to ‘The Ring Cycle.'” She first had an inkling that she might like to cook when she read a recipe for Chinese stir-fry in Good Housekeeping at age 12. When she was 15, she looked up Julia Child in the phone book and called her home in Cambridge; when Child answered, she hung up.
In high school, when she wasn’t playing hooky, she endured the tense atmosphere of forced busing to Roxbury. A home economics teacher saw something in her and mentored her, teaching her how to cook and later allowing her to audit a continuing-ed class in return for washing the class’s dishes. Throughout her teens she worked all kinds of jobs: in a sub shop; as a chambermaid; in a church rectory, cooking for priests. After dropping out of school, she ultimately worked as an import/export clerk at the port terminals.
She also waited tables at the St. Botolph Club, the Brahmin institution on Commonwealth Avenue, where she is now a member. (“When I went in for my membership, I forgot about the Brahmin part, and I had like fuckin’ iPods and fur boots, no pearls, all black,” she says.) There she watched “in awe” how chef Mario Bonello made people happy with his Dover sole or his sweetbreads. “I had so much admiration for all the members who I waited on. It was just a lot of, like, ‘Wow, this is how a city runs.’ So in my heart, I just knew that if I owned something, which I thought would be a sub shop, I still wanted it to be on Commonwealth Avenue.”
Yet Lynch’s ambitions were grander than slapping cold cuts on a bread roll. At St. Botolph, she’d tell the other waitresses “the most outlandish stories” about what she was going to do, says Kerri Foley, a friend from the projects whose mother worked at the club (and who has herself gone into the restaurant business: With her husband, chef Marc Orfaly, she owns Pigalle). “We used to ride our bikes to the Milk Bottle over near the Children’s Museum. She’d say, ‘I’m going to have a floating restaurant, right here.’ Now I tell her, ‘You’ve done everything but that one.'”
At 19, Lynch was still working at St. Botolph, languishing in her job at the port, and living with her mother in the projects. One day, Foley, who’d gone to college, came to the import/export agency. “I said, ‘This is where you work?'” Foley recalls. “‘There are no windows. You’re surrounded by a bunch of old people. Why are you doing this?'” They used a credit card to buy plane tickets to Cancún, where they spent a week discussing their futures. When they got back to Boston, Lynch quit her job, and the two friends moved to Martha’s Vineyard, where Lynch talked her way into a kitchen job on a dinner cruise ship. “She’d say anything to get a job,” Foley says. “She’d say she went to Johnson & Wales.”
A day after Lynch started, the chef quit, and the boat’s operator gave Lynch the position. She cooked everything from scratch, from the chowder to the salad dressing to the zabaglione. By making SOS calls to her old boss at St. Botolph, furiously reading cookbooks, and learning by trial and error, she managed to survive. Even then, Lynch had an entrepreneurial instinct—at one point she tried to talk Foley into opening a store that sold olives.
Within the year, she was back in Boston, working for Todd English, who at 23 was just four years older than Lynch and running the kitchen at the former Michela’s in Cambridge. English was a hothead. Lynch once watched him dump a tub of butter onto the general manager, who was wearing a coat and tie and had committed some piddling, now-forgotten infraction. Cooking with English was a high-pressure job, and Lynch often could be found crying in the walk-in freezer. Discovering her there once, English grabbed her, lifted her off the ground, and carried her to her position on the line, saying, “You have got to get your shit together. You have got to get organized.”
Lynch welcomed the discipline and was inspired by English’s exuberance. “It was my military,” she says of her time working for him. “I basically got my ass kicked. I needed it. I had no idea [what I was doing]. I read Waverley Root [The Food of Italy], I’d say, about eight times, back and forth from Andrew Square to Kendall Square on the T, just to try to catch up. I didn’t know what a head of radicchio was. I didn’t know what Gorgonzola cheese was. I just knew that whatever that guy was putting out every night was brilliant.”
Lynch was depressed, though. She was cooking, yes, yet having a hard time adjusting to the chef side of a whole new glittering world that often made her feel like she wasn’t smart enough. “You have everything going against you—your language, your demeanor. I felt very isolated,” she says. “It’s an insecurity. It was. Now, I’m 45, and I don’t give a shit.”
She stayed with English for eight years, following him to Olives in Charlestown, and then to Figs. “I learned so much…I learned the energy, just to be creative, don’t hold back; if you have a passion, put it on a plate, mix it around, see if people like it.”
Back then, Lynch joined, if not led, her friends in constant late-night carousing but would “be up at the crack of dawn,” recalls Annie Copps, who worked on the line with Lynch at Olives and became her roommate in a Charlestown apartment (and later served as Boston magazine’s food editor). Copps remembers the time Lynch had a bicycle accident—she had two black eyes, and stitches on her face—and took only two days off from work; and when she drew jury duty while working at Olives, she never missed a single shift. “I’ve never known anyone so driven and determined,” Copps says.
Every Sunday night, the roommates threw a dinner party. “She was reading esoteric French and Italian cookbooks and Art Culinaire; the rest of us were reading Glamour and The Bridges of Madison County,” Copps says. “I was excited about learning, but she was turbo-excited.” (Lynch read the foreign cookbooks with French-English and Italian-English dictionaries at her side, translating recipes word for word. Her passion for cookbooks—her collection now contains 800—ultimately led her to start her own cookbook store and cooking classroom, the aforementioned Stir.)
“When I first moved to town, she was a little intimidating,” recalls Suzanne Goin, the celebrated Los Angeles chef who worked at Olives shortly after Lynch left. “She was the badass Boston girl—the way she talked, her persona, her food. She was the girl version of a man, just sort of balls-to-the-wall. But the great thing about Barbara is she’s also incredibly refined. That’s the interesting juxtaposition.”
Lynch began to find her voice after leaving Figs in 1993 to run the kitchen at Rocco’s, a 180-seat Italian restaurant in the Theater District. She wanted to strip away the excesses of the food she had been cooking and make dishes with fewer ingredients; she wanted to let ingredients taste like themselves rather than brining and grilling everything. She spent two and a half years there, a year at Pomodoro, and then went to Galleria Italiana, where she made handcrafted pasta and other homey Italian food. She had been to Italy with her friend and fellow Michela’s alumna Sara Jenkins, whose mother, the food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins, owns a farm in Tuscany; there, Lynch learned how to make gnocchi and Bolognese sauce from Mita Antolini, a neighbor who looked after the farm. When Sara Jenkins was married at the farm, Lynch was on hand to cook the feast.
While at Galleria Italiana, she got her first taste of major national attention when Food & Wine named her a Best New Chef. “I remember getting a phone call from [fellow Boston chef] Gordon Hamersley, who had won the award. He said, ‘Congratulations, there are two things you can do with this. You can either take it and run with it and go for it, or you can fail and quit.’ I’m like, I think I’ll take it and go with it,” Lynch says. “But I sort of understood what he meant, ’cause you’re getting accolades and getting press. How do you stay grounded, right? You’ve got to ride it and really work hard and then create teams, and that’s the route I took.”
As she looked around for real estate for her own restaurant, she was fired from Galleria Italiana, the same place where she’d earned her first national acclaim. “I went in one day and they accused me of stealing lamb. I’m like, ‘A leg of lamb? I’m going to steal a leg of lamb? I don’t know whether to fuckin’ knock you out right now or laugh, ’cause this is just ludicrous.’ And that was it. I left, I went home, and I spent a day on the couch crying.”
Yet Lynch had just found the space that would become No. 9 Park—3,000 square feet and no windows—so she started working full time to open her own restaurant. She signed a lease, wrote her first business plan, rounded up investors, and began envisioning exactly what kind of place it would be. “I knew I wanted fine dining,” she says, “and I knew who I wanted to feed—Back Bay, Beacon Hill.” She had been cooking Italian for 12 years, and now began to fold in other influences. She remembered the warm, genteel service she had observed at St. Botolph. And she worshipped Alain Ducasse, the famous French chef whose books she had scoured and whose food inspired her to make a gastronomic pilgrimage to Paris, where, as newlyweds, she and her husband ate at a different Michelin-starred restaurant every day.
A mix of all these influences, No. 9 Park was an immediate success when it opened in 1998. The restaurant won a three-star rave from the Globe and praise from national magazines including Gourmet, Food & Wine, and Travel & Leisure, and Lynch paid off her investors in two and a half years.
She soon got used to telling and retelling her personal saga, honing the mythic quality of her story, which the media scarfed down like a bowl of her house-made spaghetti alla chitarra. By the time Rux Martin, an executive editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, approached Lynch about writing a book, in 2004, the chef’s story was no longer merely an explanation of how she had become who she was—it was part of her brand. “I was entranced by the notion of such a raw outsider who was so consumed and driven by a love of food that she learned two languages,” Martin says. “That was what summed up Barbara’s manner. She is not glad-handing. There is no bullshit. So I was interested to see if she could bring together that phenomenal knowledge with that complete no-bullshit authenticity to show us what she knew about food and show us we could learn it, too.”
Lynch is hardly the first chef to salt her speech with four-letter words, but she may well be the first to deploy one in a glossy, coffee table–worthy cookbook featuring such eight-letter ingredients as foie gras and truffles. In the introduction to Stir, published in November, Lynch writes that “if a fortune-teller had told me at fourteen what good things were in store for me, I would have laughed in her face and told her where she could shove such bullshit….”
Doe Coover, Lynch’s literary agent, says of the writing process, “Getting Barbara’s voice down without being too scatological was tricky. One of my favorite quotes from Barbara is ‘Rice is a waste of a carbohydrate.’ And that’s a mild version of what she says. It’s more like: ‘Eat fuckin’ pasta.'”
If Martin, the editor, had had her way, such words would have appeared more frequently in the book. “It was actually Barbara who asked them to be excised,” Martin says. “There’s nothing showoff-y about Barbara, and I do think that the F-word, which I’m personally very fond of, as a literary device it’s been sort of used up. Now, you look at it and say, ‘There’s the chef pretending to be a chef.’ It’s quite strange, and it was the subject of much debate at every stage of the book. I kept stetting it”—restoring deleted text, in editor’s parlance—”and in the end, Barbara said, ‘I’m not comfortable with it.’ And not for any wussy reason. It just didn’t feel right.”
From the moment she went into business for herself, Lynch has let her instincts and her own desires guide her sense of what Boston needs.
B&G Oysters grew out of her wish to have a place, closer than Ipswich, to enjoy cold, mineral-y bivalves. For the Butcher Shop, she thought back to the bottegas of Italy, where she had been able to buy meat, chestnuts, wine, and gas, all in the same place. Drink aimed to fill the need for a craft-cocktail bar in the city, and was the bar she had always thought she’d own. Sportello evoked Brigham’s, where she had once waited tables. She started Plum, a produce boutique, because she missed Tony’s Market, a fruit and vegetable store in the South End. Even the location of her new complex in Fort Point Channel keys to her memories: As a child she loved the building, the former home of Boston Costume. Yet the new fine-dining venture is the first restaurant not directly inspired by a past experience. “I’ve been on the route of nostalgic memories, building upon a memory, so I’m trying to figure out what memory will [turn out to have inspired] fine dining,” she says.
Lynch tries to check in at every property every day, but now that she has a constellation of small businesses to run, she tends to concentrate on one or two projects at a time. Sometimes that means cooking, if she’s focused on a particular restaurant’s menu or execution. But more often her work takes place outside the kitchen: opening the new restaurant, promoting her cookbook, appearing on the Today show. Work keeps her late in the city, where she now has an apartment in the South End at which to crash when necessary.
Otherwise she lives in Winchester with her husband, Charlie Petri, and their daughter, Marchesa, who is almost six and is named after a painting Lynch once saw at the Frick museum in Manhattan.
Sunday is her one day off and when she still cooks at home. “This morning I made ravioli for my daughter. With Paul Newman’s tomato sauce,” she says. “Sometimes you’ve just got to improvise.”
Lynch’s instincts mostly have served her well, but there have been a few stumbles. South End singles, as it turns out, don’t necessarily cook often enough to support a place like Plum, a 250-square-foot store that sold pricey items like perfect chanterelle and porcini mushrooms and rare herbs. She closed the shop last fall and plans to knock down a wall and use the space to expand the adjacent Butcher Shop. Her partnership with Garrett Harker, the G in B&G, dissolved. (“Now I say it stands for Bivalves and Gills,” Lynch says dryly. Harker declined to talk about Lynch for this article.) She aborted plans for a comfortable Italian spot in the North End after the contractor doubled his fee mid-project. And her cookbook, which was contracted in 2004, took five years to come together, about two years longer than expected. Lynch and her publisher had trouble agreeing on what the book should be and on a suitable cowriter—Lynch chose her old high school home-ec teacher, but Martin, after seeing some chapters, told Lynch they needed another collaborator. “Barbara said, ‘Eff you,’ hung up on me, and didn’t speak to me for a year,” Martin says. “Barbara is a person of very strong feelings. She’s as loyal to me as she was livid with me that day.”
Several of Lynch’s employees have worked for her for years beyond the restaurant world’s typically short tenure. Eli Feldman and Colin Lynch have both been with her for seven years, and her wine director is Cat Silirie, whom she met at Rocco’s more than 15 years ago. Back then, Lynch was not immune to the intensity that high-pressure restaurant kitchens breed. When a TV crew from ABC followed her for the day at No. 9 Park in 2002, Colin Lynch, then working the garde manger station as a culinary school intern, sent out a plate of antipasto he’d prepared. When the plate came back to the kitchen, everything had been eaten except one bit of asparagus. “Barbara put it in her mouth and made a face,” he recalls. “She said, with the cameraman standing right there filming, ‘Don’t you fucking know what salt and pepper are? You’re never going to make it in this industry.'” Later, after he went to work for her full time, he had a bad night at No. 9 Park when he tried to change the whole menu in a single day without adequately explaining it to his line cooks. At the end of the evening, Barbara stopped by and learned what had happened. “I was on the phone talking to someone,” Colin Lynch recalls, “and I saw a glass vase go flying by me. I looked over, and there was Barbara.”
The staff has seen Lynch mellow in some respects since the days when she watched every single plate leave the kitchen at No. 9. “I think she has learned to let go a little bit,” says Ben Elliott, who started out in the No. 9 kitchen and now runs Lynch’s catering business. “She has to rely on the chefs at each restaurant, or she’d have a nervous breakdown.”
For all of Lynch’s regional success and foodie acclaim, she has not yet attained the iconic status of Jasper White or Lydia Shire or, to be sure, her old mentor English. With the fine-dining venue and the cookbook, her level of exposure may soon change, but that isn’t necessarily what she wants.
Lynch is one of a newer breed of acclaimed chefs, including her friends Sara Jenkins and Suzanne Goin, who have avoided the pitfalls of hypergrowth and popularity by expanding their businesses relatively conservatively, keeping them geographically focused, and not aspiring to Food Network celebrity.
Lynch does not feel comfortable doing TV. When she appeared as a judge on a Food Network “Mac and Cheese Challenge” in 2007, the comments on Chowhound were harsh (“a world class witch!” and “every time she opened her mouth i wondered what had crawled up her a** & died”). Lynch says, “I came across as so mean. You had to be as honest as you should be. And the producers edit what they want. You didn’t see the nice parts.” She still gets nervous before speaking in public, and when she recently did a cooking demonstration at Macy’s in New York for an enthusiastic crowd (two older male groupies were wearing “No. 9 Park” T-shirts), she was happy to have Ben Elliott speak at least as much as she did. “That’s not my mission,” she says of TV chefdom. “I have a mission in my life, I think. I just always feel that God put me here for a reason. I’m making good food, and I’m employing people, and I want to continue that.”
If she were ever to do TV, she’d want to be on PBS. She sees educating as part of her mission, and part of what she enjoys about her work. Lynch teaches classes at Stir, which also functions as a culinary lending library for her staffers, who can borrow any book for a week at a time. She is working on two more cookbook ideas and continually testing new dishes. At the Macy’s event, she served something called “butter soup,” in essence a pool of butter with some shellfish in the middle (kind of like lobster with drawn butter, but vice versa). The recipe originated from her relationship with Diane St. Clair, a Vermont farmer who sells her 87 percent butterfat butter only to Thomas Keller, the acclaimed chef behind California’s French Laundry and New York City’s Per Se, and to Lynch. Lynch wanted to have more of a connection to the sources of her food, and in 2006 she bought a “cowshare” in one of St. Clair’s Jerseys. She “came up here, saw the farm, met her cow, whose name is Hopi,” St. Clair says. St. Clair has since been down to Boston to talk to Lynch’s staff, and Hopi’s calf is named Babette, after Lynch.
The relationship with St. Clair and other suppliers has given Lynch the idea to do something agriculture-related as her next project. She’s not sure quite what, exactly, but maybe she’ll address farmers’ concerns—the vagaries of weather, blight, lifestyle hardships, the regulatory morass between farm and plate. Maybe something like a commissary for farm products, and scholarships for agricultural students. She also wants to promote better school food. She thinks the milk students drink should be labeled with the name of the farm it comes from so that kids understand the origins of what they’re putting into their bodies. She thinks every school should have a greenhouse attached to it, to teach kids where their tomatoes come from and the science of food, and so they’ll have better food to eat. Some of this may sound charmingly naive, but Lynch’s ideas often begin as intuition. Only later does she figure out what shape they’ll take in the real world.
“I find her really inspiring,” St. Clair says. “When she first came here, I was making butter in this tiny room of my house. She said, ‘How do you do this? You need a bigger plant.'” Last summer, St. Clair built a new plant. “[Lynch] keeps taking risks, sticking her neck out and trying new things,” she says, “and she does it in this very unpretentious way. I think she’s fascinating to talk to, what it takes to be a businesswoman—delegating, building a team, and all those skills that have to be learned and aren’t always that easy.”
One night, Lynch finished signing 40-odd copies of Stir for investors, a glass of Spanish red steadying her hand, and headed to the bar at the Butcher Shop. She ate roast duck, with sides of chard and lentils, and a shared bottle of Sancerre rouge. Afterward, she drove the few blocks to Ginger Park, to meet up with some of her girlfriends and her husband. Petri was already holding court at the bar, flanked by Natalie van Dijk Carpenter, of the home design store Lekker, and Shannon Macklin, a chef’s-apparel designer whose husband, Jefferson, is Lynch’s COO. Something trance-y was playing on the sound system. Lynch sat at the end of the bar and ordered a “dirty, dirty, dirty” martini.
A stream of industry people began stopping by to pay their respects. Patricia Yeo, who had blazed brightly through a series of high-profile gigs in Manhattan before moving to Boston to take over Ginger Park’s kitchen, wandered over in her chef’s jacket. She made the carpetbagger’s mistake of saying, “Go Yankees,” which elicited boos from Lynch and her friends. Martin Breslin, the head chef of Harvard’s dining services, approached, along with Thomas John, the executive chef for Au Bon Pain, and they all traded pleasantries and news. Lynch once served on the Harvard food program’s board, and John, before entering the corporate world, was a fellow Food & Wine Best New Chef, when he was at Mantra.
“So, did you move to South Boston?” John asked.
“Yes, I did. I have a restaurant. Two new ones there. Sportello and Drink.”
“You know,” said a third gentleman, who appeared deeply familiar with tanning beds, “we own that little parking lot down the street.”
“You mean the one I never park in?” Lynch replied evenly. The fellow was in the produce business and irritated her, she explained later, because he was “always selling.”
He asked how her business was. “Good,” she said. “We’re surviving. Better year than last year, so far.”
The produce guy stayed another 20 minutes, and when he left, Lynch pantomimed committing ritual suicide.
“I know, I know, I know, I’m sorry,” Macklin said.
Petri asked Lynch if she’d been nice.
“I was very nice,” Lynch said, then ordered another dirty martini. She sipped it slowly, enjoying the respite before stepping back into the ring.