A Chef's-Eye View

At Chowder, we do a lot of the talking (and eating, but hey—it’s our job). So we thought we’d hand over the mic to a chef for a while—and who better than Ken Oringer, whose five Boston restaurants (Clio, Uni, Toro, La Verdad, and KO Prime) are among our perennial favorites? But while this culinary icon has earned plenty of accolades both local and national (see: Iron Chef honors, a feature in this month’s Food & Wine, etc.) he’s the first to say that restaurant success doesn’t come easy. Case in point: Coppa, the South End enoteca that he and co-owner Jamie Bissonnette were scheduled to open in September, but which was waylaid by major construction delays and fire inspections. (It’s currently due to open this weekend.) Here, Oringer muses on why it’s worth all the headaches.

It’s been said that opening a restaurant is like an addiction: the strong emotional ties, the intense pressure to hit your perceived deadlines, the adrenaline-fueled rollercoaster of excitement and disappointment, and the vision of turning a ‘vanilla’ box into a fully functional and attractive restaurant space—all of the details, logistics, and sketches spinning around you while you watch your life savings diminish faster than an Atlantic City slots junkie’s bucket of quarters.

In some cases, investors in Gucci suits approach a hotshot chef and say, “We love your food. If you’d like to open a restaurant, we’ll finance it.” Do not assume that is the golden ticket. To make it work, chefs need to understand how to run and set up a successful business. It takes more than just desire and a motherly instinct. Performing the role of general contractor, designer, plumber, chef, accountant, lawyer, staff trainer, and psychiatrist can be an exhausting endeavor. All of this comes before you even open the doors—and once you do, there’s the fact that two out of every three new restaurants closes within three years of opening.

But then there’s the allure: the packed dining room; the kitchen pumping out bubbling, smoky pizza from the wood oven; steam rising off of bowls overflowing with handmade pasta; the scent of melted sheep’s milk ricotta. This is the stuff that matters, and we just have to accept that not everything goes off without a hitch. If our first guests go to use the bathroom and find that the toilet seats were never delivered, we’ll just smile, laugh, and say, “Oh, we forgot those. They’ll be in tomorrow.”

At the end of it all, there is no feeling in the world—and no words to describe that feeling—like feeding people, and watching them enjoy what you’ve created. For that alone, it’s worth the risk.

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