Big Changes Are Afoot at Harvest

On the cusp of its 40th anniversary, chef Mary Dumont shuts down the Cambridge institution to overhaul the space and bring a new vision to Harvard Square.


Chef Mary Dumont of Harvest. Photo provided

Harvest executive chef Mary Dumont knows that tastes change, palates evolve, and the competition to attract diners is stiff. That’s why last week, the Cambridge institution celebrated its 40th birthday, not with Champagne and a perfunctory anniversary menu, but by shutting down and reassessing its future. When the restaurant partially reopens in three weeks (a full relaunch won’t happen until late March) Harvest regulars will see a new menu, a different approach to hospitality, and a more contemporary aesthetic.

Chris Himmel, Executive Vice President of the Himmel Hospitality Group describes it as a “total cosmetic renovation,” with changes to the front-of-house, including the bar and cafe, the front and back dining rooms, and exterior kitchen line. Peter Niemitz of the Niemitz Design Group has been tasked with reinventing a “new Harvest” that builds upon “its timeless feel through elements like porcelain-glazed tiling throughout the exhibition kitchen line, textured wall finishes throughout the dining rooms, custom designed outdoor patio furniture, and newly selected artwork throughout the restaurant,” says Himmel.

“We did a small renovation when I started eight years ago where we renovated the kitchen, the uniforms, and a lot of the china and flatware,” Dumont says. “I think collectively we wanted to make a lot of upgrades and that’s kind of what we’re doing now, although it’s physically way more extensive. Harvest has always been a beautiful restaurant, but we’re going to make it even more beautiful. We don’t want to rest on our laurels just because we’re 40. We want to keep pushing and be as contemporary as we can be, albeit within the wheelhouse of what we do.”

In addition to the new furniture, shelving, and artwork inside, the patio will be retrofitted with a retractable screen roof, an overhead trellis system with heaters, and nano doors that’ll remain open in optimal weather—upgrades that will extend Harvest’s al fresco dining capabilities to three seasons.

One whole wall is also being removed from the open kitchen, creating more room for the chefs, a benefit particularly important for Food & Wine magazine Best New Pastry Chef Brian Mercury and his growing dessert program.

“It’s going to become a much more efficient environment, Dumont says. “We’re upgrading our equipment and adding pretty touches that’ll make a big difference. A lot of upgrades are for pastry since Brian [Mercury] has had such a great year and he deserves a nicer environment. But we’re also doing it because we’re expanding the chef’s menu. We’ve been doing a three-course tasting menu for a number of years, which was something we started when the economy wasn’t doing so well. That one will still be offered, but there will also be additional six- and nine-course tasting menus that we’ll be creating on a nightly basis.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the construction delay, though, is the opportunity Dumont is extending to her whole team to stage at some of the county’s best restaurants. After reaching out to influential friends and colleagues, various members of the Harvest team are spending January in the kitchens of Thomas Keller (Per Se), Mark Ladner (Del Posto), and Jamie Bissonnette (Toro New York), in order to bring back fresh ideas and techniques. Other members of Dumont’s crew are spending time building their butchering and fishmongering skills at Savenor’s and Wulf’s Fish Market in Brookline.

“I hadn’t had that kind of educational opportunity until I got to Blackbird in Chicago,” Dumont says. “But I didn’t even care how many hours I was there because I was given this opportunity to create in a way I never had before. I’m 40, the restaurant is 40, but I’m not going to stand over everybody wagging my finger saying, ‘I want everyone to be learning.’ But I want everyone to bring back different things and techniques we can try out here at Harvest.”