Top Chef Contestant Carl Dooley Shares Details About His Upcoming Restaurant
When the Table opens in Cambridge early next year, it’s probably going to be a tough seat to get. For one thing, there are only 20 of them in the Mass. Ave. restaurant. Secondly, the executive chef will be a current contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef.
“Opening a restaurant in January in Boston is probably the stupidest idea. Hopefully, people will watch the TV show and come through 3 feet of snow to trek over for dinner,” said Carl Dooley.
The chef has had a pretty charmed 2015. Early this year, he decided to leave his post as chef de cuisine at Craigie on Main—then, he was cast as one of 16 chefs vying for the coveted title.
“Things really couldn’t have worked out better. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even really have a plan. The show just seemed like a really good opportunity. I had no excuses not to,” he said.
When the Cambridge native returned from filming in California, he met Robert Harris, chef/owner of Season to Taste Catering, through a mutual friend. Harris was developing a new concept for his private events venue, called the Table. “I wasn’t really looking for anything specific, but once I saw the space and started talking to Robert, we were both really on the same page and we felt we could create something cool and personal,” Dooley said.
Currently, the team is renovating the tiny interior. A 16-seat banquette will span one wall, and the main dining experience will be in the form of a four-course tasting menu. A handful of guests can also sit at a chef’s tasting counter, and there will be a standing wine bar where Dooley hopes people will meet after work for a tapas-style snacks, wine, and beer.
“We want it to be busy, lively, and fun,” he said. He is inspired by some of the holes-in-the-wall he frequented while living in Brooklyn and working at the lively (and, at about 35 seats, also small) Battersby.
“So many places are too small, too cramped, or don’t have the right this or that. But the chefs are right there, kicking ass on this tiny stove. There’s this awesome energy. And that’s what we’re trying to create: No excuses. It’s definitely not the perfect place, and it’s definitely really small, but we’re trying to create something really fun and unique,” Dooley said.
The chef is compiling recipes and plans to start testing them on the six-burner stove within a few weeks. The sub-$70, prix-fixe menu will offer a couple dishes per course and optional beverage pairings, he said. Dooley brings classic technique to the dishes, and also a decade of experience cooking under James Beard Award-winning chefs like Frank Ruta at Palena and Eric Ripert at the Westend Bistro, both in Washington, D.C.; and Tony Maws, at both the Craigie Street Bistrot and Craigie on Main.
“The food is European in spirit with a global pantry,” Dooley said, invoking a comparison to Ripert’s Le Bernardin. The New York restaurant may appear to be French, but there are southeast Asian, South American, and other influences throughout the menu.
“A lot of the dishes I made as a young cook still resonate with me, but with the accessibility of products and different flavors I’ve seen over the past 10 years, I cook differently than I cooked 10 years ago,” Dooley said. “That process is really what I’m trying to show: Technically-sound cuisine with my own personality in there.”
The Boston-area food landscape isn’t lacking in this concept—think Alex Crabb’s tasting menus at Asta, or what Tim Maslow prepares at Ribelle. “It’s not Italian or Asian, but everything [Ribelle] serves is awesome. It borrows flavors from all different cultures and they’re all delicious on the plate.”
At the Table, you might order a traditional veal blanquette, made lighter and sourced with New England products. Dooley lives in Watertown, home to more than a handful of old-school Middle Eastern stores and restaurants, and he plans to incorporate those flavor profiles into his cuisine, he said. Expect a charcuterie program, too. Dooley is currently working on a venison liver terrine for the wintertime debut.
The team is currently eyeing the second week of January—just a month into season 13 of Top Chef. Dooley is happy to have the opportunity to show the city what he likes to cook—which is just delicious food.
“I feel glad I can go on television and be excited to cook what I want, and hopefully that will get people excited about coming into the restaurant and eat food without having to feel like it has to be a certain way.”
The Table, opening early 2016 at 2447 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; cambridgetable.com.