At Craigie on Main, New Chef de Cuisine Means New Chef’s Whim
IF YOU’VE VISITED Tony Maws’ Cambridge restaurants late on a Sunday—either Craigie Street Bistrot, before it shuttered, or the relocated Craigie on Main—you’ve been in for a treat.
For a decade, beginning at 9 p.m., the proprietor and his kitchen staff cook up a spontaneous four- or six-course menu, using whatever strikes their fancy from the open kitchen’s refrigerators and pantry. Available throughout the restaurant, the Chef’s Whim specials are quite a value, at $45 or $57 (compare that with the regular seasonal tasting menu, the six-course Craigie Experience, at $98), but you have to leave your trust in the hands of the chefs.
Beginning Tuesday, January 19, there’s another chance to take a leap of faith with Maws and his staff. Chef de cuisine Aaron Chambers joined the Craigie on Main team in October, an alumnus of Daniel Boulud’s Bar Boulud in Boston and Boulud Sud in New York City, and Craigie is using Chambers’ arrival as an excuse to amp up the Chef’s Whim offerings.
A new Chef’s Whim R&D Series kicks off with four seats reserved for adventurous eaters, taking a front row seat at the wide-open kitchen for a behind-the-curtain experience at the lauded nose-to-tail eatery.
When Maws opened Craigie’s cousin, Kirkland Tap & Trotter, in 2013, he had to loosen the reigns a little on his first love, so he instated a chef de cuisine. For the first time, that role is filled by a chef who has never worked with the James Beard Award winner before.
The Yorkshire, England-born Chambers has a classic French cooking background, and thrives putting work in behind the line. He sought a different type of kitchen after a year at Bar Boulud, where he says meetings and hotel procedures got in the way of him doing what he loves.
“Tony was classically trained, but he has this wonderful insight into food that not everyone has. He’s always looking to do things a little bit different: How can we make it Craigie?” Chambers says Maws’ and Craigie’s relationship with purveyors is a big source of inspiration, too.
Maws interjects: he asked Chambers to join the team because of the greener chef’s culinary perspective; their partnership opens new possibilities at Craigie. Both he and Chambers are drawn to “off-the-beaten-path ingredients,” Maws adds.
“[Before October, Chambers] only knew, in an awesome and wonderful way, not-Craigie things. [Previous chefs de cuisine Carl] Dooley, Danny [Scampoli], Chris [McMullan], at some point, had been exposed to what we do. That can be really positive, but since they hadn’t been exposed to so many different things, you end up speaking the same language after a while. With Aaron, I’m automatically exposed to an alternative way,” Maws explained.
Enter the R&D series. Guests at the chef’s counter will have the opportunity to ask questions of both Chambers and Maws, who will create a one-night-only tasting menu that could lead to new signature dishes at Craigie.
“Maybe it’s a little rough around the edges, maybe it’s not the polished dish that will end up in the menu, but it will be something unique and you can see a little bit of the creative process,” Maws says.
The Sunday night Chef’s Whim menu will continue “forever,” Maws says. The new R&D series will take place monthly. The dates will be shared on social media.
Chef’s Whim R&D Series kicks off Tuesday, January 19, seatings at 6 and 8:30 p.m.; $45 for four courses of $57 for six courses; 853 Main St., Cambridge, 617-497-5511 or craigieonmain.com.
ACROSS TOWN, chef Tim Wiechmann is also breathing new life into his tasting menu at T.W. Food. The Huron Village restaurant will host Kitchen Improv nights on Wednesdays, beginning January 13. A seasonal, five-course menu, created that day, is $59 per person, alongside the regular menu (which offers three courses for $55, for comparison).
“It’s a night to bring spontaneity into the restaurant,” Wiechmann says. “It’s also meeting a demand of certain diners, who enjoy not fussing through a menu for many reasons: They’re engaged in a conversation already, or maybe they don’t want to choose.”
The new special is similar to the chef’s popular Prototype Nights at Bronwyn, which helped spawn his third restaurant, the Balkan sandwich shop Playska. “Now, I have a restaurant that does Northeastern Mediterranean, and I’m digging more into German stuff [at Bronwyn] again because I have that outlet for that particular type of food,” he says. “I’ve dug deeper into French cuisine more at T.W. now that I have the other restaurants.”
For the inaugural Kitchen Improv series, you might see black truffles and “citrus everywhere,” because of the season, but the final menu is “based around my thought process that morning,” Wiechmann says. “I’ll look at what vegetables are available, what fish I feel like cooking, and I’ll select really good stuff I can run for just riff on.”
Kitchen Improv, available Wednesdays beginning January 13, 5-9 p.m., 377 Walden St., Cambridge; 617-864-4745 or twfoodrestaurant.com.