Chef Jeff Fournier sent me a letter yesterday outlining new plans for his flagship Newton restaurant, 51 Lincoln. (He also owns the new-ish Waban Kitchen.) Inspired by chef Alice Waters, owner of California's iconic Chez Panisse, Fournier says that he wants to own a restaurant would make his infant son proud someday. "My ultimate goal is to not feel that I have compromised my principles in exchange for profit," he writes. "51 Lincoln House Rules will apply: no hormones or antibiotics; no GMO products; no artificial colors, preservatives or sweeteners (see you later, Splenda); no processed ingredients; grow everything we can; source ingredients in the most sustainable way possible; respect plants and animals by using all of their parts."
What this means for you: He's scrapping his old menu in favor of a four-course prix fixe every night (guests can also order the prix-fixe dishes a la carte); the set menu will change once every couple of weeks. Standbys like watermelon steak will linger for a week or so more, but then they'll vanish until they're in season. (Winter isn't great for watermelon.) The restaurant's vibe will change, too: "We will treat guests as we would like to be treated: we’ll encourage guests to enjoy a dish as it is designed unless they have an allergy, we’ll honor reservation times and expect guest to do the same; if a guest is insulting to staff, they will no longer be welcome," he writes. See his full letter, ahead. What do you think? Get that watermelon steak while you can!
51 Lincoln Redefined - A message from chef-owner Jeff Fournier
Over the course of my life, I have been devoted to the creative process, to making art and to providing hospitality. I have always believed that—under the guidance of a dedicated and passionate team—food can be art, kitchens can be studios and restaurants can be galleries where patrons experience and appreciate the outcome of our creative efforts. In addition, I strive to make a guest in my restaurant feel like they are in the comfort of my own home. In reality, we as chefs rarely have the opportunity to create pure art through our food. Financial constraints, outside pressures to chase fame and ever-changing industry trends distract us from expressing the dishes we truly connect with.
Just as we’re torn between the art we want to put on our tables and the frantic trends of reality, we believe that our consumers are begging for a sense of direction as well. That’s why my team and I are compelled to redefine 51 Lincoln’s identity, to stand for what we believe in, and to make a statement about how we choose to spend our long days and nights, away from our family and friends, working to please our guests. In our small way, we are committing to make a major change at 51 Lincoln in how we work, the menus we offer and the manner in which we source our products.
The changes will begin with the menu. In the past, we have been constrained by appeasing diners who demand certain dishes despite seasonality. Our watermelon steak is the perfect example of a dish that began as a successful culinary invention and evolved into an obligation. This dish should be prepared with only the best summertime watermelons in order to epitomize its potential. Going forward, we plan to offer a more refined menu that will value quality over quantity, with fewer menu items, but all of which will feature ingredients at their peak.
The menu format will encourage multiple courses without mandating that our guests participate in a tasting each time they dine with us. 51 Lincoln House Rules will apply: no hormones or antibiotics; no GMO products; no artificial colors, preservatives or sweeteners (see you later, Splenda); no processed ingredients; grow everything we can; source ingredients in the most sustainable way possible; respect plants and animals by using all of their parts. We will strive to present dishes that give sustenance to the mind and body, awaken our guests’ food memories and generate new ones.
The changes will continue in the dining experience itself. Mostly noticeably, we will offer fewer reservations each evening, enabling us to focus on the quality of each guest’s experience. We will treat guests as we would like to be treated: we’ll encourage guests to enjoy a dish as it is designed unless they have an allergy, we’ll honor reservation times and expect guest to do the same; if a guest is insulting to staff, they will no longer be welcome.
As I implement these changes, I have ensured that every member of our team is as devoted as I am to this philosophy. My team and I pledge to be present here at 51 Lincoln, and to enjoy every moment.
My ultimate goal is to not feel that I have compromised my principles in exchange for profit. My son, Laurent, recently celebrated his first birthday and I want to be able to tell him that I was proud of how I spent my nights away from him, and that it was worth it. In the course of this transformative process, my thoughts constantly float to Alice Waters, whose forty-year-old Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, has become an authentic American legacy. Restaurants like hers inspire me to make mine better and to continue to create the purest form of art I know: food. Every member of my team wants to create something bigger than themselves and we hope our community will support us in this endeavor.