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It's all in the preparation

Barbara Lynch's new restaurant complex in the Fort Point area will put top-of-the-line equipment to use in concepts the chef has fine-tuned for years

Email|Print| Text size + By Thomas C. Palmer Jr.
Globe Staff / November 19, 2007

Chef Barbara Lynch's new restaurants, under construction in a luxury condo project on Congress Street in the emerging Fort Point neighborhood, don't have names yet and won't be taking reservations before next spring.

But the 15,000-square-foot complex will be a place to eat like foodies in this city have never seen before.

The $7.5 million project will include a fine-dining restaurant, a casual restaurant, a bar, private dining rooms, and a retail chocolate shop and bakery, all of which will be supported by dozens of cooks working round-the-clock in spacious cutting-edge kitchens.

"She's building the Starship Enterprise," said Richard M. Griffin, vice president for acquisitions of Berkeley Investments Inc., the development firm building the FP3 residential project that will feature Lynch's new facility.

Berkeley is spending $2.5 million extra for plumbing, electrical, and ventilation systems to accommodate the restaurant. That sets the stage for a staggering $5 million that Lynch said she is raising to outfit her new establishment, the concepts for which have been taking shape in her mind over the course of her three decades in the food business - ever since she was working as a waitress at Brigham's in her teens.

The Fort Point area is only starting to take shape as an urban location for living, working, and nightlife, and opening luxury living and dining locales there presents "a risk for both parties," said Edward F. McCabe, president of Cafco, a Boston construction management firm that specializes in restaurants - including Sel de la Terre in Boston and Natick and Sonsie on Newbury Street.

McCabe, whose firm is overseeing construction of Lynch's new spot, said that it offers the developer some insurance when he brings in the chef who founded No. 9 Park, overlooking Boston Common, and B&G Oysters in the South End.

"It helps Berkeley marketing their condos to have Barbara's name in their restaurants," he said.

This will be no ordinary neighborhood bistro.

Francois-Laurent Nivaud, a consultant to the Battery Wharf and Regent hotel project opening next year in the North End, said Lynch's restaurant is "going to create a buzz." The Battery Wharf restaurant, Sensing, will have a French chef - but will be less than half the size of Lynch's.

"You know what's unusual for Boston?" Nivaud said. "To do it at that scale. It's really going to the next level."

Lynch and her staff said they worked backward when planning the restaurant - starting with the menu. It will be prix fixe - "Over $20 and under $200," hinted Eli Feldman, general manager of No. 9 Park - for a five- or nine-course meal. The extended meal includes appetizer, fish, pasta, two meats, poultry, sorbet, dessert, and a cheese course.

The staff will use a large "prep" kitchen on the ground floor, a half-floor below street level, and four separate "finishing" kitchens. Fine dining for 70 and two private dining rooms that together can seat 45 will be on the upper floor, along with the casual restaurant, which will have counter-style seating.

A small retail shop selling Lynch's made-on-premises chocolates and baked goods will be near the entrance. A 40-seat bar with its own kitchen will be on the lower level.

The lower level is the heart of the "back of house," where groceries are received and vegetables are inventoried and washed. Lamb, beef, and chicken are weighed, butchered, and refrigerated.

Fish is filleted and kept cold in a "fish file," a rack that maintains freshness. "All in all it shouldn't spend more than 20 minutes outside of refrigeration," said Colin Lynch, executive sous chef, who is not related to Barbara.

Barbara Lynch is even including a large refrigerated trash room.

"This kitchen we're designing has a home for everything," said Barbara Lynch.

Traditionally restaurants have had relatively small, cramped kitchens, perhaps 30 percent of the total space. Lynch said hers will have a considerably larger realm - more than half of the total space - designated for preparing food and making it look irresistible.

The culinary equipment being purchased comes from a broad international set of manufacturers selected by Lynch, equipment supplier Fountainhead Foodservice Group, and designers Tim Harrison and Al MacDonald. It includes stainless steel counters and sinks by Carbone Metal Fabricator Inc. of Chelsea; Molteni "cooking suites" from France; Rational combi convection and steam ovens from Germany; an Arcobaleno pasta-making machine from Pennsylvania; a "blast" chiller from Irinox of Italy; Garland induction burners; and Sodir warmers known as salamanders, which crisp and toast.

The convection-steam ovens keep food from drying out when cooked. When done, "All the little gougeres" - cheese puffs - "are the same color," Lynch said.

Induction ranges don't get too hot, like electric ones, and their temperatures are more controllable than when cooking with gas - making them ideal for whipping up a delicate sauce. "If I put it on '2' I can hold a buerre blanc," said Lynch. "It won't 'break.' "

Most kitchens use the "banquet line," akin to an assembly line, where a plate is passed along, filled, arranged, and perhaps decorated. Lynch said her new place will adopt a "brigade" style of operation, where individuals or teams are devoted to each culinary element on the plate - pasta, fish, or vegetable, for example - and see that element through from arrival in the back door to the moment it is placed on the plate. "Somebody will be doing sauces," said Lynch. "One guy will only braise meat."

The banquet-line style is designed for volume. "This is so not that," said Lynch. "We're looking for perfection and refinement."

Peas will be bleached, mushrooms sauteed, pasta boiled, and basil and other herbs measured, and then an "expediter," the chef or sous chef, will choreograph the final steps. In restaurant terms, plates will be finished "a la minute," just before being delivered to the diner.

There will be a "garde marger" station where cold salads, appetizers, and charcuterie are prepared, a coffee service area, and a buffing room to keep the wine glasses shiny.

The finishing kitchen adjacent to the main dining room on the upper floor is the largest, but plates will be arranged in the three distinct kitchens.

The heart of the finishing kitchens is a Molteni cooking suite, an island that contains refrigerated drawers, cooktops including "plancha" griddles, and space for the kitchen staff to work together in assembling Lynch's culinary inventions. "It's a holistic approach," said Feldman. "It allows you to serve food but also develop staff."

The lower floor also will support a sizable catering operation that Lynch plans to run out of the new complex.

One of the most challenging tasks of making the kitchens and the restaurants they will serve work efficiently was laying out the floor plan. Making it even more difficult was the fact that a new concrete basement slab in the three buildings on Congress Street was a vital part of its structural support.

That meant knowing months before the dining areas were laid out what size each piece of equipment was and where it would be placed. Six grease traps - huge stainless steel tanks up to 8 feet by 8 feet and 5 feet deep, which separate grease from water and confine it - had to be sunk into the ground in the basement, connected with pipes, and then buried below 10 inches of fresh concrete.

"All that plumbing had to be carved out and done in advance," said McCabe. "It put a lot of pressure on Barbara to lock and load on equipment in the basement prior to when it normally would have been done."

As complex as the planning has been, Lynch said that no detail has been overlooked. Almost.

A few months ago, Lynch's team presented its plans to a health department official at City Hall, where restaurant and sanitary codes are enforced. "He said this is awesome - the only thing you're missing is a door to the mop closet."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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