The James Beard Awards, allegedly the Oscars of the food world, are happening next Monday and three Boston-area chefs are nominated: Craigie On Main’s Tony Maws, Lumiere’s Michael Leviton, and Marc Orfaly of Pigalle. We spoke with all three and we’ll be bringing you their thoughts on their competitors, the economy, and Boston’s best up and coming chefs (spoiler: everyone loves Barry Maiden and Jamie Bissonette) all week.
Last but certainly not least, Marc Orfaly of Pigalle and Marco Cucina Romana.
Your local competitors for the Beard are Michael Leviton and Tony Maws. What attributes do they bring to their restaurants that are different than yours?
Tony’s really extremely vigilant about using local ingredients. I really love his enthusiasm for that. Michael Leviton has really been part of the Boston picture for a while and he’s been sort of below the radar doing great French cuisine for years. He opened his new restaurant in a really up and coming neighborhood. So, entrepreneurism is one of his strengths. Tony too. Cambridge could be its own city, culinarily and a lot of that is because of Tony. Both of them are very potent adversaries! (laughs)
The Beard Awards often go to established chefs. Which young chefs in Boston are you impressed with right now?
Jamie Bissonette at Toro worked for me for a while and he’s really come into his own. He’s a great match with Ken and he’s really doing great. Barbara Lynch’s chef de cuisine Colin Lynch is also really good and talented. Basically, anyone on Barbara’s team: she has a really great knack for importing talent, but Colin is really really great. I don’t know what you consider young, but Barry over at Hungry Mother is a really talented guy. I think he’s leaning more on his Southern roots, but today people are really interested in comfort food and that’s a level of comfort food.
After the jump, Orfaly on the search for the new Pigalle, what went wrong at Restaurant L, and more.
Where are your favorite places to eat and drink in the Boston area?
I live in the South End, so Toro’s definitely a no brainer for me. Barbara Lynch’s new place Sportello is really great. My friend Evan Deluty owns Stella in the South End and that’s really great. My other friend, Tony Susi, owns Sage. Any of those places are really great.
How is the search for the new Pigalle coming along?
It’s going okay. I want to do something that feels really right and that I’m comfortable with, and I haven’t found anything I’m that eager to pursue. For right now, I’m kind of sitting back and waiting for that to happen. Obviously, it’s an economic downturn, but it’s also an opportunity because people are giving out really incredible deals. Just when you think no deal better will ever come, here’s a better deal.
What changes have you made at Pigalle and Marco because of the economy?
Everyone’s creative in this business and has a creative and driving passion and part of that is that you want to get customers in. At Pigalle, we’re doing a $40 prix fixe bistro classics menu - you know, bouillabasse, cassoulet. It’s great. We still have the a la carte menu and you know, if a four top comes in, two people might get the promotional menu and two might do a la carte. It’s all about traffic flow and people coming in. At Marco, we’re still at a pretty low price, but I think it’s the same thing: doing promotions, wine dinners, chef dinners. We do a lot of cooking classes at Marco as well. Pigalle’s a little bit tougher because it’s fine dining. In January, we were actually up from last year.
Any plans for expansion beyond Pigalle and Marco?
I’m always working on different concepts. The goal really is to come up with something that you can brand and do more spaces.
You were in charge of Restaurant L, which didn’t last very long. Why do you think that it wasn’t successful?
It’s partly my own fault. I have a Nantucket gig too and I was just finishing up the season and I came back and met one of the sons of the owner of Louis. He asked me to do a bunch of parties there, which I did and asked me “How would you feel about taking over the restaurant?” It seemed like a pretty good deal at the time, but that’s kind of when all the banks went bust. I was banking on the lunch business, which wasn’t there. I credit the failure somewhat to myself, because I definitely rushed in. I should have mapped it better, the way we were going to put the deal together. And then the other part of it was just the economics of the store. In the end, we just kind of left. Even though it was a loss, it was the best thing for us.