Monica Velgos / January 2013
Food Arts presents the January/February 2013 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to the Boston chef/restaurateur Barbara Lynch, whose inspiring achievements, during both the best and worst of economic times, have redrafted the blueprint for fine dining management, adding to its architecture a healthy dollop of street smarts, tunnel vision (versus trend watching), a “do what you love and money will follow” optimism, and her surprising admission that “it’s usually my staff first, and customers are second.”
From launching No. 9 Park in 1998 to the debut of Menton in 2010, which became Boston’s first and only Relais & Châteaux and AAA Five-Diamond property, Lynch has challenged the rules frequently. She opened businesses first, learned how to run them afterward; moved expensive properties into untested, pioneering locations; coupled goal-setting with a mindful preparation to fail; and placed at the heart of her operations the passion for educating customers, the wider community, and, most importantly, her staff.
“I’ve realized that people love to work,” she says. “They love to feel they have dignity, that the job they’re doing is a profession and they chose it. And it’s up to me that it works for them.” To that end, her eight-restaurant, 200-employee Barbara Lynch Gruppo is Boston’s most sought-after training organization for hospitality professionals, its leaders averaging around 10 years each. “They control the consistency part so I can focus on other things now to grow the brand,” says Lynch. That enables her, in turn, to provide top staff with opportunities to branch out, fully equipped for success.
From her sidewalk-sprout youth fettered to the gritty South Boston housing projects, where she learned to snatch opportunities like the last spoonfuls from the pot, Lynch derived an entrepreneurial fearlessness from a catch-as-catch-can defiance of financial hardship (she was once a bookie for her teachers). It spawned an intense work ethic, which found fertile soil in her growing passion for food. Lying about her skills to get her first cooking jobs, she later brought a laser focus to learning everything she could under Todd English (at Michaela’s and Olives) and from village cooks in Italy, before returning to Boston to helm Galleria Italiana, where she first drew acclaim. Riding the wave so successfully attracted early investors and emboldened her decision-making. “You have to stick to your vision, no matter what,” she has learned. “It’s made me more secure at board meetings now to say, “‘I’m doing it the right way.’”
After winning—among other accolades—a James Beard award, producing a cookbook, and even appearing on Top Chef, Lynch is placing her bets on BLinc, aka Barbara Lynch Instant Nutrition Company. “Basically it’s meal starters for hospitals and institutions,” she says, “about one pound per container of pure, organic, beautiful veggies already peeled, dehydrated, and ready to go.”
And true to her mission to educate, Lynch, who never graduated from high school, launched a namesake foundation that brings farmers and chefs to school science labs, where kids, like her own third grade daughter, can shake cream into butter and handle chicks, seeds, and dirt, documenting their progress on self-made videos. The first initiative, “Meet the Worms,” is now up on YouTube. “It will probably be a 10-year project for me,” she says. “The more disciples we get involved doing this, the better for everybody.”