A New Endeavor for Newton Chef
Lumière's Chef Michael Leviton chats about how he's balancing his new spot in Cambridge, Area Four, and what he wants you to take away from dining at his restaurant.
If you were an award-winning chef with a successful suburban eatery who had recently experienced the unfortunate demise of another creative culinary endeavor, the last thing you’d want to do is open a new restaurant, right?
Well, clearly you are not Michael Leviton then.
“Area Four, at the end of the day, is a simple, casual place where you can go and hang out with your friends,” says Leviton. “You can drink and have a great time.”
“The food is not even close to what we did when we started,” he explains. “Things change. No matter what you’re doing, there’s going to be this evolution.”
But with the West Newton eatery in the very good hands of former chef de cuisine Andrew Urbanetti, Leviton is ready to tackle a new challenge.
He was also ready for a challenge just over three years ago when he and partner Michael Krupp opened Persephone/The Achilles Project in Fort Point Channel. This was the first “restaurant/mixed retail” establishment in the Boston area, and with the chef’s passion and pedigree and his partner’s business acumen, success seemed inevitable.
Krupp is also a Newton native who grew up less than a mile from Leviton in Newton Center. His parents were among Lumière’s first customers, and when another city-based project of Leviton’s fell through in its early stages the Krupps let Leviton know that their son was looking for a stake in a restaurant and a new project of his own.
Persephone quickly developed a loyal following and, though the integrated clothing store concept was a bit quirky, had the neighborhood progressed as predicted there was little question that it would have been a huge success.
But, Fort Point Channel “went backwards rather than forwards,” explains Leviton. That, combined with the downward turn in the economy, led to Persephone/The Achilles Project shuttering their doors in late 2009.
It did not lead to Leviton giving up on his professional vision.
“I love food, I love restaurants,” Leviton says. “If I had my way, I’d try to do a whole bunch of different ones. That being said, I don’t want to be one of those chefs who’s got twelve restaurants but can’t devote enough to any of them.”
It remains to be seen if Leviton will eventually sit at the head of a fabulous empire of diverse restaurants. For now, he is fully invested in successfully launching Area Four and in supporting his team at Lumière.
The décor at Area Four embodies the concept of industrial chic without being cold or uninviting. There is a long, high-top communal dining table perpendicular to the open kitchen with its cozy wood-burning stoves. Other tables are made so that tops can be slid together along a track to accommodate more diners (much like adding the extra leaf in your parents’ dining room table). Huge floor-to-ceiling windows look out on a grassy courtyard and on Area Four’s outdoor patio. There is an attached coffee and take-out shop (ably helmed by Persephone pastry chef Katie Kimball) that allows patron the choice of a lengthier meal in the dining room or a quick bite on the go, both in a stylish setting.
The food also mixes form and function; the menu is made for sharing and for exploring. It is also constantly evolving, with Leviton and his chef de cuisine Jeff Pond (who was also with him at Persephone) always trying new dishes and combinations of flavors.
But at both his establishments, Leviton steadfastly maintains his commitment to the farm-to-table movement. And, putting his money where his mouth is, he was recently made Chair of the Chefs Collaborative.
“Through outreach and education, in a grander sense we’re trying to change the food system,” explains Leviton of the national organization’s mission. “Chefs have a bully pulpit, and we can use that on a daily basis to influence customers. We want them to know that the reason this food tastes so good is because I got better product and you can too.”
For those of you who are worried about venturing into the city and dealing with the traffic and finding parking, know that the Area Four neighborhood (that is also what the surrounding zone is called) is very easy to navigate and parking is fully validated in a nearby garage. Leviton is very enthusiastic about encouraging Newtonites and other suburban fans of Lumière to come down and experience his new restaurant.
“We want to be seven days here- breakfast, lunch and dinner. Get here, relax, eat and have a good time!”