Chef Jeffrey Fournier’s creativity was nurtured from a very early age in his mother’s Amesbury kitchen. And like the artwork he’s created to adorn the walls of , his unique take on food has its roots in his childhood.
“My grandfather was 100% Armenian,” explains Fournier. “And my grandmother on my mother’s side was French-Canadian. So I had a lot of very different food that was very authentic culturally from when I was very very young. I’d just sit in the kitchen and draw and listen while my mom and my grandma cooked. ”
Fournier initially had dreams of moving to New York City to become a painter after high school. But as one of the first members of his extended family to attend college, this simply wasn’t realistic.
So after his 1987 graduation, he got a job in a Newburyport pizza place.
“That’s where I started to learn to cook in a commercial environment,” Fournier recalls. “I bar-backed, I made sandwiches and pizza. I started experimenting with soups, and they just kind of let me run the kitchen after a while.”
A brief stint in the National Guard (to help pay for college) followed, and Fournier credits some of his discipline in the kitchen with this early experience.
“The French brigade system (of running a kitchen) is really similar to the military in many ways,” he notes.
Fournier then followed a girlfriend to Los Angeles, and within three days had a restaurant job. He worked at several LA locales for the next five years but eventually decided to come back to Massachusetts.
Up next was nearly ten years working under Lydia Shire (with a brief break to work in a graphic design firm), with stints at BIBA, Pignoli, Locke-Ober and Excelsior giving him the experience of learning her approach to cooking and running a restaurant.
But Fournier was eager to put more of his own artistic spin on food and location.
So when he had the opportunity to spend a year at the Lyons Group’s Sophia’s in Boston, Fournier made the most of his autonomy there. In fact, the now-popular trend of pairing alcohol with food and the movement towards “small plates” really began in Boston with Fournier’s reign at Sophia’s.
“I said I’m not going to do Spanish plates. I was going to do Central and South American plates,” recalls Fournier. “We also did a whole thing with liquor pairings, and I kind of felt like that was my invention as well.”
After leaving Sophia’s (where he first invented his signature seared watermelon steak) and helping the Lyons Group launch the Metropolitan Club chain, Fournier finally had the chance to open his own restaurant. Le Soir was for sale in Newton Highlands in 2006, and the moment Fournier saw it he knew it was his place.
“I just knew exactly what I wanted to do to it,” Fournier enthuses. “It’s like when people walk into a house and know they want to live there. Well, I pretty much live here!”
Fast forward four very successful years, and 51 Lincoln has a redesigned bar and is now serving lunch. New paintings by Fournier decorate the walls, and chef de cuisine Maxwell Burns, who has been with Fournier for three years, is on his way to becoming a partner.
But Fournier remains at heart a foodie and an artist, something that is evident when he talks about what he likes to eat on those rare occasions when he is not at work.
“There’s a dish at a place in Chinatown, called Peach Farm,” Fournier says. “It’s called Salty Spicy Pork Shrimp and Squid. It’s all with shaved green chilies. You don’t even need a sauce. It’s awesome.”
He also likes to cook at home with his fiancée Kate, a teacher at the in Newton. And just as when he was a youngster, food and family are tied together with love and creativity in his home kitchen.