If you were going to open a new restaurant, would you choose a spot just a mile and a half away from your already wildly successful (but very different) dining destination?
If you were Jeff Fournier of 51 Lincoln, and now Waban Kitchen, that is exactly what you’d do. And you’d have a darn good reason for doing it too: the short commute makes for an easier balance between work life and home life.
“My philosophy of entrepreneurship and being a chef has morphed over the last few years,” Fournier explains. “When I started thinking about starting a family (Jeff and his wife, Kate, are expecting their first child at the beginning of next year), I really started to make choices about quality of life for my staff and for myself and, moving forward, for my family."
Fournier is the first to acknowledge that at the beginning of his career (early on he worked with Lydia Shire, known for being quite the perfectionist taskmaster), he would put in 100-hour weeks and work was more or less his sole focus. As he puts it, “Chefs worked hard and they partied hard. That was the life.”
But as he got older, it became important to Fournier not just to create harmony in his own life but also to provide for his chefs, management team and staff a work environment and ethos that allowed for a balanced life outside of the confines of the restaurant.
Likewise, within both 51 Lincoln and Waban Kitchen Fournier has created an ambiance that allows diners to balance enjoyment of the food they are eating with a pleasing dining environment.
Whereas he sees his original Newton Highlands restaurant as more of a “gallery” and the food as “a little more complicated, a bit more of a manipulation of the ingredients,” Fournier’s new undertaking in Waban is “a little more rustic, a few less ingredients on the plate but still with a big impact of flavor.”
“We want to showcase the ingredients as they are,” chimes in Chef de Cuisine Jakob White. “A green bean is a green bean, and we don’t want to hide that in any way.”
Fournier and White definitely have the same approach to creative cuisine. After completing the Boston University Culinary Program, White had a clear sense of where he wanted his career to go and at what kind of restaurant he wanted to work.
It was suggested that he contact Fournier after graduation. When the two chefs exchanged emails and shared their philosophies of food and service, White knew he’d found a home beside the more experienced chef. He says he has done “every single job” at 51 Lincoln, but it is clear he relishes being a driving force in Fournier’s new endeavor.
When discussing potential ways of expanding Waban Kitchen’s offerings -- while keeping with its mission of providing creative, locally sourced cuisine -- White excitedly brings up the idea of working with a whole animal. This leads to an animated back-and-forth with Fournier about what they’d do with a whole pig: White talks about particular parts of the pig he’d like to work with while Fournier envisions a whole pork-based, three-course menu.
But for the immediate future, White and Fournier will largely be sticking with the basic, existing menu at Waban Kitchen (with one soup and/or special being added in as ingredients inspire them). “Right now, everything is a ‘special’ since we just opened,” says Fournier with a smile.
For White, this means highlighting dishes such as their Signature Five-Spice Roasted Half Chicken that is roasted to aromatic perfection and served with fermented black garlic mashed potatoes and French green beans. They use two-and-a-half pound birds because that was the only size they could procure that was guaranteed to be antibiotic- and hormone-free, something that is very important to both chefs.
Highlighting Waban Kitchen’s unique identity is also very important to Fournier and White.
“If there’s any difference between the two places,” explains Fournier, thoughtfully, “it’s that there we’re artfully creative and (here) at Waban, we’re creative in our Zen of simplicity.”
Waban Kitchen is located at 1649 Beacon St. in Waban and can be reached at 617-558-7677. The restaurant serves dinner from 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m., Tuesday - Saturday.