Uncompromisingly Committed to His Craft
A 2011 James Beard Award Winner for Best Chef Northeast and Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2005, Tony Maws is the owner of Boston’s acclaimed Craigie on Main and the newer, more casual Kirkland Tap & Trotter. An immensely talented chef with ruthless expectations of himself and his staff, Maws is revered for his innovation, refined rustic cuisine and hands-on approach in the restaurant—you’ll find him at the pass or working the line nearly every night of the week. Below, Maws explains how the Bistrot Moderne in Paris inspired the original Craigie Street Bistrot, how his role has evolved and what it takes to succeed in his kitchen.
AndrewZimmern.com: When the original Craigie opened in 2002 what was the plan and concept?
Tony Maws: The plan was to cook tasty food and see where it took me. I hoped to last more than two years. The previous owners of the restaurant did everything wrong and lasted two years, so I felt that was a good gamble. I was energized by all the terrific food in Paris coming out of the original Bistrot Moderne movement—great cooks leaving Michelin-starred restaurants to take over neighborhood bistros, giving the finger to traditional notions of what fine dining and great food needed to look and feel like. I figured a basement restaurant in an apartment building, on a side street with no parking and leaky pipes, was worth a shot.
AZ.com: How has that changed?
TM: I’m not there from 8 am to 1 am, being nudged awake at a table with drool pooled on my order clipboard. We’ve moved locations and opened a second place. And while I’ve had to rejuvenate myself a few times over the years, I’m feeling particularly feisty these days, ready to prove people wrong who feel that a restaurant might not be as relevant after 13 years.
AZ.com: How has your role in the restaurant evolved?
TM: I used to have more of a Tasmanian Devil approach, ripping through the restaurant not concerned about the waste I left behind. I did everything back then, partly because we didn’t have anyone else to do it, and partly because I was stupid and didn’t feel like I could trust anybody else. Now, I’m sincerely and genuinely focused on growing tremendous, thriving teams. Maybe that’s a cliché, but that’s where the path has led me. It’s quite a challenge sometimes, but I’m unwavering in my resolve to make it happen. There are bigger things at stake and creating something more sustainable is the key to our success.
AZ.com: What’s the most challenging part of staying successful in such a famously crowded marketplace for restaurants?
TM: Understanding the nuances between holding true to our mission and vision; and the changes required to evolve our restaurant day after day. Continual improvement—what the Japanese call “Kaizen.”
AZ.com: What does it take for a young cook to succeed in your kitchen?
TM: 1) Eliminate the notion that there is a specific timetable it takes to learn this craft. 2) Be honest: with yourself, with your teammates, and with your bosses. 3) Understand that learning is a process and that it is synonymous with failure. 4) Have fun.
AZ.com: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received in the kitchen?
TM: Never come to work unprepared. It’s really that simple.
AZ.com: How do the last few years look in the rear view mirror?
TM: Like I’ve passed through some towns that will be great memories. I would not change a thing… but I’m mostly excited by my next destination.
AZ.com: Are there any new projects on the horizon?
TM: None! I honestly couldn’t tell you about the future, our focus is on our current world. We’ve focused our energies on our two restaurants—looking for new ways to create fantastic experiences for our guests and employees.
AZ.com: If you could switch jobs with anyone in the world for one day who would it be and why?
TM: Anyone on Patriots Coach Bill Belichick’s staff. The guy is a genius manager who creates selfless winners, both individuals and teams.
AZ.com: What was the most memorable meal of the last year?
TM: The next one I cook with my family at home. Seriously, there is nothing that beats cooking for my family, sitting at the table, and sharing stories.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
TM: Lots of things to keep two 40-somethings and a seven-year-old moving: a bunch of Middle Eastern salads from Arax Market, hummus, Greek yogurt, berries, sliced turkey, salami, a grilled chicken from The Kirkland Tap & Trotter, fresh peanut butter, almond milk, beer, and some Champagne that I should have popped already.
Since opening his first restaurant, Craigie Street Bistrot, in 2002, Chef Tony Maws has risen to international acclaim for his innovative and creative work in the kitchen, earning recognition as one of the country’s best chefs, including a James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast 2011; “Boston’s Best Chef” 2010, 2008, 2006, and 2003 by Boston magazine; and Food & Wine magazine’s 2005 “Best New Chefs.” Today he operates two of greater Boston’s culinary gems: Craigie on Main in Cambridge and The Kirkland Tap & Trotter in Somerville. Known for his dedication to showcasing locally raised meats and produce as well as locally caught seafood, Maws remains committed to providing his guests the best tastes of New England and encourages them to rolling up their sleeves and mop up the plate in what he describes as “refined rusticity.”