The ultimate home cooking: A chat with Chef Gordon Hamersley

When the weather starts to get cool, I always get an itch for some hearty home cooking. Earthy, slow-cooked dishes to warm both heart and body. Some days, though, you just don’t feel like staying in, and with good ole mom and dad living 1500 miles away in Florida, what’s a guy to do? One option that’s available, and has been for over two decades, is Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston’s South End. Talking about the food served in a bistro, chef and owner Gordon Hamersley calls it like he sees it: “Bistro cooking is like the ultimate home cooking brought to a restaurant level.” … Yes, please!

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to interview Chef Hamersley. During our conversation, we talk a little about bistros, the Boston restaurant scene, and a memory of France.

 

Gordon Hamersley – Photo by Leah Fasten

 

Foodie Journal: When did you figure out that you had enough love for food that you wanted to cook for a living?
Gordon Hamersley: I love the way restaurants work, the people who work in them, and the lifestyle, so I knew soon after my first job that cooking was for me. I was looking for a path that would be fun, challenging, creative and inspiring. Cooking fit that bill and I never wanted to do much else since those early days.

FJ: How’d you get your start in the business?
GH: I started washing dishes. I loved it!! I wash dishes once a year at Hamersley’s too. It’s hard work, but kind of zen-like too.

FJ: Can you speak a little about the different between a bistro and a typical restaurant and why you enjoy bistro-style cooking?
GH: Bistros are the typical restaurant. They are your neighborhood place that serves simple, well prepared food. Bistros are where you know your waiter, the kid next door is the busier, and the chef is part of the local community. It is the place that is sometimes expensive or sometimes cheap. Bistros can be casual or fancy, but bistros always serve up good, solid food. Bistro cooking is like the ultimate home cooking brought to a restaurant level.

FJ: You’ve been in the Boston area for a while, having opened the original Hamersley’s Bistro back in 1987. What is it that you like about Boston as a food city, and how has the landscape changed? 
GH: The Boston food scene has mushroomed in to a vibrant thing over the last 25 years. We are well respected in Boston now. We attract cooks from all over the USA. We have a cool local scene and we are always opening new places. I am proud of the work that we’re collectively doing to enhance the city’s food image. I especially like this new generation of chefs. Their enthusiasm is affecting the whole city.

FJ: Considering how much diners have changed over the years, with people “seemingly” knowing more, or at least expecting more, does that change how chefs and restaurants do things?
GH: Diners haven’t changed much at all, really. Maybe the public’s interest in chefs and food in general makes our job easier, because people have a better understanding of what goes in to a dish, what the ingredients and techniques are, and how restaurants work thanks to the Food Network. I think I can relate more to my guests now, because they have travelled a bit more and have experienced a wider variety of foods. But, we have always attracted guests that are passionate about food, who love to eat, and love their wine. That is the bottom line.

FJ: Is there a particular food memory or experience in your life that stands out as really memorable? Something you wouldn’t mind sharing?
GH: One of my fondest memories will always be of living in Nice, France, and visiting the market everyday. It taught me so much about food, seasonal changes, business, and the way a central market is the hub of a community’s life. I will never forget it. It was the best food education I could have ever asked for.

Hamersley’s Bistro is located at 553 Tremont Street in Boston, and is open for dinner 7-days a week, with brunch service on Sundays.

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