A love for teaching others to cook: My conversation with Chef Jody Adams of Rialto and Trade Boston

I suppose its funny that I saved this interview, the third in a three part series on lineage and teaching in the kitchen (Part 1 | Part 2), for last. But, I thought it to be the most fitting conclusion. After all, speaking with the student always gives you a glimpse of the teacher. In speaking with Chefs Andrew and Brian, it’s clear to see that Chef Jody Adams is, in fact, exactly that. A teacher.

The key component to any lineage, any strong legacy, is a passionate and knowledgeable teacher. Someone who can take that passion and knowledge, and transfer it to others. While its obvious that we could go much further back in time, for the sake of this discussion, it all starts with Chef Adams.

Jody Adams
Jody Adams

Foodie Journal: When was it that you discovered that you had a love for food?
Jody Adams: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. When I was in high school, I cooked a lot. I didn’t just bake. I know baking is something kids do a lot, but I actually cooked. I spent a month in Morocco when I was 14, and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen there. Then, I spent a summer in Guatemala when I was 16, and spent a lot of time in the kitchen while I was there as well. My mother was a good cook, so by the time I got to high school I found that I was very comfortable in the kitchen. I didn’t have any expectations that it would become a profession for me, though.

FJ: Was there a favorite dish that you enjoyed cooking?
JA: I loved cooking an elaborate couscous. I also liked to make moussaka, or gnocchi. All kinds of things, really.

FJ: You mentioned that you didn’t have expectations that food would become a profession for you, something evidenced by the fact that you have a degree in anthropology. When was it that a career as a cook became an option for you?
JA: I was 25 years old. After graduating from Brown, I spent some time trying to decide what I wanted to do. I thought maybe I wanted to be a nurse practitioner, so I was back in school taking some science and nursing courses so that I could apply for a masters program. As I was doing it, though, I started to realize it wasn’t really compelling for me, you know? And, I just couldn’t start a life wondering, “Well, maybe.” So I ditched that. I’d been working at a gourmet food store, and for a catering company. I’d been working with food almost my entire life, and suddenly I realized, “Oh my god! There it is, right in front of me. This is what I’m supposed to do.” So I sent a bunch of applications out, and managed to get some interviews at some places around Boston. I was lucky enough to get hired by Lydia Shire at Seasons.

FJ: Was working in a professional kitchen different from what you had experience up to that point?
JA: It was a bit of a roller coaster for me in the beginning. Working for a gourmet food store, or a catering company, or at home is all very different from cooking in a fast paced restaurant. I didn’t cook fast, so I had to learn how to cook fast fast!

FJ: You obviously picked up a lot of what you know about cooking while working in kitchens. Do you feel like you missed out on something by not getting the chance to go through culinary school, or was jumping right in to the mix the best education for you?
JA: I think there are many ways to skin a cat. I don’t regret the liberal arts education that I went through. In fact, I think having the degree I have let me think about food a bit differently. Where it comes from? Why it evolved the way it has? I think it has served me very well in my style of cooking. I definitely have learned a lot on the job. [PAUSES] I don’t know how to do ice sculptures.
FJ: [LAUGHS]
JA: I don’t know how to do fancy garde manger work with gelatins and all that stuff, but I don’t miss that. I think that when you go to cooking school you get a foundation, sort of a toolbox of skills. I think for me, I just had to find that along the way.

FJ: It sounds like learning, and teaching in a kitchen is a really important thing in the industry. Is that something you enjoy?
JA: I’ve been at this for 30 years now, and that’s not how long I’ve loved cooking. That’s just how long I’ve been working in the industry, but for me it really holds the same excitement.  I actually went to visit my son in New York recently, and he had some of his friends over. So my daughter and I took some food, and we cooked at his apartment. We made short ribs, and mashed potatoes, and bok choy and kimchii. We drank lots of beer. It was just fabulous for me, being able to cook with these young people and teach how to put things together. So, it still really excites me at that level. I’m very connected to it at its core, how exciting it is to teach people how to cook. I teach cooking classes once a month at the restaurant, and my husband and I have a blog we do to teach recipes for the home cook called The Garum Factory. So, I stay very connected to the whole idea of teaching.

FJ: My final question for you, Jody. Everyone that loves food typically has a particular food memory that they love as well. What’s yours?
JA: Many, but I can tell you one. I was in Palermo. I was alone, waiting for a friend of mine that was flying in that evening, so I had the day to myself. I looked down an alley and saw a guy leaning over a little grill. He had this little tiny grill set up with artichokes in the coals, and he was grilling sausages. So we started talking a little. My Italian is not great, and he didn’t speak English, but we still managed. I asked him what he was doing, and he tried to explain it to me, and suddenly it was like I was in a movie. The window shutters across the way opened. This woman leaned out, clearly his wife. Then three of his adult children popped their heads out the window, and there was all this conversation back and forth. Out of nowhere they brought out a chair and made me sit down. They brought out a plate. They got me some warm Coke, and they fed me right there in the alley. He was obviously cooking dinner for them! They were about to have their family dinner. I was a perfect stranger to him, but there it was. Those are the kind of memories that I have. My memories are always of very simple expressions of hospitality, with delicious, simple food. The artichokes were unbelievable. They were charred, and they were yummy, and all it involved was just artichokes cooked in coals. Simple.

Jody Adams is chef and co-owner of restaurants Rialto, and Trade. Rialto is located at 1 Bennett Street, Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Trade is located at 540 Atlantic Avenue in Boston.

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One thought on “A love for teaching others to cook: My conversation with Chef Jody Adams of Rialto and Trade Boston

  1. That’s fascinating. It seems to me most long-term successful chefs are anthropologists, in a way, just because they have to understand why people eat what they eat.

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