Platelist: Lydia Shire's Boston Thanksgiving

"When I was little, I remember cooking, we would have spaghetti aioli on Saturday night, because [my father] didn't want his breath to smell like garlic when he went to work on a Monday. So we would always have that on Saturday and we would have flank steak. You know my father just knew innately, you know he never took a cooking class at all, but he innately knew that he had to pat dry the flank steak to get it dry, and he would season it heavily with salt and pepper.

"He would spread newspapers out on the floor and get or black cast iron griddle smoking hot, put a little bit of oil and he would sear the flank steak, you know have it really rare in the middle and he would slice it on an angle and he would pour butter on it. You know of course to this day you should always use a little butter on your steak. And he just was a great cook. That was our Saturday night dinner."

Not shockingly, the Shires' dinner table was popular with her childhood pals.

"My friends loved to come to our house for dinner," she said. "You know I'd come home from school and my father was cooking, or my mother, and I'd say, 'Daddy please I have three friends that want to eat here tonight!' And of course we always made room for them."

Shire's actual entry into the world of professional cooking reads like a cross between Horatio Alger and Amelia Earhart -- although the self-effacing Shire would pooh-pooh any comparison so grandiose.

"Well you know I was married and I was married actually at 17," she said. "I had my first baby at 17. And my marriage did not last. And at that point, I knew that I had to work and what I liked to do was cook.

"So I went to Maison Robert in Boston and I applied as a salad girl, and they hired me as a salad girl, and I hated making salads and I hated opening oysters. It was just kind of boring to me, and I wanted to do the hot line. So finally ... I left, and took a little hiatus and went to cooking school in London. I came back. I went right back to Maison Robert, and I said, 'OK, now I can cook, so please give me a job in the hot line.'

"And they did. And I literally rose in the ranks to become the chef of Maison Robert. And way back then, in the '70s, there were really no other American women who were at that time a chef of a real French restaurant. So I would say that was a leap of faith for the Roberts who, you know, gave me the push to do that."

Shire Admits Career Not Without Missteps

In Shire's telling, it sounds like a cakewalk. But how could it have been, for a woman coming up in a notoriously gruff industry, 30 years ago?

"You know, I honestly, I think possibly as a woman, you know, people are wondering if I have horror stories to tell you," Shire said. "I don't, honestly. ...I'll never forget at Maison Robert, my first -- I made $2.62 an hour and, you know, once the Roberts trusted me, sure enough, I'd open my check and it was $2.72 an hour or $2.82 an hour. And I think the idea of you being able to keep going up the ladder without having to ask for anything, it means that you're doing something right."

Shire is the first to admit that her career has not been without its missteps.

"You know I owned my own restaurant when I was 39. Obviously that was sort of a crash course in learning how to run a business. Sure I made mistakes along the way. But you know, I hire a general manager for that.

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