Platelist: Chef Tony Maws Pursues Love of Cooking from Grandma's Kitchen to James Beard Awards

Tony Maws recently won the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast.

May 27, 2011 -- When Tony Maws was 15, it was time for his first summer job. Like many kids looking for work, Maws contacted a restaurant to see if they needed a dishwasher.

Unlike other kids, he enclosed a resume.

"Of course, three-and-a-half minutes later I got a call," he recalled. "Because who the hell sends a resume to become a dishwasher?"

That was an early example of Maws' lifelong passion -- and respect -- for cooking and food. Since then he has worked in 17 restaurants, performing every job.

Now he is Chef and Owner of Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Mass., which he opened in 2008. It is an expanded version of his first place, Craigie Street Bistrot, which opened in 2002.

This year Maws won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Northeast. He was rated one of the country's "10 Best New Chefs" by Food & Wine in 2005. In 2008 Boston magazine named him "Boston's Best Chef."

Read Tony Maws' recipes HERE.

Boston-born and bred, Maws grew up in Newton, a suburb. He lives in Cambridge. Growing up, he always loved food, and he started cooking in his grandmother's kitchen. "It was an honor to be there," he said. "Anything. If I got to help make the matzo balls, whatever."

He roots for the Red Sox and Patriots, and sports loom large in how he thinks and talks about what he does. That first job in a kitchen, when he was 15, was "like playing a game every single night…. Everyone working together to create something…. It's teamwork … the best game in town," he said.

Although he was hooked, "no one ever told me this [was] something that I could do" as a career, he said. So he went to the University of Michigan and got a degree in psychology, working in restaurants on the side.

While Maws was working at a restaurant on Martha's Vineyard after college, his boss encouraged him to be a chef. "Here I am sending out my resume all over again," he recalled. Chris Schlesinger hired him to cook at his restaurant, the East Coast Grill.

"Pretty soon I realized that I knew more than everybody coming out of culinary school," Maws said.

His career took off. Maws worked under Wolfgang Puck at Postrio, in San Francisco; Mark Miller at Coyote Cafe, in Santa Fe; and Ken Oringer at Clio, in Boston. He worked at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Larivoire, in Lyon, France. "Old, old school," said Maws. "Everybody is in toques, and the waiters are wearing tuxedos."

His time in France taught him the value of "using everything" from an animal, he said. "There was a technique. You were proud to figure out what to do with the livers, the kidneys, the heads even." After he returned to the U.S. and opened Craigie Street Bistrot, this idea flowered into a combination of the spiritual (honoring the animal), the practical (saving money), the culinary (exploring new flavors) and the political (fighting waste and industrial agriculture).

"We got kind of known for putting things on the plate a lot of people weren't. We weren't doing it for shock value. We said, 'This is delicious. Try it.' And people kept on coming and pretty soon they really kept on coming," he said.

Unlike other successful chefs nowadays, Maws has no plans to replicate his restaurant elsewhere, to become a brand. "This is my baby … being able to really focus on this entity and make it as good as we can make it," he said.

Every day he writes the menu. During the afternoon, his wife, Karolyn, and son, Charlie, visit. Every night he's in the kitchen.

"I miss skiing," Maws said. "I miss going to as many ballgames as I used to. At the same time, I get to stand up there and look out at this audience and watch the smiles."

For now, that is enough. That, and hot dogs.

"I am a hot dog fiend," he said. "For a treat we will go out for a staff meal and buy a hot dog…. We will make our own sauerkraut, we will make our own deli mustard, but a hot dog on a bun: Right on."

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