For this month’s member spotlight, Chefs Collaborative got in touch with Chef Mary Dumont, of Harvest restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Read on to find out more about her journey toward regionality and seasonality, from studying literature at Simmons to translating stories into flavors.
Chefs Collaborative: Growing up in New Hampshire, what are some of your fondest memories associated with food? How did that influence the way you approach cooking today?
Mary Dumont: I grew up on the coast and my parents were in the hotel/restaurant business, so most of our free time was around the beach and beach activities. We had a lot of BBQs. I also grew up in Hampton Falls, which at that time had about 1800 people in it and a beautiful apple orchard called Applecrest. The good thing about small towns is that there are a lot of small fairs throughout the warmer months and Applecrest had and still does have weekend fairs with apple picking and hayrides. It was a great place to grow up and it’s only 50 minutes north of Boston, so we weren’t isolated and in the sticks!
C.C.: After attending Simmons, how did you decide to make the transition from literature to cooking? Do you find that they’re related somehow?
M.D.: I lived in JP and had a great group of friends and I always seemed to be the one that ended up cooking. Then I moved to San Francisco when I was 21 and my mind blew up with everything that was going on there. Food wise, culture, the people… it was like an awakening when I arrived and shortly after that I started to cook professionally. I like the story of things and how food comes together. From the seeds and how they were passed down to the farmer who planted them to how they get to your plate. It makes perfect sense to me in my mind.
C.C.: Have you done much traveling?
M.D.: I’ve been to Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and all over the US and Canada. New Zealand has been my favorite so far.
C.C.: What’s your favorite “secret” ingredient?
M.D.: I try not to keep secrets… the first time I met Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, I was cooking for him at The Dunaway in Portsmouth, NH where I was chef at the time and he grabbed my face and said “the face of the future keeps no secrets!” I totally believe that. I like things to have layered flavors with a bit of acid and fresh herbs at the end… that’s how I learned and that’s how I still cook.
C.C. What is your take on the ‘big picture’ of sustainability? When (and how) did you decide to get involved?
M.D.: When I started to cook in San Francisco in 1995 it was was already full on there and it was a way of life. You were lame if you didn’t recycle and carry your own bags to the market. I think people need to apply sustainability as a way of life and a philosophy to live by. People can’t be lazy and expect it’s someone else’s job to save the world or save the small farms. You have to contribute and care. Laziness is very unattractive.
C.C.: You’re involved in the Boston-area Cochon555 competition. Why is it important for you to be involved in these kinds of events?
M.D.: #1 it’s fun and great to be competing against friends and peers. People who love bacon and pork are crazed over it so the crowd will be fun as well. But, it’s really important to support these heritage breeds and expose the need to keep promoting the small farmers out there and flex some muscle doing it.
C.C. Gastronomica just came out with a piece asking “Why are there no great women chefs?”. Why do you think that is, and what can be done to address it?
M.D.: I read that… I think the biggest truth is that at some point most women want a family and have an innate desire to actually “be there” for their family. I’m not trying to make anyone mad, but most workaholic male chefs with families can still maintain the hours without spending hardly anytime with their kids. The glass ceiling isn’t really there anymore, the screaming kitchens have, for the most part, gone away and when you talk about about the “Great Chefs” that article was talking about chefs they are much, much older. There are great women chefs out there right now. Look at Barbara Lynch, Jody Adams, Judy Rogers, Anna Sophie Pic and so on… The gender card is getting old. If you’re a great chef you’re a great chef no matter who you are.
C.C.: Why are you involved with Chefs Collaborative, and is there anything you’d like to pass on to our members and friends?
M.D.: I love Chefs Collaborative because it has strength to bring the message of sustainability to the masses. Every chef that joins and continues the message at their restaurants and to their cooks is leading the way to sustainability becoming a greater way of life and not just a weekend hobby.