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INTERVIEW:
Executive Chef Tom Fosnot
blu restaurant - Boston


Tom Fosnot RR: How does a young man find himself as an executive chef at a noteworthy restaurant in Boston?

Chef: I started off innocently enough in high school as a part-time host at a local chain restaurant. My real interest in this business developed during my college days while working in Nantucket at a restaurant called Sconset Cafť. I learned to appreciate the importance of working with local farmers, fisherman and bakers to create authentic cuisine. I strayed a bit from the restaurant business after college, but I knew my passion was about cooking and soon realized that I was headed for a career as a chef.

I enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in 1997 and interned at Clio with Chef Ken Oringer during school. After graduation, I accepted a position on the line at Rialto under Chef Jody Adams. In the summer of 2003, I was given the lead role at Rialto as executive sous chef and then moved over to blu at the beginning of this year as the executive chef.

RR: You've recently completed a new menu at blu. Talk about your philosophy behind the changes.

Chef: I started with the appetizers and then last week introduced a new entrťe menu. I spend a lot of time thinking about the sustainable aspect of our food choices. I come from an environmentally friendly philosophy and like to seek out organic and local options, and I especially like my menus to have a feeling of seasonality about them.

RR: You do the majority of the hiring at blu, so what do you look for in a new hire?

Chef: Three key things Ė positive attitude, energetic personality and a passion for food. The rest we can train. Experience and education are great, and they have their place in the consideration process, but, by and large, I look for these three things when I talk with incoming candidates.

blu - Bar

RR: A recent newspaper article hits hard on the reality of going to culinary school, where, for most students, graduation equates to a $25k/year gig after laying out hefty resources for tuition, etc. Is culinary school worth the time and money?

Chef: Cooking school is a very personal decision and the individual needs to understand where they are in life and where they think that want to go. Youíve got to do the research beforehand and know what it is that you want to get out of it. At the end of the day, you will only get out of cooking school what you put into it. Yes, the reality is that it may not pay the bills initially upon graduation, but the same can be said for many degrees. Incoming students and graduates need to understand and have a passion for the business. Itís that passion that will help take them where they need to go.

RR: How do you encourage the concept of teamwork in your restaurant?

Chef: I find that the best way to lead is by example. If I feel a countertop needs to be cleaned to a certain standard and I see that it might not be getting done to that degree, then Iíll jump in and work on it myself. The team sees this kind of detail and reacts far more favorably in the long run then had I just commanded that someone make sure the cleaning job was done. Itís also important to communicate regularly through team meetings to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

blu-dining room RR: How would you describe your management style and how do you think your personal style developed?

Chef: I think I would describe my style as using a lot of positive reinforcement. I picked this up from Jody Adams at Rialto who is great at letting people know what they do well. I try to follow a similar philosophy. As for those tough conversations that we all need to have with staff members, I try to make sure there is communication all along so that a difficult talk does not come as a surprise to them should it occur.

RR: Share with us a great customer story from your restaurant past.

Chef: I donít have a whole lot of direct contact with the customers, but an interesting recent story where we had to go above and beyond to please was during the recent Democratic National Convention here in Boston. Bill & Hilary Clinton were staying in the Charles Hotel, where the Rialto is located and where I was working at the time. President Clinton had returned to the hotel bar and restaurant around midnight after giving his speech at the convention. He asked if cheeseburgers (without buns) could be prepared for his large party. Needless to say, this not a typical request at a four-star restaurant. We scrambled and somehow managed to put pull it together. It was an interesting experience.

RR: You're under gunpoint and have to choose just one, what's more important and why -food or service?

Chef: Service! Having an unfavorable food experience can be more easily overcome than having a poor service experience. The guest has high expectations of being treated well and feeling comfortable. If these expectations are mismanaged, recovery can be very difficult. Of course the food needs to be great, it is just that arguably, there is more leeway in that respect.

RR: The dining public has lots of choices. How do you help ensure that folks will keep coming back to your restaurant?

Chef: Consistency is the key in my mind and it is the main goal in our kitchen. Delivering a quality food and service experience time and time again will instill in your customer a sense of confidence in your restaurant that translates into return visits.

RR: What do you see as the formula for delivering consistency as it relates to the food?

Chef: There are certainly three things that make for consistency. The first is a low turnover in the kitchen, and this is critical. You take so much time and energy to build the team, itís important to keep that team together. The second is having detailed recipes for the staff to adhere to. Thirdly, I see constant communication as being another important tool to help ensure that consistency actually happens in the kitchen.

RR: Your wife is also in the restaurant business; talk about the challenge of finding quality time together. (Tom is married to Ruth-Anne Adams, chef at Casablanca in Cambridge and former sous chef at Rialto).

Chef: What quality time! Iím just kidding, but it certainly is a major challenge. To some degree itís advantageous that we are both in the business, as we tend to have very similar schedules. The long hours are tough, but we pretty much always have the same days off together so that helps.

RR: How has having a son changed the way you look at the restaurant business?

Chef: It sure changes life overall. It can be difficult, but itís getting easier now that Finn is four-months old and things are more settled into a pattern. The staffs at blu and Rialto have always been very supportive and that really has been helpful. Many have families of their own and they appreciate the joy and stress of having a newborn in the home.

RR: How has the restaurant business changed in the last five years and where do you think we are headed from here?

Chef: When I graduated from CIA in 1999, the restaurant business was absolutely booming. 2000 was also a great year, but then the recession and the events of 9/11 made the marketplace significantly more challenging. I think what weíve learned from the down process, which has since picked up, is that there is a need for more flexibility in the business. At the end of the day, it is about offering guests a great experience and it is up to us to do whatever it takes to make this happen.

Blu blu at the Sports Club / LA
4 Avery Street
Boston, MA 02111
617-375-8550
http://www.blurestaurant.com


Sample Menu Selections

Appetizers

Roasted Baby Beet Salad
haricots verts, walnuts, garlic yogurt and blood oranges

Seared Bay Scallops
salsify, brussels sprouts and apple-hazelnut brown butter

"Out of the blu"
tuna sashimi, marinated fluke, scallop ceviche, and salmon tartar 17.

Leek Tart
watercress, pears and grainy mustard vinaigrette

Entrees

Shallow Poached Sole
oyster and leeks in a fennel-champagne broth

Ravioli Stuffed with Hearty Greens
cranberry beans, spicy pepper puree and ricotta salata

Roasted Monkfish
braised red cabbage, roasted Jerusalem artichokes and a warm bacon vinaigrette

Seared Duck Breast
red wine braised leg, watercress, parsnip puree and poached quince

Honey-Glazed Pork Loin
confit pork shank, caramelized endive and lentils

Roasted Venison Leg
baby beets, swiss chard, currants and chestnut puree




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