The Boston food scene is losing an institution.
The owners of Hamersley's Bistro in the South End said Wednesday that they will be closing the restaurant's doors for good at the end of the October.
Hamersley's was opened by husband-wife team Gordon and Fiona Hamersley in 1987, and it's since become known and loved not just for its food, but for what many people describe as its casual elegance and for its emphasis on local ingredients long before farm-to-table became a trend.
WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with Gordon Hamersley about the restaurant's upcoming closure.
On why he and his wife are closing Hamersley’s:
“When you open a restaurant you get on a pretty serious train and you just keep going, and every once in a while you have to take stock and just kind of ask yourself the question, ‘Is this the right time or not?’ Spouses who work together very rarely, if ever, are on the same page on the same day, but Fiona and I seemed to be on the same page a couple months ago and made the decision and thought it was the right time. We’re at a point now where stopping what we’re doing in the restaurant and moving on to other things is really the thing to do.”
On what he plans to do next:
“I'd been trying to write another book for a long time [in 2003 he published Bistro Cooking at Home] and the combination of trying to wax poetic on paper and also cook at the same time is very difficult for me. I'm not good at doing two things at the same time. So that’s one thing, and then there are many other things that I’d like to do, too.”
On telling the restaurant's staff on Wednesday about the closure:
“It was a highly emotive meeting yesterday afternoon. I have to admit there's a bittersweet, sweet-and-sour, whatever culinary term you want to use, to all of this. I mean, Fiona and I have owned and run this place for 27 years and loved every second of it, so making this decision was very difficult. And telling our staff about it – which is the best staff in the city. Every chef would say that about their staff, but ours is very special and we've had people work for us for years and years.”
On what it’s like to have created a “special occasion” restaurant:
“It’s fabulous. I mean, Fiona and I just love watching people interact with themselves every night. And from my catbird seat standing in my kitchen I get to see people celebrate, I get to see people fight, I get to see business deals made. We get to see everything. And restaurants, I think, are one of the last vestiges of human interaction where you actually sit down and look at each other and say, ‘Okay, let’s talk.’ So we love that about our restaurant.”
On his original vision for Hamersley’s:
“We wanted to model our own restaurant after the wonderful and humble and simple bistros that we visited in France. And every time some new trend would come along or I would get some crazy idea, either my wife or somebody would say, ‘Just keep it simple.’ Julia Child, our good friend, used to say, 'Just keep it simple, Gordon.’ And simplicity is a very elusive thing sometimes. But I think we’ve been able to, over the years, refine that to the point where people really respond to it. The people who get it are very enthusiastic about it.”
On the state of the city's restaurant industry when Hamersley's debuted in 1987:
"The culinary scene in Boston when we opened was just beginning to emerge. Our good friends Jasper White and Lydia Shire and Jimmy Burke and all of those guys were beginning to open their own restaurants. Before that, it was really fancy food in fancy hotel rooms, so when we opened Hamersley’s it was very humble. It was cold in the winter, hot in the summer, elbow to elbow. But we just counted on the fact that people would respond well to the food and to the service and to the wine.”
On Hamersley’s famous roast chicken, the most ordered item on the menu:
“It’s a great restaurant dish. It takes some time to do it correctly, but it’s one of those dishes that just – the combination of those flavors [lemon, parsley, garlic, mustard, olive oil, herbs] transforms the simple taste of the chicken to another level, and that's what makes a good recipe. Jody Adams [the chef of Rialto and Trade who once worked at Hamersley’s] and I worked that recipe out together literally the first night of the opening of the restaurant and we knew we had something good.”
On his work mentoring young, aspiring cooks and chefs:
“We have this incredible army of kids who are getting out of vocational schools, the culinary parts of vocational schools, every year, and we're not seeing them knock on our doors and ask for jobs, so I needed to somehow create a situation where those kids could get into the restaurant scene. And I'm going to work very hard to try and make that happen in a better way going forward.”
- "Visit Hamersley’s and you would see him standing behind the line, wearing his Red Sox cap, eternally in the kitchen. But nothing lasts forever, in the restaurant business least of all. On Wednesday, Hamersley announced that his restaurant will close at the end of October."
This article was originally published on August 14, 2014.
This segment aired on August 14, 2014.