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Will Gilson on Opening Puritan & Company

Photo: Aaron Kagan

After much anticipation, Puritan & Company officially opened to the public in Inman Square one week ago Friday, on November 30. Eater stopped by to speak with chef-owner Will Gilson, and while the staff quietly and competently prepped for that night's dinner in the background, Gilson shared his tale of whiskey, acupuncture, and barely sleeping.

Overall, how was week one? It felt eerie in that it felt like things were going smooth. You have these anticipations of the wheels falling off the bus every single night, and even though I can attest to the fact that we weren't perfect every single day that we've been open, the silver lining to delays and having a staff that has been waiting and being patient with the opening date is that you have a lot of time to talk about your systems, talk about how you're going to do things. Two days before we opened, we did a mock service in here with just our staff, and we went down in flames that night. That's why we were so nervous for the opening. But we went into our first dinner soft-opening and it was smooth and cool and everyone felt great about it.

What changed in between those two nights? I think having really good cooks that just internalized how that made them feel. Being like "I wasn't prepared," or "I didn't know this." Getting in early the day of and saying "I want to have this ready, I want to have this where it needs to be."

So you wake up on the day of the official opening. How are you feeling? I don't really remember the first day, to be perfectly honest. One of the tables that we had opening night was Christopher Myers with Joanne [Chang-Myers] and Jenny Johnson. Also Lydia Shire came day one, Ken [Oringer] was here, Jamie [Bissonnette] and Louis [DiBiccari] and Matt Jennings were here. I talked to Chris and he was like "How are you doing?" And I had the seven thousand-yard stare going on and I don't even know how to process it. I think I explained it like first day of school meets losing your virginity meets the first day of summer. It was all those things all at once.

What was the biggest surprise? The numbers. I'm happy that we can do them, but I didn't think we were going to be doing that many people. One of the other big surprises is that we forgot about vegetarians. Last night at like 2am I replied to three emails of people being like "I really want to come but it would appear that I'm stuck in the salad section of the menu." And I think it was just that there were so many things that we wanted to highlight, and I've always been adamant about working with local farms and local produce, but it being December now, it's tough to be able to do that. But that is something that you kind of internalize and go 'maybe I do need to reassess the menu.' You don't want to pull a David Chang and be like vegetarians are not welcome here.

What was the biggest setback? I think the biggest setback is the fact that we need to give people days off. By doing that we had people that had worked a station for five days and were doing a great job at that station, but then knowing that we had to switch them and cross-train them in other areas of the restaurant and then be able to give them time off... We went into the middle of the week having to call in friends to help us work stations, because we just didn't have enough people here to work. You think you can run a restaurant where you're like alright, I'm the chef, I'll just hop on a station. But you do that and you lose the sight line into the dining room and you lose the ability to catch problems before they become bigger problems.

When people like Jamie Bissonnette, Ken Oringer and Lydia Shire come in, do they give you feedback? Yeah, we've definitely been getting a lot more feedback from folks. Those were our soft-opening nights when we were just kind of getting our sea legs, so it's more supportive and congratulatory than it is critical. But I feel like over the past couple days I've had more people when I'm in saying hello to them they're saying hello to me, they say "do you want an email?" And you say yes, please tell me what you see that we're not doing right. And more so, I want to see what your email says so I can cross-reference it with my growing list of things that I'm looking through every single day, and then I want to see if there's stuff on there that's not on my list.

What's been popular? Definitely the lamb belly. The lamb belly has been incredibly popular. The bone marrow. We're getting these amazing grass fed marrow bones from Ron Savenor that are killer. All of Mike's breads: Mike Geldart our baker is doing a fantastic job. The duck fat brioche that we have on three of our dishes has been great. We bake potato Parker House rolls, and on a night that we do 120 people, we go through 240 rolls. And we're baking them throughout the night, probably four to five times throughout the evening so that the rolls are coming out hot and fresh. Right now we're going through 150 pounds of butter a week, and a lot of that is people just putting butter on bread. As far as entrees go, our duck dish is selling really, really, really well.

The hardest dish that we've tried to get people to get behind is the cobia. It's a really great fish, it's really flavorful, it's really sustainable. And I think it's just because people haven't heard of it before. Everybody that gets the dish likes the dish, it's trying to get them to eat a fish that isn't New England.

If you could get in your time machine and give yourself advice for week one, what would it be? Drink more water. [He laughs] Every day I feel kind of exhausted and I went and I had acupuncture a few days ago and my sort of spiritual advisor, if you will, kind of tried to set me right, and he's like you gotta drink more water. There's always a joke in wine making that it takes a lot of beer to make a lot of wine, and sometimes it takes a lot of whiskey to make a restaurant. And you run yourself down and try to build yourself back up again. You're getting four hours of sleep a night, you're doing celebratory drinking, you're surviving on nothing but coffee and leftover rolls. I lost twelve pounds in a week, which is good and bad, I guess.

Any plans for the future? Brunch will happen eventually; we've said let's get 60 days under our belt. We've got the space next door that we'll turn into something eventually.

Has it felt like a week? It feels like a month.

· All coverage of Puritan & Company on Eater [~EBOS~]
· All One Week In coverage on Eater [~EBOS~]

Puritan & Company

1164 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA