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Strip-T's Tim Maslow and The Power of Pessimism

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[Photos: Tim Maslow and Jared Forman/Sophia Tsakmaklis]

Surely you've heard the tale of Strip-T's: Tim Maslow trades a gig as chef de cuisine at Momofuku Ssam Bar in NYC to cook at his dad's diner in Watertown. But there's more to the story. Eater spoke with Maslow about whether the attention has been worth it and what it feels like to be out from under the watchful eyes of Momofuku emperor David Chang. Did he get what he wanted by trading Manhattan for Watertown? Read on.

It seems like one of the reasons you left NYC was to do something more low-profile. Did that happen? Yes I did, but it only happened for about six months. But I was so depressed because we would do like eight covers a night and all of the sudden it just blew up. Like eight press items in eight weeks, something like that, and it's just getting bombed all the time now. I thought it was going to be low profile, but I guess you need the profile to be busy.

Were you surprised when the press starting calling? Very. I don't think I'm that talented. I was run of the mill in New York. That's how I always felt. I always felt like I was extremely replaceable.

Is that one of the reasons for the change? No, I've always loved Boston. I didn't grow up here, so I don't know why everyone's calling me the hometown hero or anything like that: I grew up in Pennsylvania. I wanted to get out of New York. It was a not very fun life. It was hard to get ahead, monetarily, lifestyle-wise, everything was labored living there.

How's a day in the life now different from when you were at Ssam? Honestly, not much. Except I don't have anyone standing over my shoulder, except for the Boston restaurant industry: I feel like they're looking over my shoulder. But I don't have David [Chang] looking over my shoulder or other people in the Momofuku company, so I guess at the end of the day I have to trust my own instincts rather than trust everybody else's.

Do you feel like you've gotten the lifestyle change you were looking for? No, it didn't happen. If you want to be the boss, all this anxiety and frustration, everything comes with it.

We've heard there was some tension between you and your dad at first. Where do things stand now? Some is putting it lightly. I must have quit three times. I would get home and my fiancee would say what are you doing home? And I'd say I quit again. And then we wouldn't talk for a couple days and then I would go back, come crawling back. I kind of felt like if I didn't go back I'd be leaving him high and dry because I'd turned the restaurant upside down in three weeks. I'd changed every single possible standarized way he did things for 20 years and then walked out on him. But now he sees the changes coming to fruition and he just kind of backs everything. He's supporting everything I feel like I need to be doing. The entire team, the two front of the house managers, my coworker Jared in the kitchen, he's helping support everything that these young, talented people have to offer, and he's blown away by all the new ideas and thoughts that these people have.

Is there anythign that hasn't changed? Lunchtime for the most part. Evarado, the line cook for 14 years here hasn't changed, and he has amazingly rolled with everything we've thrown at him.

So what's your exact title, are you executive chef? I don't care, that's stupid.

In The Improper interview you said you hate your food. TM: Yeah, that's true.

What do you hate about it? It was taken a little out of context, it was kind of a glitzy thing to put first: maybe they haven't had a chef in Boston say that before. I don't remember why I said it honestly, but on a daily basis I hate on my food. I criticize it to no end. I hate everything because I'm not happy with it. I think it can always be better. And I think that's just a mentality I garnered while I was in New York.

Is there anything you've made that you felt could not be improved? No, that just sounds like complacency to me. It's not a fun life being this type of person, but working for David and some of these other upper-up's in Momofuku turned me into this person. Now I just have this pessimistic eye for everything, and it carries over into my personal life, but I feel like it's good in the restaurant because I can always find fault in something and try to make it better. It's quite exhausting but I'm really glad I have these new people around me to help me with that. Jared Forman just finished at Gramercy Tavern and now he's working with me. Jonathan and Jee-Eun from Craigie on Main are in the front of the house, and all of us have like minds: everything can be improved every day. Nobody's happy with the status quo.

Do you want to get beyond that? No, I don't want to get beyond it. I feel like that's what gives me an edge.

· All Strip-T's coverage on Eater [-EB-]

Strip-T's Restaurant

93 School Street, , MA 02472 (617) 923-4330 Visit Website

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