It was no surprise to readers that jm Curley was nominated for Eater Boston's Restaurant of the Year award, as the Downtown Crossing restaurant easily made it to the finals via the reader poll. What has come as a surprise to many is that opening chef Sam Monsour has announced he will leave his position at the end of the year. Stepping up will be current sous chef, Chris Bauers, formerly of Sel de la Terre, Eastern Standard, and Upstairs on the Square. After his dinner shift Wednesday evening into Thursday morning, Eater spoke with Monsour about how he came to this decision, the multitude of projects he will have on his plate in 2014 — yes, including opening his own restaurant, and his reflections on two years that he says have given him the opportunity to explore his dreams. Monsour will remain at jm Curley through Christmas, but those wanting to see him sooner can catch him this Sunday at 8 p.m. on Food Network's Guy's Grocery Games (with Guy Fieri). A preview of that episode can be found here.
How did you come to this decision?
We opened jm Curley in December of 2011, and a lot has happened in these two little years. Because of that, there's a lot of opportunity for me to go and do the things that I've wanted to do for the past ten years, really. Now I'm 30 and I'm realizing I need to start laying the foundation for the rest of my own personal career and life. For me, that means pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors. Whether I succeed or fail, I feel like I'm probably in the best position of my life to take that leap of faith.
What kind of entrepreneurial endeavors are you talking about?
I'm really excited about them. I'm launching an app right in the beginning of the new year with my wife Astrid. It's a lifestyle improvement app called True 28. We're trying to create a movement and immerse ourselves in it to try to get a big following of people. We want to help people integrate the things into their lives that we lost from our primal lifestyle. We want to bridge that gap, because it's helped [Astrid and me] so much. We're trying to offer someone who is interested a 28 day challenge to really push themselves to step back and not get sucked into all of the demands and the desires of modern day, and remember what makes being human so amazing. We're doing that through fitness, food, actions, behaviors, and reflection.
Are people who've become fans of your food at jm Curley not going to be able to have it on such a plan?
Of course I'm trying to put the grime time on paleo. It's been pretty successful. There's a specific food I love to cook, and that's still the food I love to eat. I don't want people who love to cook or love to eat to feel like they're missing out for a month on things they love to do, like maybe a Sunday brunch. I'll provide you with the ability to do things like a sweet potato hazelnut biscuit with sausage gravy. I've got a killer breakfast burger where the egg is actually the bun. There's a very simple, easy-to-follow way to make it.
You've got some plans other than the app, though?
I'm working on a burger cookbook with Richard Chudy that I'm really excited about. We're trying to come at it in a very non-traditional sense and make it useful, fun, and edgy. We want to address some political issues when it comes to the American food system and tie them into a burger. It's only going to be beef burgers. There's no turkey burger bullshit. There's no salmon burger. There's no veggie burger. Fuck that. This is a book about burgers and American culture, because those two things go hand in hand.
If we can inspire somebody to make a better choice, that can have a huge footprint. People in America eat 38 million burgers every day. So if one million of those burgers were made in a better fashion tomorrow because one million people gave a shit, that's going to make a huge impact, whether they bought an organic tomato, or a local bun, or humane raised beef. Maybe they bought an artisanal cheese from around the corner to put on their burgers instead of going to a fast-food chain that doesn't give a shit.
One other project that I'm working on is launching an apron company called Hunger Apron. I'm really excited about that. We're sourcing American-made products. Our denim will be raw denim woven with sustainable, recycled materials, like black plastic food trays. Every apron we sell will directly provide ten meals to Americans struggling with hunger. I want it to be a simple, very well put together, sturdy yet fashionable apron, but I also want it to have a reason. I know a lot of people who want a fancy apron for when they're cooking for a special occasion, and I want it to be something they can really be proud of, too.
We had talked some months back, off-record, about you setting up your own restaurant. Is that still on the table?
Absolutely. I absolutely am looking to open my own restaurant. I'm throwing my hat in the ring. It's something I've wanted to do my whole life. I've been in this business for 17 years now and I'm only 30. So if I'm going to give it a go, I should do it while I still have that youthful energy, right?
Where do plans for that stand?
I'm trying to work on my projects over the next year, and the restaurant will be at the end. It is the project that will take the longest amount of time. I'm about nine to 12 months out from that. My goal is to open my doors sometime in 2014. And I don't want to be fucking floating around driving myself crazy bored from now until then, right? So that's why I'm excited to get to work on some other projects in the meantime.
Will the restaurant be burger themed?
Drew, you know that I'm always going to have a fucking grimey burger on my menu. I love burgers. The first food tattoo I ever got was a cheeseburger. I'll definitely do a house burger like we do at Curley. It'll be a burger that I hope puts us on the map. I'm going to keep my food funky and seasonal and keep going down the road I've been going down — full-service restaurant with some killer American eats for very good prices in a casual atmosphere. I'm just going to try to progress it and keep moving forward with my capabilities as a chef and my knowledge of food.
jm Curley was an anticipated opening, but I think there was some surprise about just how good it was — and is — from the get-go. Did you know you had lightning in a bottle when you were opening?
No. Not at all. We hoped that the place we spilled our hearts, and our souls, and our blood, and our sweat, and our tears into was going to be a hit. I think everybody that opens a business wants it to be successful, right? But we couldn't have predicted that it was going to become what it did. We just put our heads down and worked. I think it's an amazing team — Suzie [Dagenais], the general manager, one of my best friends from college. Kevin Mabry, the bar manager, who is just fucking amazing. Patrick Maguire, our hospitality ambassador. The things that the owners implemented for our approach and our philosophy from day one really created the framework and they said run with it. It was a lot of right place, right time.
I remember when [owners] Andy [Cartin]and Babek [Bina] said, "Hey, we need you to buy 100 thousand dollars worth of equipment now." And I was like, "Cool! Hopefully I don't fuck this up!" Just the fact that those guys trusted me, more than anyone else, to do what they asked me to do, I'm going to be forever grateful for that shot at pursuing my dream. I definitely wouldn't be able to go on and try to open my own restaurant if it weren't for the opportunity that they gave me and the lessons they taught me.
How was it that you guys met?
My wife Astrid is amazing, and she knows a lot of people. She is a personal trainer and was training Andy. He was working on a project; I was interested in working on a project. So we met at Parish Café, and we hit it off. That was in March of 2011. We had lunch and said, "Alright, cool. Well, we're opening a restaurant together then."
You and rising head chef Chris Bauers have been working together for a year now. Has he given you any idea in terms of what he's looking to do going forward?
Chris Bauers is the fucking man, and he has got a wealth of knowledge. He's been an executive chef for years. He was a huge score for me to get as my sous chef. So was Mark O'Leary before him. I'm the type of guy where I try to hire a chef that's better than I am to make sure that my shit's on point. And that was definitely Chris Bauers. I have no doubt that he's going to follow through with what Curley is and what we've built it to be. He's been a part of that. I think this is going to go off flawlessly and seamlessly. His food is fucking killer. It's going to be a reflection of his personality instead of mine, and that's a great thing. Because, you know, people were going to get sick of me sooner or later anyway.
· All coverage of Sam Monsour on Eater [~EBOS~]
· All coverage of jm Curley on Eater [~EBOS~]