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Behind the Scenes at the Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef Gala Dinner at Menton

Daniel Boulud (far left), Aaron Chambers (second from left), Kristen Kish (center)
Daniel Boulud (far left), Aaron Chambers (second from left), Kristen Kish (center)

[Photos: Rachel Leah Blumenthal]

When Barbara Lynch plans a fundraiser, she calls in the big guns. This weekend, several of her Relais & Chateaux pals and other notable chefs from around the country descended on Fort Point for a two-day affair, starting with a $1000-a-head Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef dinner at Menton on Thursday night and wrapping up with Toques & Tonic, a huge tasting event at the Children's Museum down the street. Eater Boston was on the scene in the Menton kitchen on Thursday night to catch up with the participating chefs and learn more about the goals of the Barbara Lynch Foundation. Stay tuned later this week for interviews with the chefs about their thoughts on the Boston dining scene, including Daniel Boulud on his upcoming Boston location of Bar Boulud. Today, here are behind-the-scenes photos of the Grand Chef dinner, Lynch's thoughts on the importance of youth entrepreneurship (a current focus of the foundation), and more.

Serving up the first course was the dalmatian-print-apron-clad Patrick O'Connell of The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia (which has the distinction of being the first "Washington" in the United States). O'Connell is also president of the North American sector of Relais & Chateaux, "an association of the world's finest hoteliers, chefs and restaurateurs." O'Connell described his caviar dish, called "A Tin of Sin," as "a little surprise, a little fantasy" with a rillette of peekytoe crab hiding underneath the caviar and a layer of cucumber gel. "What I finally discovered is that while it's a great extravagance to have a whole tin of caviar, this has certain advantages over just a whole tin," he said. "The palate stays intrigued; it doesn't bore. It spreads beautifully."

Explaining his participation in the event, O'Connell said, "We really enjoy opportunities where we can participate together and further the [Relais & Chateaux] brand and help a cause at the same time. Barbara is one of our newer Grand Chefs — and the only female Grand Chef in North America, so it's quite a wonderful distinction. Whenever she calls, the boys respond. As you see, it's a great opportunity for us to get together with our colleagues and friends. Generally, we have so little time that we can't even visit each other, so this is a forced reason to get out of the house and connect, catch up, and have fun."

Daniel Boulud, who is currently making Boston headlines thanks to his upcoming restaurant in the Asana space at the Mandarin Oriental, was in charge of the second course, a Scottish langoustine with a winter salad. He participated in the event last year as well. On why he came back for a second round, he said, "It's Barbara. It's because I think it's a great cause for her and for the city, and I think it's important." They've known each other for nearly three decades, dating back to when Boulud was executive chef at Le Cirque in New York City in the late 1980s, and it's clear they adore each other.

"She has been so dedicated to her charity," Boulud continued. "And it's always exciting to be here at Menton. I think Menton is really one of the finest restaurants in the country, and I'm very impressed by Barbara's dedication and diversity in what she does. She does it well in every different layer. For different purposes of life, you go to Barbara. I mean, I have restaurants for different purposes as well, but when I come to Boston, there is a certain vibe at Barbara's place, which is what you need. That's very Barbara."

The pasta course, a burrata tortelloni with black truffles, was handled by Michael Tusk of Quince in San Francisco, just off a plane from Italy and about to fly right back out to California. He was also part of last year's line-up after meeting Lynch at other charity events. "She asked me if I'd come, and I just knew what a great cause it was, so I decided I couldn't say no," he said. "Anything that chefs can do to raise awareness, whether it's organizations like the Barbara Lynch Foundation or Alex's Lemonade — there are so many good events that chefs participate in. I'm proud to be part of any of them. I try not to single one of them out, but this is definitely a special one."

The fourth course was Lynch's — a roasted squab with endives, red currant, and foie. Complimented on the line-up for the event, Lynch responded, "It's one of my favorites! It's so nice to have a mature group." On figuring out who would take which course, Lynch described a back-and-forth that she had with Boulud while planning the event. "'Well, I think I'll do the langoustines, ehhh?'" Lynch drawled in an over-the-top French accent. "He's, like, speaking in French, and I'm like, oh my God, you must be French, because you sound so fucking good. You sound so great."

Gary Danko, of his eponymous restaurant in San Francisco, rounded out the line-up with juniper-crusted bison loin. He and Lynch have known each other for "quite a few years" and have bonded over a shared love of Provincetown, where he currently owns two houses. All of the chefs in the group know each other because they do a lot of events together, he explained. "Chefs have kind of moved from being in their kitchen every moment to being on an airplane to doing charities in different cities and raising money, millions of dollars for charities, so we know each other very well. The chef profession has changed over the years. Although it's still competitive, it's still very friendly and fun-loving and stuff. Chefs have a lot of fun. We're kind of crazy people. Weird hours, long hours, on our feet."

Menton chef Bethany Hiltebeitel wrapped up the evening with a sunflower seed frangipane with Asian pear, lemon verbena, and meyer lemon.

One of the current main focuses of the Barbara Lynch Foundation is a worldwide program called Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (or NFTE, pronounced "nifty"). "I've had the pleasure of being able to go to East Boston high and work with the seniors," recounted Lynch. "They're getting ready to present their business plans. I had this wonderful young woman who was doing these Brazilian cakes, and her world was just going to stay in East Boston. Competition was in Somerville and Cambridge, and there was nothing really in East Boston. In 45 minutes, I changed her mind to go big. Value yourself! They were working off something on the computer where you punch the numbers in, and I'm like, 'Wait a minute. So you're going to go to the grocery store, then you're going to come home, and then you're going to cook. You're not going to fucking do it; you just can't. And you're not going to pay yourself. I'm sorry — where's your value? Where are you? It took a while, but she wrote all the information down, and then two weeks later I got the sweetest email from her. It just opened her eyes in terms of...don't put it in the same cups everybody else does. You are better than that."

"It's just sort of showing kids dignity," she continued. "This is their amazing opportunity right now with internet and so forth, and they can learn so much. But it has to come from them. I'm like, 'I don't care what your passion is. I don't care if you want to chop Barbie dolls' legs off and stick 'em in a wall. If that's your passion, give it to me, because there's probably a business out there for that.' You never know. There could be kids who are missing some limbs on their dolls, and they can fulfill that doll-limb-missing. But I'm saying that you can go to any goddamn extreme and find it. I think that's what the bottom line is. If anything sounds crazy, it's probably not crazy. You just do it, and you'll be like, 'Oh my god, this is just crazy because it works.' So that's really the fun part."

Lynch still considers the foundation small, but she expects this event and the foundation as a whole to grow a lot in the coming years. "It's endless opportunities, and I think it's great for the city of Boston to have all these guys visiting. All my guys. I'm grateful to give back, and I'm also grateful that these guys make it easy for me to give back. They all work hard, and they give to so many things. To get out of your busy schedule and to do something is amazing. I'm blessed."
· All coverage of Barbara Lynch on Eater [~EBOS~]


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