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Josh Lewin on Bread and Salt at Wink & Nod

Photos: Wink & Nod/Katie Chudy; Josh Lewin/Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Starting September 1, the food program at Wink & Nod will completely change. The Whisk team will move on to work on opening their own restaurant, and the Bread and Salt Hospitality team will move in for at least the next six months with a brand new menu. Bread and Salt's Josh Lewin chatted with Eater about the transition between the two concepts and what diners can expect in the coming months.

How did this collaboration come about?
I was approached by the management at Wink & Nod. In hindsight, I realize that I was recommended through Kevin Mabry, which is very nice — he's right upstairs at Merrill & Co., and I'd collaborated with him last year a little bit for the Revelry for Charity and some other things. Discussions on that little corner of Appleton Street started about what was next, and my name came up, which I'm very grateful for, so it makes me feel good about the community on that corner already. It was a very word-of-mouth type of thing.

The previous naming convention maintained the separate entities — Whisk at Wink & Nod. Will you be doing the same thing — Bread and Salt at Wink & Nod?
Exactly, and when Bread and Salt eventually moves on, it sounds like it'll be the next thing. They're really trying to develop this incubator philosophy where Wink & Nod is the cornerstone, and they're both benefiting and giving this benefit to the young restaurants or hospitality groups or whatever they're going to be. So we're the first experiment; this changeover is the first time it's going to happen, but hopefully what we're doing is laying the groundwork for a solid foundation that this can continue to happen, and it will be a really positive thing for the city.

Wink & Nod and Bread and Salt have signed a six-month contract. Me, I'm hoping to do this for at least a year, so we're going to go month by month. We'll do our roll-out; we'll really settle into our operations around the two-and-a-half, three-month mark, we'll really operate for a few months there. We're very optimistic that we'll go ahead and double that time if all is going well.

What can you say about the menu so far?
It'll be focused on shareable plates. We like to give a lot of options, so people who are familiar with my work, either from pop-up dinners or from the past few years at Beacon Hill Bistro, will know what to expect from the menu. We've been building that program for years, and we're going to keep building on what we've already been doing, so you'll see friendly plates, and you'll see a lot of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influence. A little bit of the French stuff will fall off. The techniques will remain the same — I'm French-trained, Michelin star-trained — and we firmly believe that technique is very important to cooking, so we use those techniques that we've learned throughout our careers, coming up as line cooks, sous chefs, whatever, and that's been the French tradition. What we've become pretty good at is translating our interest through food and then building it back up in that tasting menu format, fine dining format, so you'll see more of that.

We're going to explore Southeast Asia and India a little more than we were able to at Beacon Hill Bistro, because while a French restaurant is pretty comfortable with the flavors of North Africa and even the Middle East a little bit, some of our interests were just a little too esoteric for that. Being in the speakeasy format, we have that little bit of extra creativity. We'll be able to a standard app, entree, dessert format no problem, or for milling about the bar with some bites that you can pass around, or you can come out and have a special occasion with a tasting menu, so we're going to come right out of the gate with all those possibilities in place and all drawing from the same center. You'll get the same experience — you'll just pick your coursing and how long you're going to spend with us and how fine dining you want to make this.

Will you be doing your own riffs on anything that was already on the menu before, or are you starting completely from scratch?
You'll see a completely brand new menu. The Whisk guys are great friends of mine — I collaborated with them on the third installment of Kitchen Kibitz, a Jewish dining experience I co-created with Jeff Gabel last year. Our Thanksgivikkuh event was in the Whisk kitchen, and those guys are a lot of fun, but we are coming from two very different angles, so you'll see most of that stuff drop off.

Have you spent much time at Wink & Nod yet, trying the drinks and whatnot?
Yeah, I have over the past couple months, and I'll be spending a lot more time there throughout late August, just kind of getting used to Appleton and Tremont, that corner — getting used to the people, getting used to the service staff at Wink & Nod and how the kitchen operates. I won't really be working in the kitchen but just kind of getting used to how the space breathes and operates, so that we're off to a good start once we change over. When people come out with us in September, I'll have my legs underneath me, and we'll be ready to go.

Do you have a favorite cocktail on the menu there?
I've just been trying them all and even just having the bartender kind of play around, becuase I know they change that menu kind of frequently, but I just want to see where they're coming from. That helps me think about the menu, too, because cocktails are so important there. Their menu will probably change shortly after our menu comes in, because everything will be different, but it's good to just to see where their head is at and how we can work together better.

Is this your first time working in the South End?

How do you think the clientele will be different compared to other places you've worked?
Actually, I know for a fact that we have a lot of crossover between Beacon Hill Bistro (and Beacon Hill in general) and people that I know from the South End, who I know are at Merrill & Co., Wink & Nod, The Butcher Shop, all those places. What we didn't have in Beacon Hill was this circuit or this network that they do in the South End — people will kind of make the rounds. They would kind of settle in with us in Beacon Hill. I think they do more of a round robin over there in the South End, which is cool. And I already know a lot of those faces.

We actually just received an award from Opus Affair, which is an arts organization that's really South End-based, and they do a lot of events there. They do their Big Party, the big fundraiser they do every year, and they give three awards. They're all about the intersection of arts and hospitality, and they're a big anchor in the South End, so I feel like we already have that support going in.

You've been traveling a lot lately. Are there specific things you've picked up that you're going to be incorporating?
Definitely. That was really the point when I moved on from Beacon Hill Bistro. I had a lot of options in front of me, including going to get a job right away. Things had really started to move in that direction — there were jobs, and a couple of them I almost took — but I decided I was going to take this summer and not do anything full-time. To justify that, I wanted to make sure I was really working on the next plan. The business plan was a big part of that, which was such a good decision. We have a really solid business plan which we wouldn't have if we had rolled right into it. It's actually allowed us to start this operation six months earlier than we planned because we were slowly working on this plan, and having that three months to just do it allowed us to really kickstart it.

And then working in restaurants — I did some service stages and some kitchen stages, mostly kitchen stuff, but I was also in dining rooms, seeing how service staff works. That interaction with the kitchen, where it's not just kitchen and front, is going to be really useful going into Wink & Nod because of how there are literally two different companies operating. Usually there are two departments, and they don't always talk so well, but now we've driven an even bigger wedge into that where we're literally two different corporations. Where that could be a bigger issue, I think that my experience throughout the summer really diving into how some of the best restaurants operate, front and back together, is going to be really valuable here. That will be a unique benefit to the Wink & Nod crowd as we build this program.

My two favorite stages this summer bookended my trip. One was the very beginning of my trip in San Francisco, and that was at Atelier Crenn — really, really beautiful fine dining and two Michelin stars. Dominique Crenn is actually the first woman to hold two Michelin stars in the country. The other that I just finished was in DC with James Beard award-winning chef Vikram Sunderam from Mumbai, who spent a decade in London working for the Taj group, and now he has his own independently operated Rasika, which he's built into a very large independent group. American and Indian food. I don't want to give away what I learned down there, but I learned some really interesting tricks.

What are you most excited about?
I'm excited to have this opportunity to operate with essentially full autonomy with our kitchen operations, but to not have to build the front of house at the same time. We're definitely moving towards a restaurant, and we've been able to build in this step that most people don't get, where we'll be able to operate our kitchen, build our staff, build our company, build our investor relationships, build everything, but someone else is going to take care of the one piece of it that I don't have that much expertise in, which is really valuable.

Since you have a set amount of time at Wink & Nod — six months, maybe a year — you must be thinking about the next step a lot already, the restaurant.
Yeah, definitely. That's always been a big part of our rhetoric. We believe in community development, and pop-up dining is really fun for that because you throw something and pick up a lot of press, and you can really get a community interested, but it's just for a day. When you talk about job creation and program development, that's really tough. We can build our business that way, but we've always known that we want to really get into restaurant operation because we want to do training programs and returning-to-the-work-force types of programs for veterans, prisoners, at-risk youth — that's really important to our program. You can't do that with pop-up dining because you need to create structure for somebody, so this will be one step closer to that for us. It will let us start working on those programs, because even though it is technically temporary, it's very much long-term, so we'll be able to start that program and hopefully roll it right into something new.

Anything else you want people to know?
Whole animal work is definitely going to be a part of it like it always was over there at Beacon Hill Bistro. We taught those lamb butchering classes, pork butchering classes, and people got to know us for that, so that's definitely still on the table. The farmer drives up in the pick-up and we get our animal, and that's how we serve meat. People who respect us for that, that's not going to go away. Also, everything by hand. We're just excited to build on what we've always offered in the past, but where we had a little bit of this dichotomy between what we did at the restaurant and what we did at the pop-up, we're going to be able to get a lot closer to that now because we're just going to be that much more open-minded in this speakeasy in the South End, where people want to experiment, and they're willing to try new things.
· All coverage of Bread and Salt Hospitality on Eater [~EBOS~]
· All coverage of Wink & Nod on Eater [~EBOS~]

Merrill & Co.

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Wink & Nod

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