Mary Dumont is cultivating something special in Boston’s Government Center. I’d ask you to excuse the pun, but it isn’t mine to excuse.
“It’s great to be able to dictate the philosophy of a restaurant,” said Dumont, the chef and owner of Cultivar. “But my personal philosophy has always been team-oriented. It’s really important. I look at individual people and ask, ‘Where do you want to be? I knew where I wanted to be; that’s why I’m here. But where do you want to be?’ And I hate to use a pun, but it’s important to help cultivate other people. I take that very seriously.”
Dumont, who was Eater Boston’s chef of the year for 2017, earning both the editor’s choice and readers’ choice awards in that category, has had a busy — and at times, quite visible — career so far; she has made appearances on The Today Show and Iron Chef America, and Food & Wine called her a best new chef back in 2006. She’s cooked all across the country, eventually landing in Cambridge as executive chef at Harvest for nearly a decade, but Cultivar is her first go as proprietor.
Cultivar is a many-pronged pun for Dumont: Along with helping to grow the careers of her employees, Dumont’s operation is also growing some of its own produce in a hydroponic garden adjacent its dining room.
“It’s always been important to me to be able to grow a lot of my own food, to have a garden,” said Dumont. “But to choose a restaurant that’s right downtown, right off of one of the busiest intersections of all of Boston: You can’t get more urban than that. [The on-site garden is] satisfying that desire of mine to not be in the city while being in the city.”
About that. If she had it her way, Dumont would spend her days not among the iron and concrete of the city, but rather atop a tractor with a pack of dogs at her side. She and her wife Emily French-Dumont, Cultivar’s director of operations, chose a home outside the city in Groton to help satisfy that urge. Groton is a right-to-farm community, and though she isn’t fond of the commute, Dumont feels fortunate that she and her wife have ample farmable land.
They haven’t used any of their own produce at Cultivar just yet — Dumont said that she and her wife will grow tomatoes, peppers, and other nightshades, as well as various alliums — but that should change in 2018.
“This year, we’ll have a decent harvest.”
The on-site garden has inspired conversations with many Cultivar diners, but Dumont recalls one conversation she had with an older British couple with extreme fondness.
“They started talking about how they go to Disney World a lot, which I thought was really odd for a couple in their 70s,” Dumont said, chuckling. “A lot of different scenarios were running through my head. And then the husband said, ‘I’m an actor.’ And I begin listening to his voice, and suddenly he tells me he’s [Star Wars character] C-3PO. They were on their way to Comic Con.”
The couple then explained to Dumont that they have extensive gardens at their home in Britain, and that they’d recently experienced an extended drought.
“They were fascinated by our garden, and they thought maybe they could get something like that so they could continue to grow.”
Cultivating food; cultivating relationships with employees; cultivating friendships with C-3PO.
Dumont and French-Dumont have also cultivated a beautiful space for their restaurant: rich blues and sea foam greens and mid-century notes mixing with the lightly finished cuts of beechwood that serve as both dining tops and the bar top, not to mention white beech leaf stencils dancing across the space.
“Emily and I wanted to include something that reminds us of our mothers, of our families,” said Dumont. “The beech is the queen of the forest. We wanted to tell a story about our families through design.”
The most striking design note is Cultivar’s iron chandelier, which was made in Groton. Dumont said that Emily interprets it as a swarm of bees. But Dumont looks at the chandelier as hope emerging from chaos.
“It was finished two days after the election, and I needed something to be hopeful about,” she said.
In what can only be described as a chaotic year, Dumont has given Bostonians something to be hopeful about downtown.
This is part of a series of features highlighting the 2017 Eater Awards winners. Read the rest here: