After several weeks of previews and over a year and a half of anticipation, 50Kitchen will celebrate its grand opening on Sunday, February 23. Chef and owner Anthony Caldwell’s restaurant serves a fusion between Southern soul food and Asian cuisines, and it’s located in Dorchester’s Fields Corner neighborhood (1450 Dorchester Ave., Boston). 50Kitchen has been operating with a limited menu and limited hours since January 29, but this weekend will mark its foray into serving its full menu and operating on a regular schedule.
It’s one of several exciting restaurant openings in Dorchester this year, with Comfort Kitchen, Pearl Oyster Bar, and a food hall still on deck.
Caldwell got the opportunity to open 50Kitchen when he won a pitch event sponsored by the Fields Corner Collaborative (a community organization based in Dorchester) and Travis Lee (the owner of the space that houses 50Kitchen).
50Kitchen’s menu will feature dishes such as banh mi made with smoked brisket, jambalaya egg rolls, and kimchi made with collard greens.
“I looked around the neighborhood and knew I had to make food that spoke to everyone,” Caldwell told Eater. “I needed to find something that speaks to the black community and to the Vietnamese community.” (Dorchester in general — but especially the Fields Corner area — is home to a large Vietnamese community and, as such, some of the best Vietnamese food in the city.)
Caldwell, who is the father of four daughters and who grew up in Dorchester, has been cooking in kitchens in and around Boston for more than a decade, including at MIT, Harvard University, the John Hancock building, and Legal Sea Foods. He also operated 50Kitchen as a catering business before expanding to include the restaurant. His culinary education came from a nontraditional path: He got it while incarcerated.
“I was never interested in the culinary arts,” Caldwell told Eater. “90 percent of my younger adulthood, all I did was sell drugs. That was my 9 to 5; that’s what I did. Gangs, drugs, prison. Gangs, drugs, prison.”
That lifestyle eventually caught up with Caldwell, and he wound up spending a total of four years and seven months incarcerated.
“It took me going to prison to learn a number of valuable lessons, though,” Caldwell said. “And my life was spared — my life was spared, and I was introduced to culinary arts.”
Caldwell told Eater he’s struggled with alcohol abuse in the past, and he began to drink heavily upon his release from prison.
“I hadn’t drunk alcohol in five years,” he said. “Then I took that first drink in 2006, and addiction set in. I drank and drank and drank.”
Caldwell said that his alcohol addiction had beaten the life out of him, and he began having suicidal thoughts. But everything changed one day in 2011 when he was praying at Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan, which he now regularly attends with his wife Evette.
“I heard the voice of God tell me that if I don’t stop drinking, my career is going to go down hill, and I’m going to die,” Caldwell told Eater. “I said a prayer for God to deliver me from alcohol, and I haven’t had a drink since.”
That was September 25, 2011.
Caldwell also says that God told him that if he stopped drinking, he’d give him his own restaurant by the time he was 50. Caldwell is 51 now, but what’s in a year?
50Kitchen makes its grand debut this Sunday and will subsequently serve lunch and dinner daily, with brunch on Sundays.
• 50Kitchen Coverage on Eater [EBOS]
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.