Hot and spicy

Barbara Lynch. Photograph by Michael Prince.
Determination and a passion for cooking took Barbara Lynch, owner of the influential Barbara Lynch Gruppo, beyond South Boston. But she’s still a Southie at heart.

When chef/restaurateur Barbara Lynch met fellow New Englander Julia Child at a garden party at the latter’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, home, the two talked S & M — and we don’t mean shallots and mushrooms.

“Maybe it was safer to discuss sex with her than food,” Lynch says, reading from her salty new memoir, “Out of Line: A Life of Playing With Fire” (Atria Books, $26, 292 pages) at the third Literary Luncheon at The Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges. So the awestruck Lynch, by then the owner of the smash Boston eatery No. 9 Park, listened as Child held forth about a sadomasochistic club in Quincy — Lynch pronounces it the proper New England way, “Quinzy” — that had been in the news. 

She remembers thinking:  “This is not happening. I can’t really be talking to Julia Child about d—–.”

The two chatted for hours, with Lynch too spellbound to relinquish her place or her hostess for the buffet line. When pastry chef Stephanie Hersh, Child’s assistant and caretaker, served a beautiful chocolate cake, Lynch offered to share a slice.

“Oh, dearie, I never share cake,” Lynch recalls Child saying, imitating “The French Chef’s” distinctively breathy, high-pitched voice.

“So I got up with her for a slice of cake,” Lynch writes. “We each had two. I felt that I’d been blessed.”

If ever there were proof that the blessings meant for you in this world will be there no matter what, Lynch is that proof. One of six children of a widowed mother — her father died a month before she was born — Lynch grew up tough, defiant and dyslexic with attention deficit disorder in Southie, the Boston neighborhood then ruled by mobster Whitey Bulger. But she was also an autodidact — she never finished Madison Park High School in Roxbury, let alone attend cooking school — with a passion for cooking and a determination to transcend the Projects.

“I wanted to be something,” she tells WAG as she signs copies of her book after a lunch of roasted hake with a stew of spring onions, carrots, peas and saffron. “I wanted to be good at something and move my mother out of the Projects.”

In truth, her mother never left. And neither has Lynch. Though she is the owner of the multimillion-dollar Barbara Lynch Gruppo, which contains seven restaurants; has won multiple James Beard awards, an Amelia Earhart award and the Relais & Châteaux designation of Grand Chef; and been named one of Time magazine’s Most Influential People for 2017, she remains that girl from Southie. Clad in black pants, top and peplum jacket and gold booties, she peppers her reading and conversation with f-bombs. 

“She certainly is unvarnished and unfettered,” we tell our grandmotherly luncheon companion. 

“Oh, I don’t think so,” she responds. “If she were, she would never have been able to attract investors and have done all she has.”

Yet as Lynch talks to the Literary Luncheon patrons, she reveals that she is separated from her husband — father of her beloved daughter, Marchesa, to whom her book is dedicated — in part because she doesn’t want to divorce and pay him. If that isn’t unfettered, we don’t know what is.

As is often the case, though, that tell-it-like-it-is style masks a sensitive nature — and a woman in a man’s world protective of herself and her daughter.

“I’m strong on the outside, insecure on the inside,” Lynch tells WAG. Still, that didn’t stop her from learning all she could under chef Mario Bonello at Boston’s St. Botolph Club (“I saw food I had never seen before”); working on a Martha’s Vineyard boat and at the Harvest restaurant in Cambridge’s Harvard Square; studying in Italy; and cultivating former Stride Rite chairman Arnold Hiatt and businessman/philanthropist Jack Connors as investors. (“I was committed to paying them back and I paid them back in three years,” she says.)

A “f——- nothing or all” person, whether it comes to boxing or Ashtanga yoga, Lynch cares less about the food she eats. (She’d be happy with the comforts of peanut butter and jelly, tuna fish or oatmeal.)

What she loves is cooking and extending the hospitality of a well-prepared meal on china and fine linens to her patrons.

“This is your life,” she tells the Literary Luncheon crowd. “You’re going to work 110 hours a week. But you’re going to love it.”

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