Food writer and clinical psychologist Scott Haas's fly-on-the-wall account of Central Square hotspot Craigie on Main, Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant, drops February 5. If you've ever worked in a restaurant — on the line, the floor, or the hostess stand — the stress and addictive urgency Haas portrays is sure to feed that terrible adrenaline streak in you. If not, you'll still likely eat up the most up-close portrait of chef Tony Maws to ever hit paper. We sat down with Haas for lunch before he jetted off to a vacation in Japan.
You developed a close relationship with Maws during your 18 months at the restaurant. Did you ever feel yourself slipping into sugarcoating his portrayal? I'm only good at two things. One is observation; the other is documenting. I spent a lot of time with Tony and his crew, and one of the reasons why I wanted to do the book with him was that he agreed that he would not ask to preview what I had written. Tony never censored anything, which is why I never felt the need to sugarcoat. Whatever people take away from the book, I hope that they recognize that this is one of the hardest-working chefs I've ever met. He's deeply ambitious, and he's restless, in the best sense.
There's an undercurrent of anger in the book as you try to understand Maws's temper. How do you foresee Craigie fans reacting to this staggeringly honest portrait? It would be very unfair to Tony to not identify the timespan of the book as a very specific time in his life. He was in transition. He had just won the James Beard award; I'm fairly certain he was toying with the idea of a second restaurant. Secondly, it would also be unfair to characterize him as that way all of the time. Ninety percent of the time, he was totally cool and the teams were great. He's really down to earth, he's bright, and he's very organized. It's just very frustrating for him when he knocks himself out — he lives in that restaurant, truly — and people don't share his vision. I think that regulars who go there know that he's intense. I don't think they'll walk away from the book saying, "Man, this guy's an angry psycho."
Is there anything you learned from Maws that you didn't anticipate at the beginning? I didn't really realize quite how personal cooking can be. His involvement in that restaurant is so profound. His dad helped design it, his mom does a lot of the website stuff, his wife is back working there now, and his kid is in there all the time. His food is very personal, and it's not part of a canon.
HEAR HEAR HAAS DISCUSS HIS BOOK :: 7 PM :: FEBRUARY 4 :: HARVARD BOOK STORE
: Food Features
, Tony Maws, Books, Central Square, More