HANGOUT: By the late '60s, Boston rebels sought out serious home cooking in bars and luncheonettes serving up great comfort food.
Kamman, however, seemed poised to dominate the local restaurant scene. Although Maison Robert grew and thrived as a temple of classic French cuisine, Kamman had a school for culinary professionals, and the school became a restaurant, the Modern Gourmet. Still, nouvelle cuisine proved too rarified for commercial success, and Kamman departed for a series of provincial locations: northern New Hampshire, Savoie at the foot of the French Alps, and eventually to the Napa Valley. Of today’s leading Boston chefs, only Laura Brennan of Caffè Umbra follows a clear line back to Kamman. The difficult butter sauces of nouvelle cuisine were dropped for a kind of streamlined cuisine that de-emphasized sauces altogether.

The real fruit of studying French cookery in either camp was that it led to a new American cuisine based on local foods, greenmarkets, niche fishing and farming, and artisanal dairy products. Nationally, the local-food movement is often traced to Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower in the San Francisco Bay Area. But the best of the Boston nouvelle American scene eventually came from those who could reconcile the teachings of Julia Child with those of Madeleine Kamman. In terms of giving young chefs an opportunity, the largest tree of chefs came out of Ben and Jane Thompson’s restaurants, especially Harvest in Cambridge. The original Harvest had a Mediterranean menu served in an atmosphere of modern design. But the kitchen was given an unprecedented degree of freedom and budget, and the restaurant became a center for exchanging global foods and encouraging domestic producers. (Since Chris Schlesinger of East Coast Grill is also a Harvest alumnus, the barbecue revival could be traced back there as well.)

A very important part in the evolution of fine food and taste in Boston must be assigned to Sheryl Julian, the first food editor of the Phoenix (and a current food writer for the Boston Globe). Julian was also the first Boston food editor who was trained as a chef, not as a home economist. Julian used her Phoenix position as a bully pulpit to assemble the Women’s Culinary Guild, now the Culinary Guild, and to project the brilliance of high cuisine into ordinary homes. She also negotiated the Child-Kamman gap with wit and authority. (I speak as a hard-core Kamman-ite who came rather late to appreciate Child’s generosity of spirit.)

Meanwhile, the late ’70s marked the gradual decline of Mandarin-Sichuan food, as it diffused to other parts of the United States and was replaced locally by Thai cuisine and an increased willingness to market the authentic Cantonese cuisine that had always been available to very determined and knowing customers in Chinatown. The end of the Vietnam War brought a delayed wave of Vietnamese and Southern Chinese (via Vietnam and Malaysia) restaurants and groceries.

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