When Robert Grant talks about food, it’s hard not to hang on his every word, especially when he lists his guilty pleasures: hot, buttery lobster rolls with fried clams on top, Napoli-style pizza, fresh pasta. Simple dishes elevated into something ethereal — an easy analogy to his mission at both the Blue Room and the new Belly Wine Bar in Kendall Square.
At 27, this quiet wunderkind from Denver has found himself in charge of two conjoined restaurants, different in many ways but united by a single, well-oiled kitchen.
When Grant first found himself in Boston, running the tiny underground kitchen at Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop, he wound up with two days off a week. Not one to sit on his hands, he starting brewing beer and crafting up his own salumi, a passion that created the sturdy foundation for Belly’s charcuterie program. These days, free time isn’t so plentiful.
“It’s been years since I’ve had a day where I had no idea what to do with myself,” he says. “It’s a great feeling. I would always look at Barbara [Lynch] — always running around town, always something to do, somewhere to be, kitchens to be in — and I used to wonder if I would ever be so busy that I would just wake up, run around, and then go back to bed.”
After a less-than-gourmet childhood, Grant sought out and began working for a certified master chef at 16. After high school, he attended Johnson & Wales, an experience that left him unimpressed. Working in a kitchen, on the other hand, marked the first time in his life that he “had any social interaction that felt normal, like I belonged there.” He saved his externship for his last semester, swung for the fences, and wound up in Thomas Keller’s Las Vegas branch of Bouchon. Three months as an extern turned into three years on the line after he was offered a signature blue apron, an honor he still seems blown away by.
“I don’t really think that I fit in — and that’s not to say that I think I’m an outsider or anything; I just don’t think I’m good enough yet to be called a Boston chef,” he says while working the dough for the week’s duck en croute, switching directions after every few strokes of the rolling pin. “I think I have a way to go. The Blue Room is not a destination restaurant yet. I want it to be. I want to make it that.”
While Belly has already begun to generate national buzz, thanks to a bit of opening coverage from publications like Food & Wine, helping a 21-year-old restaurant like the Blue Room to its feet is the kind of challenge many chefs would shy away from. It’s not a sexy endeavor, but Grant doesn’t seem bothered. He’s patient.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” he says. “The best thing I can do is come into work every day with the best attitude and try to cook the best food possible.”
Belly » 1 Kendall Sq, Cambridge :: 617.494.0968 or bellywinebar.com
The Blue Room » 1 Kendall Sq, Cambridge :: 617.494.9034 or theblueroom.net