He once dreamed of moving to New York to take on the art world, but fate pointed Jeff Fournier in a different direction. Growing up in Amesbury, MA, he wound up on the West Coast, got a job cooking in a small restaurant and was bitten by the food bug. So he spent the next 15 years honing his skills in top spots on both coasts, from Rockenwagner in L.A. to Lydia Shire's Excelsior in Boston. Two years ago, Fournier opened his first place, the contemporary American-style 51 Lincoln, in Boston. Since then, he's also opened Citrio, a market/cafe and catering business. Fournier quickly won kudos from the critics; most recently, Boston Magazine named 51 Lincoln one of the best restaurants of 2008. He lives in Jamaica Plains, about 15 minutes from 51 Lincoln, with his wife Alyssa Huber and their Great Dane.
We've seen some pretty ho-hum kitchens at chefs' homes in the past; this one looks like some thought went into it. And is that one of your paintings?
It is. We've been here three years, and I did most of the wood work and a lot of the tile work myself. It's fun to put the tool belt on. We live frugally overall, but we wanted to spend money for our entertaining space. I keep joking with my wife that as soon as it's finished, I'll be ready to move somewhere else.
Do you actually do much cooking at home?
I do, mostly simple things. I tend to do rustic French and Italian menus a lot of the time.
Your personal style is on display at the restaurant as well, right? Were you involved in the design?
Definitely — from the beginning, I picked the wood for the floors, built the bar, and decided to paint one entire wall in blackboard paint. We post the cheese plates, charcuterie choices and desserts on the board and cross them out as they sell out, so when people come in, they order something right away to make sure they will get it. The interior is gallery-oriented, with white walls, orange banquettes and yellow fabric seats, and polished nickel industrial lights. The restaurant acts as a gallery for me. I tried to create an environment where art and commerce meet, in food and art and decor.
So your paintings hang in your restaurant/gallery. Do they have price tags?
No. If a guest likes something, they tend to ask about buying it.
Is it true that you even sketch out plates when you create new dishes?
I don't draw everything, but when we're doing special menus, say for a holiday, or something a little more elevated concept-wise, I'll sketch that. Sometimes I'll sketch a dish right before service and use it to talk about the plating style. I save the sketches, and by now I have probably 16 journals in which I write, sketch art, write down recipes and describe projects.
Sounds like you've got a lot of plates in the air.
I'm not a very sit-still kind of guy. I get into the restaurant at 10, stay until 10 or midnight and work later at home after I hang out with my wife a bit. I end up doing a lot of menu work, office and paperwork at home. Right now I'm doing some food research for an economic stimulus package menu that's 50 weeks long, one state per week.
Rescuing the economy, one meal at a time!