By Clara Silverstein
Lydia lovingly prepares ingredients for the Macomber turnip soup.
Whether chef Lydia Shire is grilling lemon-lime lobster tails for 400 at a charity event, or whisking cream into a single portion of sauce in her Weston kitchen, her passions for food and design inform nearly every gesture.
Her charm bracelet jingles as she deftly pulls stray bones from a salmon fillet she is preparing. Sizing up the accompaniments – red pearl onions, roasted eggplant, broccoli rabe leaves, potato sauce – she carefully chooses a serving plate with a leaf-patterned border that will complement the colors and textures.
Even after 30 years as a professional chef, Shire believes great cooking can start at home. “If you can read, you can cook,” she said, tying an apron over her lavender shirt and setting to work at her vintage red Chambers stove. At a time when many people are paring back their fats and carbs, Shire unabashedly celebrates full flavors – and fun – in the kitchen.
Playfulness with food has been a hallmark of Shire’s career. BIBA, the restaurant she opened in Boston in 1989, organized the menu by categories of food, including offal, starch, and sweets. At this cutting-edge restaurant, she perfected lobster pizza and fried clams served in a paper bag, winning a James Beard award for America’s Best Chef – Northeast. After Shire decided to close BIBA and its sister restaurant, the Italian-themed Pignoli, she shook up Boston tradition by purchasing Locke-Ober, the dining room favored by Boston’s upper crust. She kept some of the old menu intact, including JFK’s Lobster Stew.
At home, Shire’s kitchen encourages her imagination. Her daughter, architect Lisa Shire, designed the modern addition to the 1847 Greek revival farmhouse that Shire and her husband, Uriel Pineda, purchased 11 years ago. The kitchen itself occupies one side of a dining/family room that can easily accommodate 30. Floor to ceiling windows overlook a bird feeder and open fields where wild turkeys sometimes roam. Another wall is built around a giant poster advertising a French seafood restaurant. In a corner is a glass-walled pantry with a bar sink, a dishwasher, and shelves for Shire’s eclectic collection of tableware.
The kitchen is bordered by a custom-designed copper countertop inlaid with glass pieces. “You could put an elephant on there,” Shire jokes.
Shire’s fall menu for the home cook shows a collector’s sensibility, incorporating an eclectic range of ingredients. Apple cider and a white truffle garnish liven up a soup from New England-grown Macomber turnips. Shire marinates salmon (which she usually purchases at Captain Marden’s in Wellesley) in Asian ingredients that include fresh ginger and mirin, a Japanese rice wine. Her “Always Crisp” apple pie has a crust made from puff pastry instead of the usual flour-shortening combination.
One of the biggest lessons Shire wants to teach home cooks is to season generously. “I can’t overestimate the importance of salt and pepper. Food is not all it could be without seasoning.” Keep tasting the food as you go, she said. “If the flavor doesn’t jump out at you, you’re not there yet. When you taste and you say, ‘It’s great!’ then it’s the end.” Shire’s favorite kind of salt is Maldon Sea Salt, sold at Williams-Sonoma and other specialty stores.
Shire also insists that butter is not a dirty word. She credits the late Julia Child – a regular customer at Shire’s restaurants – with pointing out that “nutritional zealots will kill gastronomy.” Children need to grow up “knowing the smell of chocolate chip cookies with real butter in the dough,” Shire said.
A long and distinguished career has not taken away Shire’s pleasure for cooking even the simplest of dishes. The goal is to say, “Wait until you taste this. It’s a little bit of heaven.”
Macomber Turnip Soup
Grilled Salmon with Silky Potato Sauce
Always-Crisp Apple Pie
Falling for Wine