Come summer, Nick Calias has one of the busiest jobs in Boston — he’s the executive chef and food and beverage director at Brasserie Jo and the Colonnade Hotel, home to the city’s famous rooftop pool. He’s also on the board of the Pedro Martinez Foundation, a charity founded by the former Red Sox ace pitcher that provides education and social services to kids in the United States and the Dominican Republic. Calias cooked at their recent charity dinner, Feast With 45, at Fenway Park.
What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston? Not to age myself, but the Bay Tower Room. I must have been in my late teens. I ordered lamb. Back then, it was my favorite thing to eat at any fancy restaurant.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here? The food scene is pretty good here. But I’d like to fix staffing. We’re closing culinary schools. There are not enough qualified line cooks. I’d like to see more qualified people coming out, being passionate, wanting to cook for a living. Take our jobs, at the end of the day! My executive sous was my grill cook. My banquet chef was my line cook. We want people who are eager and want to grow, but the pool is thin.
How has the restaurant landscape changed since you arrived in Boston? When Jo opened 20 years ago, it was the only brasserie. Now there are tons. The North End had the only Italian [restaurants], and now Eataly is down the street. I’d like it to slow down a little bit! Have people enjoy what’s here.
What other restaurants do you visit? It depends on my mood. If I want barbecue, I’m going to the Smoke Shop with Andy [Husbands]. I think his brisket is fantastic. If I’m going for a nice dinner, Craigie on Main. It’s awesome. Tony [Maws] is so talented. Breakfast? Mike’s City Diner. Jay Hajj has the best corned beef hash in the city.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think: I want to work in restaurants? Weird story. Funny story. My dad owned a restaurant. I could cook a medium-rare steak before I could throw a curveball. My eighth grade yearbook ambition was to be a chef. His restaurant was in Seabrook: Nicholas’s on Route 1, by the power plant.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had? My wife and I dated in high school. First nice dinner was a restaurant in Maine, Clay Hill Farm. We ordered a nice bottle of wine. We were 21 by then. We had a $100 bottle of Opus One. The lady opens the bottle with one of those old corkscrews with arms that open on the side. I had gone to culinary school, I had my [sommelier] classes, and I knew how to open wine. And she uses that? It was 24 years ago, but I’ll never forget that.
How could Boston become a better food city? Boston is a great food city, but it comes down, still, to staffing. Come to Boston! Not to say we don’t have good staff. But we need more of them! A lot of people want to go to the bright lights of New York and Chicago. Boston isn’t known for the celebrity chef thing. Our chefs are our celebrities. We believe in food, our guests, and what we put out. But kids out of school want to work for Wolfgang [Puck], or whomever. But we need them, too, and we’re doing just as good food.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners. Let’s see: Energetic, excited to try new things, and for the most part, pretty pleasant. You don’t have the whole prima donna complex going on, which is absolutely fantastic. It’s a proud city. Proud of chefs, proud of servers. There’s no other city I’d rather cook in.
What’s the most overdone trend right now? Food trucks. There are too many food trucks. I love a good food truck, but really, enough.
What are you reading? I read a lot of cookbooks. I love “Homegrown” by Matt Jennings. Fantastic, fantastic book.
How’s your commute? I live in New Hampshire. It’s rough sometimes. A normal day is an hour and a half. Bad days, a couple of hours. I’m in Stratham, on the Seacoast. I love summer, everyone’s off, and it’s nice and easy.
What’s the one food you never want to eat again? Liver. I can never eat it again. I haven’t eaten it since my mom made it when I was 6.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now? Nothing is missing, but healthier, contemporary cuisine would be good. Chef Allen Campbell [a former chef for Tom Brady] is doing that.
‘Boston is a great food city, but it comes down, still, to staffing. Come to Boston! Not to say we don’t have good staff. But we need more of them! A lot of people want to go to the bright lights of New York and Chicago.’
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant? West Bridge. Matt Gaudet. Cambridge. It was one of my favorites. Matty was my chef de cuisine here for a couple of years. I had a fondness for it. I want to support my buddy’s cause.
Who was your most memorable customer? Pedro Martinez. We’re good friends. I cooked for him eight-plus years ago. You know, I made him a lunch, and a week later he came up, and said, “Hey, you wanna go fishing?” OK! About two weeks later, I was leaving work and saw him, and he said, “Hey, let’s get dinner.” We went to Abe & Louie’s and had a bottle of Caymus. Now it’s one of my favorite bottles of wine. We just became instantly close friends. I sit on the board of his foundation. It all started with our first dinner. I made a seafood pasta in lemon sauce.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be? I would eat at my own place, Brasserie Jo, with my chefs and friends cooking, so I don’t have to cook. Chris Coombs, Tony Maws, Andy Husbands, all those guys. And I’d eat lamb. I’m Greek!Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.