Jody Adams #18


of Rialto 



Food costs money. Real food costs money. People will say, 'Oh, my God, I went to the farmer's market and can you believe what they're charging for blah, blah, blah?' It's like, 'Hello?' Real, delicious hand-built, crafted, grown food costs money.


Interview by Heidi Legg

This week we interview the talented Jody Adams, owner of Rialto Restaurant and its hip bar at the Charles Hotel and TRADE in the Boston Seaport. Jody is a celebrated chef, advocate for women, and supporter of small farms and charitable giving locally.

The best part is that we interviewed Jody Adams and Ana Sortun, celebrated chef of Oleana and Sofra Café in Cambridge, together early one morning over coffee. It was a real highlight and made me wish we had the funds for video. Hint, hint any sponsors to be….

We decided to make it a two part series with Jody Adams today and Ana Sortun in two weeks time. You will see that at times we have left Ana’s comments in to capture the flow of the conversation and to wet your appetite for her transformational food! With summer abundance around us, I think you will enjoy these two inspiring chefs back to back. We did.

The Boston Globe awarded Rialto four stars and Esquire named Rialto one of the best restaurants in the country.  When you came to the Charles Hotel, what were you trying to change when you set out to open Rialto?

This was the first independently run restaurant in a hotel in the area and it was risky. If you look at who we are and where we are, on the second floor without street entrance, that requires an enormous amount of work to remain present in people's minds.  You can imagine people walk through the square and they don't know we're here. They even walk through the hotel and all they may see is a bar. So, I learned very early on that we had to set ourselves apart and that we had to be thinking about marketing all the time, which is not something that occurred to me when we opened.

I was really happy being in the kitchen away from everybody - chopping, peeling, and handling all the beautiful things that came into the kitchen. My pleasure was in figuring out how to not mess with them very much - just letting them be themselves and be beautiful. But I quickly realized we had to think about how to let the world know about this restaurant.

In terms of change, I was looking to approach food in the cleanest way possible. Early on, in 1994, Rialto was a Mediterranean restaurant and I think I had similar experiences to Ana but I hadn't traveled in the same way as Ana - I hadn't been to Turkey. I'd been to Greece, Spain, Italy and France and that part of the Mediterranean. What appealed to me and continues to appeal to me as I transformed Rialto from a Mediterranean into an Italian restaurant seven years ago is to look at the variety of cuisines that are available and to approach food in the cleanest way possible. Thus French cuisine is less interesting to me than the cuisine of Provence where it's very simple, beautiful, delicious food that isn't messed with very much.

What drew you to Cambridge?

I first worked in Cambridge starting twenty-three years ago. I love the community here. I’ve always felt like there's a really strong sense of diversity acceptance, which is something that's been talked about in the press recently - very interesting minds - people doing interesting things. Formaggio has been here forever. Places like Casablanca and The Harvest - those were the central food places that really set the tone for Boston in many ways and so I was drawn to this way of thinking and being.

Boston is very interesting but Cambridge feels right to me and I think that's really important while some people feel much more comfortable in Boston or in Weston. Cambridge is a place where I can feel it inside of me that it's the right place.

How has Cambridge changed?

Well, a change in attitude for food and restaurants is happening all over the city. In Boston as well but I think that for small independently run restaurants, it's easier to find a space that's affordable over here in Cambridge and Somerville. Just in Harvard Square alone we now have The Sinclair, Toscano and Michael Scelfo's of Russell House Tavern is about to take over Casablanca (and open Alden and Harlow late this summer) and then down near Ana and Oleana, there is Puritan.

Is it rent or a foodie eruption? Because there appears to be this amazing foodie scene going on, small independent purveyors are emerging everywhere from Somerville to Watertown.

I think it's a foodie change. I think it's both.  And that's happening around the country. In France, when they talk about a really good place, it's called Brooklyn. Any foodie thing that's happening in France, the adjective is now Brooklyn.
Ana Sortun adds, “The adjective is Brooklyn here too. Somerville's the Brooklyn of Boston. It's like Brooklyn's becoming an adjective.”
Yes, it's an adjective... Très Cambridge. They say Très Brooklyn. That's what it is.
Ana says, “And maybe Cambridge will become an adjective. Who knows?" Lots of laughs. (See wouldn’t it be great if we had video?)

In 2007, with a newly minted James Beard award, you bought out your partners and with modern architect, MaryAnn Thompson, transformed Rialto again. Now you’ve opened TRADE in Boston. How did you have the courage to do that?

By that point, I had opened up two restaurants and a bar and reopened Rialto so I’d had five openings.  One of my business partners, Sean Griffing, who’d been the general manager here at Rialto, kept poking me and calling me, 'Come see this space. Let's go'. We added Eric Papachristos to the partnership and the combination of the three of us just seemed like an incredible trio of strength so I opened TRADE.

Eric is a financial guy and had worked in the financial world for a long time. Sean is a ‘front of the house’ operations guy and I'm the chef in the kitchen and when you have the right combination of people, you can do incredible things.

There was nothing driving me to go open another restaurant on my own. There are lots of other things that I want to do and I have been doing but opening another big restaurant wasn't one of them. But with the two of them we built this idea together. It was a very organic process. It started by looking at spaces and then it evolved into a concept and coming together on an idea that the three of us could get behind. Trade is the great result.

What are some other things you would like to do?

I'm on the board of Partners In Health and I am starting to explore their hospitality service and food components. And not just in their hospitals but across all their houses because they host many people around the world. So, that's a really exciting project to be working on.

I host a blog,, with my husband once a week where I actually cook. People say, 'Do you cook anymore?' and I have to say in the restaurant I'm not behind the stove but when I'm working on the blog, I'm definitely cooking. I love how it keeps me really connected to working with my hands and creating something very spontaneously. I wanted to do a project with my husband and nobody's paying us so nobody can tell us what to do. Again, it’s a team kind of a thing. We also worked on a cookbook together and I really like working with him. In the process, he's become a really good photographer. We had a friend over the other day who had been at one of our blog sessions and he was talking about how we interact because it can get a little snippy sometimes but we always come out the other side with a sense of humor.

I really like riding my bike. I want to have time to ride in the Pan Mass Challenge, which requires training through the year. It doesn't just happen. And I feel like that's part of my job and also because it's the fountain of youth. That's what I've been told. Exercise is the fountain of youth and I want to stay young as long as I can!

You both support local farmers. Ana married hers. Why are local farms important to you and what public attitude do you want to change?

I can say a little about public attitudes and then I'm going to allow Ana to take this because this is her gig.

Food costs money. Real food costs money. People will say, 'Oh, my God, I went to the farmer's market and can you believe what they're charging for blah, blah, blah?' It's like, 'Hello?' Real, delicious hand-built, crafted, grown food costs money.

David Waters at Community Servings has written a white paper, a request for a bill for the Senate or Congress that food be considered medicine so that a doctor can prescribe it. So, insurance would cover it.

Ana Sortun laughs, “See I’m not far off!  There's not a lot of money in vegetables like there is money in pharmaceuticals.”

How do you balance your life with many restaurants and young children?

Marry the right person. Lean in. The word balance is problematic because what does that really mean? I think it's a give and take of sacrifice and choices. It's priorities and demands and I decided that I wanted a career in food. It felt so right to be in a kitchen and I was not about to give that up.

I was told when I was trying to find a job in the kitchen that I was too old, too female and too inexperienced and now I’ve shown them. At the time, I took great pride in wiping the feminine part of me away while I was moving up the ranks. I just loved what I was doing. And then when it came time to have kids, it was a really difficult decision to make because Ken and I decided that if we were going to have children that one of us would be with the kids and so the sacrifice really came on Ken's part and yet he wouldn't say that now. He would say that he had the best job in the world. In fact, he was a much better present parent than I think I would have been but it did mean that I had three weeks with Oliver and five weeks with Roxanne when they were born.

I was not home with my family on weekends and nights and holidays were really difficult.  We worked around it and there were times over the years where I really wanted to stop and I wanted to say, 'OK, somebody else take over now’ but I was kind of in the middle of this machine of my life that wouldn't allow me to do it. Sometimes I would think what if I just quit?

My kids would cry when I went to work and when they would come visit me at work, they would cry when they would leave and ask, 'Why can't you be here?' There was a lot of, 'why can't you be here?' but I figured out a way to organize things and I would leave if I had to go to school plays or those types of things.

Now that was when I was the chef. You can't do that when you're a line cook, for sure, but I waited long enough to have kids so that I was a sous chef when I had kids. Lean In talks about this timing.

My children know that what I do brings me enormous satisfaction. They're incredibly proud of me, as is my husband. We've created a life and a world that is integrated in many ways. And you know what? There’s a whole life after fifty.

I think that young people going into life think, 'I have to get everything done now because, man when you're fifty, you're really old' but the fact is, you know, Julia Child, and she really was a mentor to me, because her professional life really started in a big way after fifty. So, I think about that a lot. I think about what else there is out there now that I'm over the hump of fifty.

You can’t have it all at once.

You can't have it all at once. And nobody ever has. Nobody ever has so why would we think that we can and why should we as women beat ourselves up when we can't do it all?

What keeps you going?

It's the creative process. Our lives are a creative process. That's the way I feel about my life and our lives as chefs are unconventional - the way that our family does things is so very different than other people and it has meant that my children think differently. Their expectations are different. Both of them are enormously independently, very creative thinkers, very articulate, very thoughtful and of course Roxanne, who's seventeen, is much more mature than her brother who's twenty-three and she kind of takes care of him. Our house was a place where people wanted to be when they're in high school, not when they were little because we didn't have that playroom or the parent that made cookies or engaged in the same. They were kind of embarrassed because Ken always made them talk and I made them eat something green. But now they all want to be at our house. I just cooked for eight of - six of Roxanne's friends. They still come by. Knock on the door. Have a meeting with Ken and eat with us.

What do you dream of doing on summer vacation and where will you be?

That's a fun question. I'm going to south of France for a week but that's a bike trip and I'll be carrying people along with me for cooking classes. Okay, so my dream vacation it's on the Cape in Barnstable and my dream is to not get in my car the entire time I'm there and to ride my bike to the fish store and pick up whatever is fresh and go to the farms.

“Two peas in a pod, man. Two peas in a pod, here,” Ana agrees.

And read and lie around and go down to this little tiny club where there are people that I've known since I was really little and just hang out and gossip and hope somebody invites me out on their boat and swim and read. Really simple.

Will you cook on the Cape?

Oh, yeah. I like to cook but very simple food: A lot of vegetables and a lot of fish and a lot of grilling. In the summer, I don't want do dishes. So most of it is grilling.

Where is your favorite lunch?

You know, it's not so much lunch but I would say breakfast that I make for myself. I actually will cook for myself during the day but breakfast is the meal I cook for my daughter and it will be whatever is usually left over in the refrigerator. I make sure there's things like pesto - there's a kale pesto in the refrigerator right now - and there's romesco (Romesco is a nut and red pepper-based sauce from Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain. It is typically made from any mixture of roasted or raw almonds, pine nuts, and/or hazelnuts, roasted garlic, olive or sunflower oil, bitxo peppers and/or nyora pepper) and some grilled spring onions. There's polenta. There's steel cut oats and beans and so I'll make a poached egg or heat up the oatmeal and put some pesto in there. You can go on Facebook. You'll see that I actually do that.

Pesto in oatmeal?


Yes, on top. People think of oatmeal as only being a receptacle for maple syrup or brown sugar but steel cut oats are like any other grain. They're fabulous and they have a nice crunch to them and a lot of nuts and Roxanne will let me make her breakfast and then I know if she eats my breakfast, I don't have to worry about her for the rest of the day. I’ve done my job.