Cambridge, MA 02139
Nestled in a weirdly shaped, funky old Cambridge building in between Kendall and Central Squares, Craigie on Main is a small restaurant with a big reputation. Chef-owner Tony Maws combines his love of the Parisian bistrots modernes and his unyielding passion for the best local, seasonal and organic ingredients for a dining experience that is meticulous yet unpretentious. The menu changes daily to feature only the best of the best. Maws' 'head-to-toe' philosophy and composting program mean nothing is wasted at Craigie on Main.
The dining room, which overlooks a sparkling open kitchen, is filled with warm colors, pleasant aromas and the hum of contented guests. The adjacent bar, which boasts its own menu of home-made recipes, features an all-star roster of offerings from organic wineries and artisanal distilleries.
Tony Maws is a non-traditional chef - an "idealist with a kitchen" might be a more appropriate job description. His ideology: that local, seasonal and sustainably sourced ingredients are intrinsically better, and that these ingredients form the most significant part of what makes great food great.
His resolute commitment to these tenets may have made Maws something of a pioneer in the "locavore" movement and in "Nose to Tail" cooking, but he admits that these ideas are not particularly novel. "Basically," says Tony, "these are ideas that are shared by about 90% of the world's grandmothers."
Much as he honors his Grandmother and culinary muse Hannah, Maws' international acclaim is surely the result of other factors as well: his relentlessly innovative culinary techniques are precise enough to baffle any grandma and his ability to match just the right food combinations to create the perfect dish has been called "uncanny."
Despite his modest ambitions and major space limitations at Craigie Street Bistrot, word got out, and before long his combination of a Parisian "slow-food" philosophy with ingredients from New England began to earn widespread attention, including being named as one of America's top 10 new chefs by Food & Wine and Boston's best chef by Boston Magazine. He has also been featured in Travel & Leisure magazine, Gourmet magazine, the Boston Globe and numerous others. From the humble little-bistrot-that-could, Maws found himself being invited to appear on NBC's Today Show and Fox News, and cooking at culinary events in locations as diverse as Singapore and Aspen, Colorado.
At Craigie On Main, Maws' earthy side and his mad-scientist side combine to create a menu best described as "refined rusticity." This restaurant, opened in November 2008, is a newer, more spacious incarnation of Craigie Street Bistrot, his first labor-of-love located a couple miles down Mass Ave., which opened in 2002. Maws takes pride in the fact that the spirit of his tiny bistrot remains alive and well in his new space.
The new location and international recognition (including a James Beard Award for Best Chef, Northeast) have not changed Maws' hands-on approach at Craigie On Main. Far from being an "executive chef," he works practically every night as a line cook although with the 2013 opening of second more casual restaurant in Somerville, Kirkland Tap & Trotter, he now has to split his time between the two.
Since he was a teenager, Maws always worked in restaurants -17 in all - and has performed every restaurant job. His real culinary training, though, was earned through what might be called "The Long and Winding Road Cooking School" (apologies to Sir Paul McCartney). After earning a BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan (which, surprisingly, does occasionally come in handy in the restaurant business), Maws embarked on an eight-year journey that included stints under local chefs Kenneth Oringer at Restaurant Clio and Steve Johnson at The Blue Room; Bernard Constantin at Larivore in Lyon, France; Roland Passot at La Folie and Wolfgang Puck at Postrio in San Francisco; and Mark Miller at the Coyote Café in Santa Fe. He is particularly grateful to Chef Chris Schlesinger, for giving him his first big break: a chance to chop vegetables at the East Coast Grill.
Maws grew up just across the river in Newton, and now lives in Cambridge with his wife Karolyn and their son Charlie. His career highlight to date was when he got to cook for his favorite band, Wilco. His interests include the Red Sox, reading cookbooks for pleasure (he has a collection of more than 200), skiing, eating Chinese food, and traveling - particularly to France.