A look at chef Barbara Lynch’s restaurant empire

At 54, Barbara Lynch finally feels (hugely) successful. The chef and restaurateur currently helms an empire of eight restaurants (plus a cookbook shop-test kitchen hybrid), holds three James Beard awards and half a dozen more nominations, and a spot on 2017’s Time 100 list. And last April, Lynch’s memoir, “Out of Line: A Life of Playing with Fire,” which follows her from her modest upbringing in South Boston to the heights of her career, was published to critical acclaim.

“I felt like if I could cook then I would always have a job,” Lynch told USA TODAY about her career. “Cooking came naturally to me, so I loved being in the kitchen and still do.” Still, opening an empire, or even running an acclaimed restaurant, wasn’t always on the table.

As a self-taught chef, Lynch had to work even harder to make a name for herself. “I had to prove that I could be a success at cooking,” Lynch recalls. “I had to face insecure battles because I’m self-taught: You never feel up to par when you’re in that position, but I knew what I wanted, and I was going to get there. I was determined.”.

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Lynch felt her first inklings of success when her first restaurant, No. 9 Park, which she opened in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood in 1998, started getting national recognition. Bon Appetit named her first solo endeavor one of the “Top 25 New Restaurants in America” and Food & Wine put the nostalgia-focused European-esque restaurant on its “Best New Restaurants” list.

“When No. 9 Park opened, people were saying I wouldn’t make it, that I’d fail,” Lynch says, noting that the restaurant’s real estate had formerly been a diner and a shoe store. The property’s proximity to the Massachusetts State House (and the resulting foot traffic) made Lynch feel like the space was, in fact, the exact right location for her first restaurant. And when she quickly started earning rave reviews and accolades, Lynch enjoyed her first taste of success, but it felt temporary. Now, 20 years after No. 9 Park opened its doors, Lynch laughs, “OK, I’m successful. I find myself thinking, ‘I’ve really done this.'”.

Beyond her credentials, Lynch says she most feels her success when “my younger cooks become chefs and restaurant owners themselves, it’s like my job is complete.” In the culinary community, Lynch is known for her support and mentorship of young chefs, perhaps most notably Kristen Kish, winner of “Top Chef” Season 10 and, as of June 2018, chef at Arlo Grey in Austin.

At the peak of her success, Lynch is nowhere near retirement, but she still fantasizes about what her “retirement restaurant” will be: comfort food, like she cooks at home, for friends and family, no larger than a group of eight people at a time. “My friends (who come over and eat) are all like, ‘Oh my God, this is so good,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s just steak,'” Lynch laughs about her future hyper-casual plans. Perhaps this is the biggest element that sets Lynch apart from other legendary chefs: She actually cooks at home.

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For those of us not invited into Lynch’s home (yet), take a look at the nine businesses she currently runs along with her team, from the 20-year-old No. 9 Park, to its South End successors B&G Oysters and The Butcher Shop, and beyond.

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