Barbara Lynch: Celebrity chef, without the pretense

Boston restaurateur Barbara Lynch won a James Beard award.
Lola Haze
Boston restaurateur Barbara Lynch won a James Beard award.

Barbara Lynch may be the first James Beard award winner to claim to have stolen a public transit bus. But Lynch, a tough Southie kid who grew up in public housing, is much more than a rags-to-culinary-celebrity story. In a world of celebrity chefs who are known as much for their catchphrases (“Bam!”) as their cooking, Lynch is notably uncomfortable on camera, and didn’t get her fame through showmanship. Instead, she rose in the business through hard work, and has gained a reputation for upholding high quality and offering opportunities to emerging culinary talents.

The Beard awards are the Oscars of the restaurant industry. Lynch’s latest award, her fourth, is the most prestigious. She was named Outstanding Restaurateur, a recognition not just of Lynch’s creative spark but also her sharp business acumen. A self-described troublemaker, Lynch never went to culinary school and didn’t finish high school. She built her mini-empire one restaurant at a time, starting in 1998 with No. 9 Park, and more recently, a trio of establishments on Congress Street, including Menton, ensconced in the heart of the Innovation District. Lynch’s fans maintain that she’s less famous outside Boston than she should be. But her career provides a lesson to other aspiring chefs: It’s better to be admired for your work in the kitchen than internationally famous for your antics outside it.