Boston chef Barbara Lynch’s life story, chronicled in her recent memoir “Out of Line,” reads like a classic rags-to-riches movie. The tough-as-nails heroine – with moxie to spare – grows up in the projects in South Boston, a gritty Irish Catholic neighborhood where notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger is just another neighbor. Her father dies of alcoholism when she is a child, and her stepfather isn’t much better. Her sister gets hooked on drugs. Lynch herself is wild: she lies; steals – including a city bus once, which she rolls through the streets as a prank; struggles with high school and eventually drops out.

From this most unpromising start, Lynch gradually teaches herself how to cook and, through many twists and turns, and setbacks and triumphs, both personal and professional, she eventually reaches the heights of the culinary world. Today, she owns seven highly regarded restaurants in Boston, including No. 9 Park, B&G Oyster and Menton. She and her restaurants are the recipient of three James Beard awards, and she holds a coveted Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef designation. Earlier this year, she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Yet, as she makes clear in “Out of Line,” a story that gallops along in unadorned language with energy and verve, Lynch never forgets where she came from. The book ends with six recipes for elegant food of the sort she is famous for cooking, dishes like Parmesan Souffle with Porcini and Chanterelle Sauce. Amid the fig sauces and vin santo cured chestnuts, though, one recipe stands out: It is for Irish soda bread. We spoke with her by telephone last week ahead of an upcoming visit to Maine. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why did you want to write a memoir?

A: Oh I didn’t. I had to Google “memoir” to know what it was. There was an article in The New York Times business section about me: How does this woman do it – run so many restaurants – without an education, with no formal training? She didn’t graduate from high school. From there, an agent from New York City came out and hounded me for about a week to write a memoir. I really thought about it. I thought, I guess she is right. It could be an inspirational story. If I can (make) it, anyone can do it, if they have the passion and the drive.

It was hard (to write). It’s like you have to relive it in a way. Thank God I kept a lot of journals. It ended up being great timing, because of where we are in the world. It’s a hopeful book. It’s not a self-help book, but it’s a very inspirational book.


Q: Meaning it’s not a hopeful time in the world?

A: Exactly. For immigrants, for small business owners, for the American dream. And I think (the book) is especially helpful for woman.

Q: I had a writing teacher once, a famous memoirist, who would tell her students to know what we were NOT writing, what we were leaving out. Are there things you left out?

A: No. I didn’t get that advice. Maybe I should have. (A big belly laugh).

Q: Did you ask permission from the many people portrayed in the book? Has anyone been unhappy – or happy – with how they were described?

A: No. So far, so good. Honestly, I didn’t really care. [Expletive] it. Sorry. They can write their own memoir. You got to be honest.


Q: Did you read other food memoirs before you got to work on your own? Which ones did you like?

A: I think the only memoir I’ve read was Katharine Hepburn when I was younger. I wrote her a 7-page letter. I think I was 8 at the time, no, 10.

Q: Did she write back?

A: No. I’m sure she couldn’t even read it. “I love your clothes. I love pets. If you are ever in Boston, come visit me.” (she laughs). I wrote one to Doris Day, too….

Barbara Lynch, in apron, cooked a feast for friend and fellow chef Sara Jenkins, in blue, at Jenkins’ wedding in Tuscany. “That dinner proved that I was talented enough to cook for anyone,” Lynch says.

Q: Chefs today of your caliber have restaurants around the globe, in Paris, in Hong Kong, in Vegas, in L.A. Why have you stayed in Boston?

A: I need to be part of the history, or part of the community. I don’t feel like I could live anywhere else really. I could open one in Europe, but I’m not a Vegas girl. What the hell would I do there? Vegas isn’t my cup of tea. I can’t just put my name on it. I’ve got to see it through, beginning to end.


Big fish, small pond? I like it in Boston. I know the one-way streets. I know where I can park my car. I get to have a life here. I think if I worked in New York City – tough grind.

Q: What advice would you give a young chef today?

A: Any young chef has to have a vision. They have to come to me with a notebook and a vision. Then I can help. If they come to me with a blank stare, no way. It’s not going to work that way. And have passion.

Q: It’s clear you’ve a ton of passion, but you’ve been at this a long time. Does the passion stay?

A: It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t go away. If I don’t cook for a few days, I’m just dying to cook.



CHEF BARBARA LYNCH will cook a dinner in Maine next week with Nina June chef/proprietor Sara Jenkins. The two chefs worked together, and were friends, as young women at Michela’s restaurant in Boston. In the 1980s, Lynch, who is today greatly celebrated for her Italian food, visited Italy for the very first time with Jenkins, an experience she writes about in detail and hilariously in her new memoir, “Out of Line.”

AT THE CONCLUSION of that weeklong trip, Lynch writes, “Though I couldn’t speak the language, in just a week, I’d tuned in to entirely new frequencies of tastes, smells, sights, and sounds. My connection to Italy was so visceral and intense that I felt I’d discovered my true spiritual home.”

LATER, LYNCH COOKED a wedding feast for Jenkins in Tuscany, an adventure she also details in the book and credits with greatly boosting her then shaky self-confidence, writing, “that dinner proved that I was talented enough to cook for anyone.”


WHAT: Author dinner with chefs Barbara Lynch and Sara Jenkins to celebrate the publication of Lynch’s “Out of Line.”

WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday


WHERE: Nina June Restaurant, 24 Central St., Rockport


INFO: or 236-8880.

ALSO: A special menu based on Lynch’s visits to Tuscany with Jenkins, who grew up there in part. Lynch will sign copies of her memoir, which will be for sale at the meal.

Correction: This story was updated at 1:38 p.m. on May 31 to correct the spelling of Katharine Hepburn’s name.

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