A Delectable Café Inspired by Academy Award Winning Film, “Babette’s Feast” Meet Marla Adams, Chef/Restaurateur of Babette’s Cafe
Q: Can you share with our audience when your passion for cooking started?
MA: It seems to have begun before I even realized it. I grew up overseas with my father in The State Department. I spent a good amount of time in Istanbul, Turkey. My father’s family was Albanian and Greek. All these countries have a wonderful food culture. I grew up cooking with my Aunt and Grandmother when we were here in the states and can still remember the flavors of the dishes. By the time I was in high school and college, I started giving parties for my friends. It was the entertaining aspect that first attracted me. Then I realized I loved working with my hands. Then I realized it was how the ingredients came together that excited me.
Q: What was your first job? And how did it shape or impact you?
MA: After college, I went to work for a financial investment firm and hated it. Someone in college had casually said, “wouldn’t it be nice to work in a bakery?” After a few months of 9-5 hours and commuting through Boston during rush hour, this came back to me and I gave it a try. I took a job at Rebecca’s on Charles Street in Boston. I never looked back. I discovered that I could make a living (though not a very good one) just baking and cooking.
Q: Babette’s Café has been around sine 1992 … what keeps it exciting for you to be in the kitchen?
MA: Over the years, I have stepped out of the kitchen and onto the front of the house, but I found that I am most talented working with food. Babette’s has been a journey and continues to be one. Probably because it is my only restaurant … I can keep changing and evolving as a chef, as a parent, as a manager. It’s like building onto a house, you fix a little bit here and there over the years. People’s palates have evolved, the economic situation in the neighborhood has evolved. Produce, seafood availability has evolved and improved. My staff has of course changed over the years. I capture new ideas from them all the time. The culture of food is so deep and varied that you would have to keep your head in the sand to miss these things.
Q: How much of an impact does Social Media play in managing a successful restaurant?
MA: Too much for me so I have had to hire out to people who are younger than me. I have had numerous hits and misses in picking the people to do this. Social Media puts a lot of pressure to do things right, but most importantly to create a relationship with each guest when they are dining with you. Yes, I have a menu, yes, I have a floor staff, but it is up to them to make the evening memorable for each guest, one at a time. The upside is that 27 years ago we lived or died by a newspaper’s review. Then you had to keep sending out press releases (which I never had the time for) to keep you name in the news. With Social Media, you can create an instant rapport with guests and visitors.
Q: Can you tell our audience one of your most memorable moments your career?
MA: We’ve had some wonderful events at the restaurant hosted by long time guests. This is very rewarding. We recreated Babette’s Feast from the movie, numerous times, but at this last one, I had a former chef join us at the dinner. She had given me so many notes, so many recipes, saying thank you to her brought me to tears.
Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
MA: Keep changing, make it better each day and never settle. My staff and I have a joke that when I have everything perfect it will be time to retire, however I don’t think it will be very soon. This goes for any person in business, any company, big and small.
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
MA: Lydia Bastianich, Marcella Hazan. Women chefs, cookbook authors who have a family history of their food.
Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
MA: Family, Family, Family. Women are still the primary center of a family and if you are going to have children, you are in a very precarious position. I had a husband who retired from his career a little early, but he was there to support me and to be the center of family life. Very rare!
Q: What's your advice for women in male-dominated fields?
MA: Ignore it and o the work.
Five Things About Chef & Owner Marla Adams
1.If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
Thomas Jefferson. I went to UVA … can’t help myself. He was an inventor, farmer, architect, diplomat and warrior.
2. What’s the best advice anyone’s given you?
Learn from your mistakes and go on.
3. What’s your favorite movie?
4. Do you have a favorite quotation?
There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in - Leonard Cohen.
5. What place you always dreamed about visiting?
Every National Park … I have some under my belt, but my husband and I are still working on this!