Saturday, September 26, 2009

INTRODUCING LYNN BOUND, HEAD CHEF AT MOMA'S CAFE 2

Heaven is a place on earth and it’s called Café 2. Located on the second floor of the New York Museum of Modern Art, its Executive Chef is Lynn Bound.

More on Lynn in a minute.

I have always felt a sense of elation while visiting Café 2. It has the right combination of all the things I love in a destination: lots of open space with tall ceilings, big communal tables, people from all around the world (as well as from the MOMA neighborhood) speaking all different languages; a super-friendly staff who seem genuinely pleased to be there. Another wonderful feature is a giant wall-sized menu where TEXT accompanies simple graphics which depict each of the food categories. And then, of course, there’s the food. Defying the stereotype of unremarkable museum fare, Café 2’s dishes are Italian-inspired, fresh, delicious, and a great way to start one’s journey through the rest of the museum.

After my first visit of the summer to Café 2 during Target-sponsored Free Fridays at MOMA, I discovered and was delighted by the fact that the Executive Chef was a woman. Most of the head chefs who gain media attention on television shows, especially reality TV shows, are men – and men with bad tempers. Lynn’s thoughtful style of leadership provided a nice contradiction to all that. So during trip #2 of the summer, I approached Lynn, told her that I was inspired by her work, and asked her if she would be willing to do an interview for Creative Times. She was happy to oblige.

I met Lynn at the Café shortly before she opened the space to the throngs of visitors who were chomping at the bit to partake in all the edible delights. Following the interview, Mike Sorgatz and I had a lunch fit for royalty. Dish after divine dish appeared before us, and all I could do afterwards was waddle down to the sculpture garden and gaze out under the spell of a serious food coma. Mike and I still talk about that experience to this day and feel truly blessed by the hospitality of of Lynn and her staff.

Here’s the result of my chat with Lynn.

Where and when did Lynn’s interest in cooking originate?

Given that Lynn’s mom was from Italy, it made sense that food and cooking was an important part of her life growing up. She says that her mom was a good cook and that her grandfather often sent Lynn’s family olive oil and cheeses from his home in Italy. Lynn’s experience in the kitchen also came from accompanying her mom, a waitress, on her work shifts.

Shortly after Lynn was out of high school, Lynn’s mom passed away from breast cancer. At that point, Lynn supported herself by going to work in a kitchen. Ultimately, she worked three jobs simultaneously to save the money she needed to attend culinary school.

What’s great about working as Exec. Chef at MOMA?

Lynn likes that it’s an open kitchen (you can see a lot of what’s going on from the diner’s section), that the feedback on the food is mostly positive, and that she gets to work in “one of the best museums in the world.” Lynn also enjoys meeting the many different people that come in each day, and especially takes pleasure in the fact that parents bring their children to the museum to learn not only about art, but also about healthy food!

What is Lynn’s philosophy when it comes to managing her staff?

I asked Lynn this question because I always notice how well she treats her staff and how, in turn, they treat the diners with genuine warmth and hospitality.

Lynn shares that it’s a relatively young staff, and that she takes on the role of teacher and mentor in relationship to them. She asks them to consider where they want to be in the future and what the opportunities are on this job for learning skills they can use in jobs down the road – e.g. cooking skills, time management and organizational skills. What will help them get that next job that they want?

Lynn notes an example of this philosophy in action: she once sent various employees who work in the salumi station to Manhattan’s famous Murray’s Cheese Shop to learn more about some of the delicacies that they serve.

What does Lynn want her customers to experience when they come into Café 2?

Lynn wants diners to see that there is a different food concept here, and wants to educate them through her offerings about regional produce. She wants diners to feel good when they are there, and to experience the Café as a welcoming place.

Judging by the compliments Lynn receives about her overall system, the staff, service, and food, she has been successful in her goal!

How does Lynn prepare mentally for the following day of work? How does she prepare mentally for the next ten minutes?

Although Lynn goes into each day with a base plan, she also must enter each day and moment with an “Anything can happen” mindset. She has to be fast on her feet in order to rebound from the unexpected. One of the foundational practices that help her deal with everything that comes her way are the regular meetings she has with her staff.

What does it mean to Lynn to be a female chef? What advice does she have to aspiring chefs or to those ladies who are considering the profession?

In Lynn’s experience, there were more challenges to being a female chef when she started working in a kitchen almost 25 years ago.

Lynn is frank about the challenges of the work. “It’s a hard job; I’m here a lot of the day; and it’s demanding of your time. If the day ends at 8, 9, or 10 at night, it’s difficult to connect with people whose workdays end earlier.”

Lynn, who is happy with the way she is treated by the company for which she works, also shares that who you work for impacts your professional life greatly. Lynn emphasizes how important it is to research your employer before committing to a job.

One way that Lynn unites with other female chefs is through an annual event which raises money for SHARE: Self Help for Women with Breast or Ovarian Cancer. This year, Lynn teamed up with more than 20 other accomplished women chefs to create their signature dishes for the SHARE’s Sixth Annual A Second Helping of Life. This year, the event drew around 700 people and raised close to $420,000.

What are Lynn’s interests and hobbies outside of her work life?

Lynn, who has three cocker spaniels at home, is interested in animals and their welfare. She participates in New York’s annual Dogswalk Against Cancer.

If you would like to visit Café 2, here’s the info you need straight from the MOMA website:

Located on the second floor, Cafe 2 offers an array of delicious and seasonal foods from Executive Chef Lynn Bound, including panini, handmade pastas, salumi, artisanal cheeses, salads, and soups, as well as sumptuous desserts. Orders are placed and paid for at the counter, and then plated and served to guests at communal tables. Italian wine selections are available by the glass, quartino, or bottle.

Cafe 2 is open to Museum visitors only. Reservations are not accepted. Guests are welcome on a first-come, first-served basis. All major credit cards are accepted.

Sat., Sun., Mon., Wed., Thu., 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Fri., 11:00 a.m.–7:30 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays

Museum admission is required for entry.
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