It’s the end of the semester at Northeastern, so you’ll have to forgive me for weighing in rather late about the remarkably similar stories that The New York Times (free link) and The Boston Globe published about Barbara Lynch, a celebrity chef whose abusive behavior has finally caught up with her.
Although I’m speculating, what happened seems fairly obvious: Tim Dearing, the former lead chef at Menton, almost certainly contacted both papers after he told Lynch he was going to “drag” her when she fired him at a particularly volatile meeting following the overdose deaths of Dearing’s beloved predecessor, Rye Crofter, and a younger chef Crofter had mentored. No doubt both stories were close to being ready when one paper learned that the other was about to publish. Both stories were published Thursday within about a half-hour of each other.
Still, I’ve never seen anything like the structural similarities in two long stories like this. The Globe’s Janelle Nanos and the Times’ Julia Moskin open the same way, repeat many of the same anecdotes, reproduce the same sorry-not-sorry statement from Lynch (OK, that’s not surprising) and reach the same conclusion: that Lynch is out of control, and her chain of restaurants is in serious trouble. Please understand that I’m not suggesting any ethical violations here — it was just striking to see two good reporters approach the story in exactly the same way.
There was, though, one difference. The Times noted that Lynch is the first cousin of U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, a powerful South Boston Democrat, and has connections to the influential lobbyist Tom O’Neill, a former lieutenant governor. As my old colleague Adam Reilly of GBH News tweeted:
Adam’s implication is that the Globe should have included that fact as well, and I agree with him. Perhaps editors at the Globe decided not to pull Lynch’s connections into the story given that they are not responsible for her behavior. Still, readers may reasonably wonder if that had something to with why she got away with her act for as long as she has.
On the other hand, the Globe’s story, unlike the Times’, observes that the food has gone downhill at Lynch’s restaurants as her behavior has spiraled out of control. Nanos — with contributions from the paper’s food critic, Devra First, as well as reporter Dana Gerber — writes:
What’s more, restaurants have changed, in part reshaped in part by both the #MeToo movement and the pandemic. Long overlooked behavior is no longer being tolerated. Workers are demanding fairer treatment. And Lynch’s world of fine dining is shifting beneath her feet amid staffing shortages and rising food costs, particular challenges for the pricey, labor-intensive model of haute cuisine.
And indeed, on a recent evening, Menton seemed to have lost the luster of its early days, when the food was plated like precious jewels, both delicious and beautiful, and customers were cosseted by multiple servers at once. Menton now serves one $180 six-course chef’s tasting menu each night, but the dishes feel less inventive and refined than they did a decade ago when it first opened. Flavors are less precise, portion sizes are small, and the lag time between courses can be overly long. It was fine dining in the most literal sense of the word.
This is not an insignificant part of the story, and it’s telling that it appears in the local paper rather than in the outlet from out of town. The Globe also has some cringey details missing from the Times about crude T-shirts that Lynch wanted her employees to wear.
I have never eaten at any of Lynch’s restaurants as the prices are well out of my range. The food scene in Boston, though, is a vital part of our local culture, and the Globe has devoted a lot of resources to covering it over the years. It will be interesting to see whether Lynch’s problems are isolated, or if they represent the first cracks in that culture.