There aren’t many two-and-half year olds who could become a leader on the playground, but in the case of Juliet, the unique Somerville dining experience, that’s exactly what’s happening. When you do things as differently as partners Josh Lewin and Katrina Jazayeri – from dinner as performance art to taking on the tough subjects in an even tougher industry – you tend to get noticed. And they’re not shying away from the attention. The front-and-center declaration on the Juliet website says it plain and clear, “Gratuity free dining. Living wages. Great food. Great jobs. Great company.” That statement embodies the community aspect Lewin reiterated many times in our recent conversation. From a commuter-friendly coffee shop, to themed prix fix dinners, to the first restaurant in the state with no tipping, Juliet endeavors to create access for everyone at some level.
Attendees at this year’s Artisan Taste at the Taste of WGBH Food & Wine Festival will be treated to Lewin’s culinary brilliance once again. It was at this event last year that Lewin walked away with the Julia Child Culinary Stewardship Award, which “celebrates a chef who educates or informs on food topics or cooking techniques, inspires others to try new things, and contributes to the improvement of food quality by investing in a sustainable food supply chain.” Lewin is certainly a deserving winner given how his sphere of influence is extending far beyond the small footprint of Juliet itself. For a chef who’s no stranger to acclaim (from Bon Appetit’s "America's Best New Restaurants 2016" to local Eater Boston Restaurant of the Year), winning this award had special meaning because of the community fostered by independent media such as WGBH. “Food media is not slowing down, and they provide such a supportive atmosphere,” said Lewin. With a nod to the history Boston specifically has in creating and promoting food media, represented by to the award’s namesake, it is a unique honor within the industry.
That kind of community atmosphere makes participating in the Artisan Taste a no-brainer for Lewin and the Juliet team. “We don’t do many events, but this and Taste of Somerville we’re committed to because of the community support.” Since they can’t regularly get away from Juliet to visit other establishments, Lewin points to such events as a great way to see what people in the neighborhood and throughout the area are doing and taste what they’re up to. “I’m excited to see the new restaurants,” Lewin said. “You hear so much about them. It’s great to see what the new people are all about.”
The dish that Lewin is bringing to the Artisan Taste this year will give event-goers a chance to see what he’s all about – using fresh, local ingredients to create a dish that elevates all of its components to something greater. Gazpacho may sound humble but it is in its humility that it truly shines: five simple ingredients singing together in perfect harmony. Lewin makes an Andalusian gazpacho, pureed to smooth emulsification, made with the finest olive oil and sherry vinegar, and of course, local tomatoes at the peak of flavor. One factor that goes into Lewin’s choice of dish is the surplus of quality tomatoes the farmers are offering at this time of year. He strives to support the farmers he works with as much as possible, taking quantities as large as he can when he can, but space at Juliet is certainly at a premium. “Everything is very tightly controlled here. We don’t have a lot of space,” Lewin points out (in fact, Juliet doesn’t even sport a traditional walk-in, with all cold storage built in beneath the work benches). “We can’t keep things around so everything is super fresh. We have to prepare most things the day of.” The Artisan Taste is no different. The gazpacho will be made at Juliet the morning of the event.
If that’s not enough enticement to get your tickets now, Lewin is also giving a demonstration on cooking with spices. In partnership with Curio Spice Co. in Cambridge, Lewin will demonstrate the difference between the European method of sweating spices versus the Indian method of blooming spices in oil. You don’t want to miss out on this aromatic, and delicious, presentation. It will also be just a small taste of Lewin’s performance style. The truly unique “dinner theater” aspect of Juliet just doesn’t translate to a large event like this. The team seeks only to “plant the seed that there is more than just coming to dinner.”
Juliet - 257 Washington St., Somerville, 617-718-0958, julietsomerville.com