Chef Marc Sheehan from Loyal Nine Restaurant in East Cambridge talked to Henry Santoro about the Colonial era food and ambiance he serves—including what Santoro thinks is the nation's best baked bread!
Henry Santoro: At the recent WGBH food and wine event hundreds of people—including myself—got to sample some amazingly delicious food from some of the best restaurants in the area. One of those restaurants was the Cambridge-based Loyal Nine which served up a cold cucumber salad on top of a smoked mackerel creme. The flavors were clean, crisp, simple, and incredibly satisfying. So much so that we just had to invite chef and owner Mark Sheehan to join to talk about his food and what's happening at Loyal Nine. Thank you for coming in, Marc.
Marc Sheehan: Thanks for having me.
You're a local guy who grew up in Milton. You're a guy who has deep roots in the area, and those roots are connected to food. Can you explain?
My mother generally would cook most weekday nights. On weekends, my father would sort of take over. That came from the fact that on the weekends his father would wake up very early and start baking. And my Dad carried on the tradition. So, you know the smell of apple turnovers, you know blueberry pies, would fill the house when everyone would get up. And my grandfather was a health inspector in Boston, but he had started out as a baker. [My] great grandfather had owned a string of bakeries and grandfather sort of got the bug, but, eventually, for financial reasons, got out of business. You know, he had a bunch of kids, so being a health inspector is a little bit more stable but still loved it. So my father sort of continue that tradition of cooking on the weekends taking over the kitchen. And it was a way for me to kind of spend time with him, hang out with him, and eventually get involved as well.
You're a Holy Cross kid. You majored in history, and the menu at Loyal Nine is highly influenced by food from colonial days. History—that is not a coincidence.
Not at all. I started out at Holy Cross knowing I wanted to cook. I was really interested in going to Italy and eventually realized that didn't make any sense. But as you mentioned, I'm from the South Shore, Irish kid, no connection to Italy beyond Prince Spaghetti nights at my house when I was at Holy Cross. [I] started focusing on early American history and just started seeing all this connection between food, the movement of food, politics, economics, people and eventually started finding recipes and started seeing how the movement of goods influenced how people ate. And that started to influence, you know, my career trajectory what I wanted the food to be that I cooked.
Were you nervous going into it with that kind of a menu?
For sure, with a lot of this food the language is very important. I could say this is a porridge, but if I tell you it's pondomenast, now you're connecting to the history. But pondomenast isn't necessarily a word that people want to eat, so it’s sort of figuring out how to translate that to guests. It's different. So it definitely was something where we wanted to stick to our guns, but we also had to make some alterations to it to make sure that we were pleasing everyone who came into the restaurant.
People who've been to Loyal Nine rave about your lobster and they go nuts for your bread. What is this bread program that they talk about?
We do what's referred to as autolyzed sourdoughs. So they're really slow-fermented sourdoughs. There's no knead breads so we don't actually ever knead it. We do what's called the stretch and fold.
People say you have the best bread in the country.
I haven't heard that, but that's great. I'll take it. That's good to hear. A loaf of bread that takes about 12 hours to make. You have to really plan ahead to keep up with it. And we sometimes go through so much bread we have a hard time keeping up with it.
The restaurant is Loyal Nine, the chef and owner is Marc Sheehan. You can find them both at 660 Cambridge Street in Cambridge or online at LoyalNineCambridge.com. Marc, thank you so much for coming in.
Thank you very much.