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Chef Barbara Lynch on Her Expanding Restaurant Empire

Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Today, Eater is covering the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen live from the Eater Lounge at the Limelight Hotel. Right now: chef Barbara Lynch
Barbara Lynch [Photo: Hillary Dixler/Eater]

So how's Aspen so far?
Good, it's always good. It's fun, it's just exhausting sometimes. I got in late last night, panel at nine this morning, adjusting to altitude, drinking heavily. Tomorrow will be nice and low key though.

So what's new at the restaurants?
Lots of growth. Lots of movement, which we haven't had in about six or seven years. Every seven years we kind of go through a big change, which is great. It gives opportunity to others to grow, which is awesome. Working on a lot of new things.

Can you tell us about any of those?
Not yet. But a couple of new books, a food product, a memoir, maybe some more restaurants, but can't talk about that yet.

With the food product, last summer at MAD you were talking about starting a company around dehydrating healthy foods to distribute to hospitals. Is that happening?
So I had to go through one more stage of funding for more ovens. And so now it's all being produced in Oregon. And that will be coming out probably in the Fall. It's a great product. It's called B. Lynch: Made. It's all veggies that are prepared for you and basically all you have to do is boil water, and you have a meal. It's like one pound of veggies in a two-and-a-half ounce box.

And will that be available to the public or just to businesses like hospitals?
Oh no, to the public. Everywhere.

When you were thinking that project through, how did that compare to starting a business or opening a restaurant?
I think it was more lonely because I'm doing it on my own. And it's been six years since I came up with it and tested and devised it. But it actually came from when I had Plum Produce. In order to use produce up, cause I couldn't sell it back to myself, I would dehydrate everything. So it basically came from that. Then I perfected the dehydration, the timing, got better ovens.

So we'll start with four products, and then every year I'll come out with three new ones. It's a great product. It's very healthy, and it's very accessible, and it's not expensive. You can get veggies without having to peel and chop. I do everything for you.

Where are you right now with your memoir?
The memoir is pretty much almost halfway done. I have to decide on when I stop and start it. You know, is it with the James Beard Award, and then move backwards from there? But I have a great new ghost writer, and I can't wait to start working with her again. So it'll be out in 2015.

Top Chef has been filming in Boston and I was curious if and how you are involved with that.
I was involved just a little bit. I was on one or two, maybe three parts of it. It was so great to have them in Boston. I hope they had fun. I hosted some parts at my house, my apartment. It was great to have them in our city, and it's great for any city they go to. I just don't do it that often, but they're great people. I just can't believe how hard these young cooks work. It's brutal.

Did you get to know the contestants at all?
No, but I know how hard they worked. To take you out of your element and then have you work 18-hour days and compete, it's just, I can't tell you how hard it is. I've seen it, I've seen it with Kristen Kish. It's fucking hard. But it's great. Have you ever followed them or gone on-site with them? I wouldn't want to be a contestant. But it's hard to be a judge as well, because I don't like judging people on their performance if I haven't taught them. It's really hard for me to say, "Why'd you cook it that way?"

My best day was probably having lunch with Jacques Pepin and Alex Prudhomme. That was the best.

Stories. You're so young, you won't… You hear stories about Julia [Child] and Jacques, it's awesome to hear.

You mentioned your restaurant group is going through change and growth, and I'm curious about stats. Do you know how many people work for you?
Right now? 380. When you have some chefs and some managers that are with you for seven, eight, nine, ten years, they want to go and do their own thing. You have to let them go. You want to. It's going to be amazing to see because they're just taking a part of us, part of what we've taught them, and they're going to go and maybe even do it better. It's going to be exciting.

And with your company as large as it is, can you tell me about some of your management strategies for keeping the group's vision in check?
Yeah. I guess there's really no strategic plan. I have a team to vet all the crazy ideas that I have. I'm always a five-year planner. So what I planned five years ago is now coming to fruition. It's really important to value who you work with, or to know their value. What do they want? If I want to grow or I want to continue to grow, how do I know that you're going to stay with me? What is it that you need? Now we are just working on me, the brand, the food products, the memoir, more books.

What other books are there besides the memoir right now?
Wine books, cocktails, butchering, you name it. Everything we do. It's been 15 years, everything is already written. Sharing knowledge is great, I'm a big fan of that. And then probably managing partners or expanding what I already have, but in different parts of the world.

Different parts of the world? Can you tell me more about that? [Pauses.] No? So my last question we've been asking everyone, what is the craziest opportunity that you've turned down?
Probably making the movie with Mark Wahlburg.

What? Can you tell me more about it?
It was not the right time. I just didn't feel right about it. It wasn't a movie, it was actually a reality show.

Oh was it their Wahlburgers?

What did they want you to do?
They wanted me to be a mentor. It just wasn't right. Maybe it was crazy. I don't think it worked out for them, so maybe it was a good idea. But it's hard to let opportunities like that go. You can get excited about it. But I don't think that was going to be make-it-or-break-it.

Well, you already made it.
You make it, and you have to keep it going. You have to make the right decisions to keep it with more longevity. Longevity is key. You have to keep going and always perfecting yourself and getting better.

· All Barbara Lynch Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Aspen 2014 Coverage on Eater [-E-]

Limelight Hotel

355 S Monarch St, Aspen, CO 81611