Thirty-five-year-old Sarah Wade scaled the corporate ladder at hotels in Texas, North Carolina, and Connecticut until 2013, when she decided to answer a Craigslist ad for a job in Boston. On a whim, she became the executive chef at Lulu’s in Allston, serving comfort food that would make a trucker blush. Her big break came in 2018 when she became a champion on the Food Network’s “Chopped.” And a bigger break came in August, when she opened Stillwater in the old Townsman space in the Leather District. She calls it a grown-up version of Lulu’s: “fun, funky, trendy, casual, and delicious.”
What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston? Sweet Cheeks barbecue, and I had the pork belly BLT. Tiffani Faison is a queen.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here? I think the biggest thing is the fact that people who come into our industry now don’t work as hard as they used to even five years ago. The work ethic overall in the industry has declined.
How has the restaurant landscape changed since you arrived in Boston? The overall restaurant style concepts have changed; everyone is doing this mishmosh of high-quality food with quick service. That seems to be the model that’s most successful these days. Everyone eats out every day. I think most of us have adapted to that.
What other restaurants do you visit? I like to go to Dumpling Kingdom around the corner in Chinatown and Punjab Palace in Allston. Where else? Esperia Grill in Brighton, a Greek place. I like the holes in the wall.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think: I want to work in restaurants? I worked in a coffee shop in high school, and I loved the pace, the speed, getting to know people — that’s where the desire to cook started. And I was in a hospitality program in college, and you had to put out a banquet-style dinner for 200 people with a professional chef. I’d never seen a professional kitchen or how it worked. I was fascinated, amazed, and I fell in love. This was at Oklahoma State University.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had? When I was in Oklahoma, I went to a pho restaurant with my parents. We ordered three bowls of pho and the plate of mint, bamboo, all the good stuff. On the plate were three little white pills! We were like: What the hell are these? We told the manager. There’s heart meds on my plate! He tried to accuse us of putting them there.
How could Boston become a better food city? Hmm. I think we’re a pretty kickass food city already. I think the food and the restaurants we have really speak to the people who live in the city. If anything, we need more niche-style restaurants, which are coming in — like a shop that did nothing but pupusas, but elevated, beautiful pupusas. . . . I think we have great Chinese, great Indian, and barbecue is coming up the ladder.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners. Hipster, casual, foodie.
What’s the most overdone trend right now? Doughnuts.
What are you reading? For fun, I’m reading “Huckleberry Finn.”
How’s your commute? Awful! I live in Brighton. I drive the Pike.
What’s the one food you never want to eat again? Beef tendon. Too chewy for me.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now? Real Midwestern Tex-Mex.
‘Everyone is doing this mishmosh of high-quality food with quick service. That seems to be the model that’s most successful these days.’
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant? The Lower Depths.
Who was your most memorable customer? There was a family who came in from out of town because their son was a “Chopped” fan. They took pictures. I hung out with the kid and had a great experience. A couple days later, I got a handwritten thank-you note, and the woman says, ‘We’re in town because my husband has an incurable form of cancer, and coming to see you and that you hung out with our son made our entire trip. We were thankful for that.’ It was very nice. This was at Lulu’s.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be? I would go to Punjab Palace, and the full gamut would be masala tea, samosas, chicken chana masala — spicy — and garlic naan and raita.Kara Baskin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.