Long-time Malden resident, David Stein, is as warm and colorful as his red-flowered pants. We spoke at the Polka Dot Commissary on Pearl Street where he described his life as a chef, entrepreneur, musician and partial owner of Stock Pot Malden.
In 1976, David Stein was washing dishes in Mystic Seaport at Howard Johnson’s on the highway. “I liked the line cooks,” he remembers. “They were cool.” A year later he was working at his first cooking job, part-time, in the cafeteria where he attended college.
He moved to Indiana and in the late 1970s, to the San Francisco bay area around the time when Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse, the first farm to market restaurant, and the California New American cuisine movement began to take off. By this time he had been a line cook in a steak restaurant while playing music with his wife, both semi-professional musicians, and had cooked at a few other jobs. He realized his passion for both cooking and music and that working as a cook allowed him to play the music that was meaningful to him. When Chez Panisse offered him a job he declined and headed for the east coast.
In the mid 1980s he went to the world famous Culinary Institute of America, or CIA, in Hyde Park, New York, where he became a chef saucier and learned French technique. “You learn how to make a beautiful stock and how to make that into a number of derivative sauces or soups,” he says. “In any cuisine that has to be the fundamentals.” Later, in an old world delicatessen in upstate New York, he started making soups and quiches and gained a large following. “Flavor is where I come from. . .the food has to speak to you with no presentation, whatsoever. Then, you create a great ambiance and make a great plate. If the flavor’s not there, it’s window dressing,” Stein continues.
In 1987, after eight years of cooking, he moved to Boston. Most of his career was fine dining and catering with such restaurants as Cornucopia on the Wharf, one of Boston’s New American restaurants in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. He was the chef saucier at the Parker House Hotel for several years, and cooked at and designed one of Black Cow’s kitchens.
Stein owned his first restaurant with a partner in Medford Square that lasted for two years, admittedly after doing all the things that he tells others to avoid like no parking, for example. During this time as a chef saucier, he began a product line of smoked foods, sauces, soups and condiments that he would sell retail and to restaurants and would continue creating to the present.
After nine years at Sodexo, the largest food service provider in the world, he became the executive chef for the Federal Reserve Bank in the executive dining room on the 32nd floor, overlooking the harbor, cooking for diners like Bob Kraft and Mitt Romney. Although, he says, “I felt like a round peg in a square hole.” the position gave him the opportunity to use his creativity and the work was steady until the economy crashed in 2008.
Around the time that Boston announced its new food truck program, Stein attended a conference in Jamaica Plain and took a tour of Crop Circle Kitchen, the only commissary available at that time for food trucks and entrepreneurs that needed to work out of an inspected kitchen. He saw the potential of this movement, researched it and bought a food truck that he would call Brother Trucker. Stein, who wears a beard and tops his long hair with a baseball cap said, “I liked the hippy caravan aspect of it … the freedom to work for yourself and to cook your food and cook it in your way,” he adds. After hearing that Triangle, Inc., an organization that serves the disabled, was looking for someone to run its small scale cafeteria for its clients and the staff in exchange for the use of its kitchen, Stein took the position and set up a commissary for food trucks and other food businesses. At the end of two and a half years, the business grew to nine food trucks including his own and a few bakers.
Next: David Stein meets Francis Gouillart and Stock Pot Malden is born.