Maybe it’s because Lumiere sits where Brigham’s used to be, a favorite place of mine from my days as a Newton youth, or maybe it’s just because Michael Leviton is a beast in the kitchen. Regardless, our experience and time with Chef Leviton in his Lumiere kitchen (he’s also a Newton native, represent) was invaluable, we sat there for close to two hours soaking up all the info we could, highlighted by one ridiculous delicious berry shortcake he made for us. Michael Leviton is no fool, in fact, quite the opposite. We never fully know what chefs will be like when we step into their kitchens to meet with them, while each and every one of them has been quite gracious to give us a small piece of their precious time, Chef Leviton felt more like a mentor above all else. He’s a calculated man, measured with his responses and there is as much thought into the philosophy of Lumiere at the front of the house as there is with the food that is being made in the back. It’s no coincidence that Lumiere is consistently one the top restaurants in Boston, because Chef Leviton’s dedication and craft is transparent across the board.
We sat down with Chef Leviton in the dining room on a Thursday morning, after we portioned out a dozen Shortcakes and popped them in the oven to gently bake. It’s easy to call the food at Lumiere local, because it is, but there’s a method to his passion as well. When the restaurant first opened, it was a lot more bells and whistles than it is today; heavier dishes like foie gras and unabashed amounts of butter were common. In 1999 you could get away with all that because that’s what people wanted (you could also get away with listening to Sugar Ray but that’s beside the point) But to serve truffle oil and Robuchon potatoes today seems a bit out of touch. What people want, Leviton reminds us, is to feel nourished and good about themselves. Sure he can add a pound of butter to a simple potato dish and make it taste great, but who can’t? The challenge lies in using minimal fats and still produce a sensational product. Adapting to the times is what Chef Leviton is all about, he probably wouldn’t still be dominating this business if he hadn’t changed the restaurant with subtle touches throughout the years.
Local today is not what local was twenty or even ten years ago. It was barely a blip on the food trend radar, but today it completely defines Chef Leviton’s food. Whether it’s a simple plate of Bluefish or a soup made with local corn, you can bet there’s a lot of thought, inspiration and technique behind it all. Food isn’t on the plate without a purpose, there’s no gloppy sauce to cover it up and it all makes sense together. Simple, clean and properly cooked food sounds easier than it is, but Chef Leviton is a true master of his craft, something this Newton native (and his fiancee/business partner) can truly appreciate.