Frank McClelland has built a distinguished career on marrying New England flavors with French classics, bringing the first hints of haute cuisine — and a commitment to using fresh, local ingredients — to Boston over three decades ago. His L’Espalier restaurant has garnered countless awards and accolades over the years, and in 2007 he earned the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Northeast. He recently filled us in on the biggest change he’s seen in the restaurant industry, what he’s most grateful for and the secrets to his success.
Chef Frank McClelland
You’re a seasoned veteran of the Boston restaurant community — what’s the biggest change you’ve seen happen to the city’s dining scene?
The biggest change I've seen, and continue to see, is the incredible growth of the restaurant community. There are many more options, great new chefs and an amazingly diverse restaurant scene throughout the whole Greater Boston area and New England — far more than when I started at L'Espalier 30+ years ago.
Looking back on your career, what would you say you’re most proud of?
I'm most proud of the people I've had the opportunity to work with over the years, people I've seen grow with L'Espalier and then leave to be successful in their own restaurants or in other roles. There are a lot of people who have come through the kitchen at L'Espalier over the years, and it's absolutely one of the best aspects of the job!
Anything you wish you’d done differently?
I wish I had spent more time with my family and taken more time for myself!
Some of your employees have been with you for over three decades — what’s the secret to building and keeping a great staff?
I've been incredibly fortunate to work with some of our staff for decades. I think the key to building and keeping a great staff is being a good listener, adopting their ideas and giving team members the opportunity to evolve with the restaurant.
Have your personal tastes or preferences shifted since you first became a chef?
My tastes have evolved along with the guests I spend my time cooking for. I truly appreciate the renewed focus on pure, well-produced ingredients.
Frank McClelland prepping in the kitchen
You’ve accomplished so much as a chef, proprietor and author — is there anything you’d still love to take a stab at?
I'd love to run a vineyard, so I can be a farmer and a cook.
Do you think technology helps or hinders what you’re trying to do?
I think technology is overrunning society, and we need to be careful to keep it at arm’s length. That's the beauty of dining at L'Espalier; our guests can take a few hours away from it all while enjoying their meal. Technology has provided some great tools for diners (i.e. Reserve), but it hasn't changed how we do business or serve our guests at L'Espalier.
Could you describe this dish?
"New England Clam Bake" — Maine lobster, chorizo broth, corn, potato and seaweed. The lobster is butter-poached, the corn is puréed and foamed, the potatoes are slow poached in butter and leeks, and the seaweed we forage ourselves on Cape Ann and also get from a local Maine seaweed farmer.
L'Espalier's New England Clam Bake
How does it represent what you’re doing at L’Espalier?
The dish is a regional favorite with regional ingredients, updated to represent modern world cuisine. Still founded in simple, excellent ingredients and prepared well, which has always been the focus at L'Espalier.
What would pair well with it?
We currently pair a 2013 Claudie Jobard "Montagne la Folie" from Burgundy.