When Jeffrey Fournier was 15, he set up art shows to exhibit and sell his paintings. The North Shore native knew early on that he was going to study fine arts, but what he didn’t know was that one day he’d be a master of the culinary arts, too. Today, Chef Fournier is being hailed as the latest chef-celeb to set trends in creative cuisine.
by CAROLYN MONTALTO
Born in Newburyport and raised in Amesbury, Fournier studied art at Northern Essex Community College, where he was particularly drawn to the works of Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. But when Fournier realized that he “did not want the life of a starving artist,” he packed his bags for California, where he got a job as a line cook and worked his way up to sous-chef.
Another three years later, with wanderlust out of his system and an impressive resume of culinary achievements, Fournier returned home to Amesbury. His first job in Boston, at the upscale restaurant Pignoli, was the beginning of an illustrious East Coast career that would put him not only under the tutelage of highly acclaimed chefs like Daniele Baliani and Lydia Shire, but also into the kitchens of renowned restaurants such as the Linwood Grill, Locke-Ober, Excelsior, Sophia’s, and the Metropolitan Club. Finally, in January 2006, after 15 years in the business, Fournier decided, once again, to go west – west of Boston that is – and opened his own place, 51 Lincoln, in Newton Highlands.
There is sophistication in the air at 51 Lincoln, even though there are no tablecloths and the servers wear jeans. The restaurant’s clean white walls, strategic lighting, and simple decor provide an elegant backdrop not only for the imposing 28-foot five-piece abstract painting (a Fournier original), but also for his artfully presented food. As the culmination of Fournier’s lifelong pursuit of two passions, food and art, 51 Lincoln is more reminiscent of a Newbury Street art gallery than a restaurant.
While food as art is not a new concept, artist/chef Fournier takes it to a new level. Before he puts a new item on his ever-changing menu, he sketches how the food will be plated, and each dish is a visual masterpiece. At 51 Lincoln, the food tastes as good as it looks and looks as good as it tastes. It is no wonder that Boston Magazine named it Best New Restaurant, West, 2007 and The Improper Bostonian called it Best Suburban Restaurant 2007.
Fournier’s signature appetizers are called “pairings” – food and liquor combinations ($9) that create a multisensory experience. These heavenly gastronomic marriages include Taleggio-stuffed medjool dates with prosciutto and rose-petal orange liquor; duck confit Rangoon with pear duck sauce and cranberry pomegranate liquor; lavender liquor with rosemary-skewered shrimp and lavender honey. I ordered the chicken-liver terrine with made-to-order croutons and hibiscus liquor. As the creamy rich pÃ¢te’ was spread onto the crispy butter-drenched toasts, a hearty, earthy scent mingled with the exotic perfume of the hibiscus-infused vodka.
Pan-seared watermelon steak ($9) is another Fournier original. It tastes like the essence of summer. The rigatoni bolognaise ($15/$22) is not a sauce-drenched pasta dish; it is a pairing of al dente pasta with a serving of meat that is at the same time hearty and delicate.
Our entrees, molasses glazed pork tenderloin, collard greens and sweet potatoes ($23) and flash-sauteed scallops and shrimp with chili kohlrabi and celery root puree ($22) were piping hot, fragrant, and flavorful combinations. 51 Lincoln offers an equally creative wine menu, and desserts, if you have room, run about $6. Our favorite was the home baked trio of cookies served warm with a glass of cold milk.
51 Lincoln is a study of contrasts and what is most amazing is that given the level of artistry that permeates this restaurant, Fournier is a very quiet, unassuming man. He doesn’t name drop; I had to Google his impressive culinary background. What he does talk about is growing up on the North Shore – how his grandmother and parents taught him to prepare their native French and Armenian dishes and how they encouraged him whether he was drawing or cooking. He talks about how he worked at a local sub shop while he attended college and how he met his wife. This chef’s kitchen may be located in Newton Highlands, but it’s clear that his heart remains in his grandmother’s Amesbury kitchen where his dual talents were both nurtured and inspired.
51 Lincoln is located at 51 Lincoln St., Newton Highlands, MA 02461; for more information, call 617.965.3110 or go to www.51lincolnnewton.com The restaurant is a short distance off of Route 128, Exit 20A.