When you sit down to enjoy a dinner at The Landing, in Marblehead, you are immediately struck by the sense of camaraderie among staff members and guests alike. Roary, a charismatic and charming server, might be cracking a joke or asking a patron about a recent trip taken or memory shared; a neighbor might be at the table next to you inquiring about your updated landscaping; out-of-towners might be waiting for a table as they look out across the harbor still buzzing with activity even after sunset…but you will be sure to see either Alex Pineda or Noe Ortega, co-chefs of the new concept and the backbone for all the change, energy, and stamina that it takes to keep a restaurant alive and well during these complicated days.
Alex Pineda and Noe Ortega have an eight-year brotherhood going, and you can sense their bond when you chat with each of them. When asked about lessons learned from each other, beyond the specifics in the kitchen or a flavor profile shared or a technique perfected side by side, both Alex and Noe speak of the other with admiration and respect. Alex shares that Noe pushes him to break out from complacency that can come with a practiced routine. Noe shares that Alex teaches what it means to be a man of your word. They acknowledge that they would be lost without the other and it’s easy to see that they challenge, support, and create together in ways that most chefs would agree is a hard balance to find.
On this occasion, as we sampled menu items including the ever-popular yucca fritters with a green garlic cilantro aioli and crumbles of cotija cheese to balance the fry and to add a light grassy note, and the crispy pork belly with cabbage, potato, and accents of mustard as a sort of play on a classic corned beef and cabbage, we talked of both Noe and Alex’s love for family and home.
Noe, born in the US but having grown up in Mexico, brings a gentle, Latin American love for community to his cooking and a celebration of flavors and textures from that part of the world. Alex, a new father himself, is also the son of Lydia Shire, queen of the Boston culinary scene and the creative genius behind beloved restaurants Biba, Scampo, Locke-Ober, and Seasons at the Bostonian. Shire was also the executive chef at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills and was the first female executive chef at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to open one of their luxury properties. His father, Uriel Pineda, a Colombian-born butcher who worked with Shire, is also a part of Alex’s story.
Pineda and Ortega met in Shire’s restaurant Scampo. Ortega’s culinary story, before his time at Scampo, included adventures in some surprising places including colorful chapters in Sinaloa, the breadbasket and cartel-heavy state of Mexico, and a stint in Alaska where he learned about fish, of course, and working through strange light and dark realities.
Before the call from Pineda, Ortega had worked his way up from line cook to executive sous at the Envoy Hotel. Pineda worked under his mother through various phases, beginning at a young age when he stood on crates to make lobster pizzas at Biba, cleaning marrow bones, and peeling whole heads of garlic or doing his time in the dish pit. But he also worked with other notable culinary big names such as Wolfgang Puck in Los Angeles and in restaurants in London, China, and Barcelona. Now, Pineda looks at his opportunity at The Landing as a chance to hone his own creative identity even further and to create new concepts and flavors while keeping his roots in mind.
When I asked about what each of his parents taught him in and out of the kitchen, Alex claims that his mother taught him to maintain an attention to each step of the culinary process, to each detail and to telling the story of a meal with a beginning, a climax, and a finale. Knowing the end, and capturing that element, even accentuating the bittersweet nature of winding down a meaningful meal, is as much a part of the story as how it begins. Some chefs, Alex reminds us, never find the true ending. Both of his parents, he says, taught him about good old-fashioned perseverance and hard work.
I also had the chance to chat with Shire about her thoughts on Alex’s journey, who he is in the kitchen, and the ways he is shaping his own journey. Shire openly discussed what she sees in Alex that she also sees in herself. “We are strikingly the same in many ways—mostly our style and dedication to seasoning correctly—the basics of fine cooking. He is a worldly cook and so committed to serving food that is delicious, interesting, bold, correctly done, and always memorable. Alex is a very clean cook, and I am proud of him for that.”
She also spoke of his energy as an entrepreneur, the work ethic he inherited from both of his parents, and his frugality and wise business sense. Shire confessed that she, herself, takes after her own mother, who was a fashion illustrator who favored the dramatic, extravagance, and red shoes. Shire also shared that what Alex learned from his father is an understanding of proteins and what fat does for food—flavor, tenderness, the basis for making food that you just really want to eat. She was thrilled when Alex chose the carimañola, yucca fritters, on his opening menu in Marblehead. He is fearless, she says, like both of his parents.
When you walk away from a meal at this new Landing, hopefully after enjoying the precisely plated beet salad with sumac and a yogurt pomegranate vinaigrette or the pressed chicken with crisp skin and roasted carrots, you will be left with the realization that here, community and tradition still matter; that the past and family help shape new ideas, new food design and flavor, and that the future is all about both the potential for change and borrowing from those who came before.