Chef Mary Edinger
Cambridge is just across the Charles River in Boston. There is a Table there with its team of young talented chefs driven by the seasons. Headed by a top chef this crew sets to aim the bar high. Chef Mary Edinger is quiet by nature but her desserts do all the talking. I recently met up with her while in town to discuss her mid western roots and get to know her as a person.
How important was food growing up?
“I grew up in Indiana, on the Ohio border. My mom often cooked from scratch, we ate dinner as a family every night when she wasn’t working late at the hospital. As a little kid, I could often be found perched on a stool next to the cook at my dad’s Quaker Conference Center. I would turn radish roses and arrange petit fours from Kroger onto beautiful trays. The food was never glamorous and I never saw fine dining until I was in culinary school, but it was definitely made with care. I learned to think of food as an act of love. I, in turn started baking for my friends and family as a way of showing affection. Baking became my love language. So in that aspect food was very important."
How did you get into a culinary career?
“I went to a huge university for dietetics for a year straight out of high school and really hated it. I knew in the back of my mind I wanted to work with food in some way. I worked as a lunch lady in the dorms and liked that much more than classes. So I started looking into culinary schools. I ended up going to the CIA in Hyde Park. While going to school for my bachelor’s I worked full time at a true farm-to-table place. Directly after graduating I went to work at Craigie on Main in Cambridge when they were first forming their pastry program. I stayed there for three years and then worked at No. 9 Park for a year and a half. Carl and I had crossed paths at Craigie and when I heard he was opening The Table I was leaving a job, asked him if he needed help, and here I am".
What inspires you?
“My co workers. I really like working pastry surrounded by savory chefs. I think it’s important for me to be surrounded by that mindset. Our Front of House team is also super strong and smart and they help remind me that I’m not just making food for empty seats.”
Who do you look up to?
“I look up to Carl a lot. He is very passionate about what he does and that’s very contagious. I’ve worked with a lot of strong women who inspire me. I worked with Jess Scott Porto at Craigie and definitely shaped not only the way I think about pastry but about organization and self-care. All of which are essential to not going insane in a professional kitchen. I also love following Stella Parks who used to be a restaurant pastry chef in Kentucky and now writes for Serious Eats.”
What kind of advice would you give to a young chef?
“Listen, listen a lot! Shut up and pay attention. That’s how you learn a lot, especially in the beginning.”
What thoughts do you have on the term female chef?
“I recognize that it’s probably outdated and we should just be “chefs”-right? But I also think that it’s being turned on its head and taken back as a term of empowerment. Publications such as Cherry Bombe are doing a pretty great job of organizing, advancing, and making women all over the industry more visible. In that sense I think it’s good thing
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
“I think either something with children or flowers. I buy and arrange the flowers for the restaurant and it’s a good outlet for me.”
What would your last dish be if you could have anything?
“I have a bland mid western palette so it would be something along the lines of a picnic. Like grilled corn, watermelon, deviled eggs, pie, cake, etc. That kind of food. Back to my roots.”
Having spent time with Mary over several shoots now I get the sense she may seem quiet on the outside but I know she is listening and always learning. Which her desserts and pastries are a mirror image of her. Very pretty at first glance but very complex when you get to know them. The team at The Table are wicked lucky to have such a dedicated and beautiful person in chef Mary.