Video: Chef Barbara Lynch at MAD3

Barbara Lynch grew up in the housing projects of South Boston. She never met her father. He died just before she was born, and as she was growing up, her mother had to sometimes work as many as three jobs to provide for the six children in the household. 

It’s not surprising to see how Barbara, the youngest of the kids, has always considered “I’m not scared” to be her guiding dictum. Growing up, it allowed her to take on any dare, whether it was stealing a city bus or moonlighting as a bookie. She never finished high school. 

At MAD3, Lynch explained how that same principle, the one that could have been her undoing, is the reason she now owns eight of the most acclaimed restaurants in Boston. During her talk, she explained how, on her own, she developed a sense of guts that was anchored by humanity, humor, and vision.

Lynch first entered the world of cooking when she was twenty-two, by weaseling her way into a dinner cruise job. She may not have had the necessary skills when she landed the gig, but she made sure to teach herself the essentials by the time she had to step up to the plate. At one point, that meant poring through French cookbooks with a French-to-English dictionary by her side.

Some years later, in 1998, she decided to strike out on her own. But her business partners in the first restaurant didn’t see her as anything more than a chef who needed to stay behind the stoves and keep her mouth shut. They would handle the money, the management, the big decisions. In the same way she taught herself how to cook, Lynch quickly picked up a couple of books and altered this reality. She learned how to be a manager and kicked the initial “collaborators” out of the project. 

The result of this unwavering sense of discipline, or “balls,” as she refers to it, is Barbara Lynch Gruppo, a restaurant group that pulls in $24 million a year and prides itself on limited staff turnover. The result is also a driven leader that no longer dreams of being Alain Ducasse or Joël Robuchon.

These days, she’s just as thrilled to be Barbara Lynch.