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Jamie Leeds, the chef/owner of CommonWealth and Hank’s Oyster Bar, has been selected to serve as president of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, a national non-profit whose mission is to promote “the education and advancement of women in the restaurant industry and the betterment of the industry as a whole.”
The post is a two-year commitment that will place a fairly serious burden on Leeds’ time and attention. She will oversee the marketing and membership committees. She will attend quarterly meetings. She will have a say on the organization’s spending and Web site. She will even travel to Chile soon for a sort of culinary fact-finding mission.
“It means a lot of work,” Leeds tells Y&H over the phone this afternoon. “It’s a very challenging, exacting, and very rewarding position.”
How will Leeds manage her three restaurants with such a heavy commitment over the next two years?
The restaurateur, who has been part of WCR since its inception in 1993, explains that the president is eased into the position with a one-year incoming term, followed by the two-year presidency, and then a one-year outgoing term. The president also has lots of support from the WCR board, an executive director, and the committees. In other words, Leeds won’t have to do everything for the 2,000-member organization.
“I did sit down with everybody [at her restaurants] and talk about it,” Leeds says. “It has taken me out of the restaurants a great deal. All the managers and chefs are very supportive. I wouldn’t have done it without their support.”
What’s more, Leeds adds later in our chat, “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think the restaurants were strong enough to support it.”
Leeds’ new gig comes as she and her chef de cuisine, Abigail Fellows, have been opening up the menu at CommonWealth, adding some lighter fare and more options beyond the chef-driven gastropub grub.
As fate would have it, I was dining at CommonWealth last night, test-driving some of the new dishes. I enjoyed the homemade squash ravioli with an orange butter sauce (though it was a touch sweet between the sauce and the roasted kabocha). And I thought the patty on my “Uncommon” lamb burger was a righteously meaty mouthful, firm and savory, but I found the mint pesto far too sour and the English muffin a poor substitute for a genuine bun. The bread-to-meat ratio was way off, and the muffin didn’t supply the sweet buttery flavors I like in my patty-delivery system.
Mostly, I have to admit, I was disappointed even to see some of these selections on the menu. While much of the original gastropub menu remains intact, there are clearly additions that take CommonWealth in a completely different direction, like the pork belly sliders and ceviche and the chicken and dumplings.
It’s the price you pay, Leeds shrugs, for being a neighborhood restaurant. You have to cater to the neighborhood’s wishes. “They come here for all the different types of desires they have,” Leeds tells me. “If we were packed every night with people ordering head cheese and black pudding, I’d be in heaven.”
But that’s obviously not the case.