Story by Marianne Salza
The electrifying ambiance in the Hampshire House during the first Beacon Hill Women’s Forum (BHWF) of the 2023-2024 season was compared to “sparkling champagne” by Founder/Co-President Lisa Macalaster.
“The energy in this room is fabulous,” beamed Macalaster, after ringing a bell. “This is amazing. There are many faces from way back when, and so many new faces.”
Beacon Hill Women’s Forum is an organization of multi-generation women sharing experiences while strengthening the vibrant community. Throughout the decade, over 60 women have delivered remarks about their insightful stories during monthly forums; and Macalaster believes that this will be the best year yet.
“We have enjoyed the happy feeling that occurs when you pass a familiar face of someone you met at the forum on Charles Street while shopping. Exchanging a warm smile makes you feel like part of the neighborhood,” said Macalaster. “It makes you feel special. That’s what we’re trying to cultivate.”
The room was at full capacity during the September 12 gathering, with 90 women in attendance for a presentation by James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef, Lydia Shire, owner of Scampo, located in The Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles Street, Boston.
Shire — acclaimed for her kindness and generosity — shared her passion for cooking creatively (and love of butchering), and the importance of equality in the kitchen.
“I’m probably the oldest chef in Boston cooking right now,” revealed Shire, who will be celebrating her 75th birthday in October. “As long as I have my brain, I’m good to go. I love the creative part of my life.”
The restauranteur equated most of her success to her book and fashion illustrator parents. She was raised in a middle-class household in Coolidge Corner, surrounded by art. Shire began cooking with her father, at age four, chopping garlic with a cleaver. She fondly remembers the wafting smell of sherry when she arrived home from school, and her father would be cooking his chicken and mushrooms.
“If you thoughtfully sit and read, you can cook,” Shire attested about the intuition of cooking. “It’s all about experimenting and trusting yourself.”
As a teenager, Shire lived in a home for wayward children in Dorchester, and worked at a theater, making cotton candy and popcorn – with real butter. She became pregnant her senior year of high school, and became a mother of three by 21-years-old.
Following a divorce at a young age, Shire utilized the funds from her pawned wedding ring to finance her education at Le Cordon Bleu, London, where she rented living quarters at a YMCA for $9 a week in the early 1970s.
“Living in London was a great time in my life,” recalled Shire. “It was the first time I had ever been oversees. Being in Europe and seeing real pastry and butcher shops opened my mind.”
Shire started her career in Boston at Maison Robert, a French restaurant in Old City Hall, where she began tossing salads, and was eventually promoted to head chef. While there, she met chef, Julia Child – who enjoyed the meal that Shire had prepared – and the two became friends.
The ladies spent time at each other’s homes, cooking for one another. Shire described the aroma of the Roquefort cheese and butter of Child’s homemade pastries the first time that she visited Child’s Cambridge home. Her knees trembled when Child asked her to make the salad dressing for their lunch.
“The true beauty of Julia was how she could be a conduit between people,” said Shire. “She was so generous with her home.”
Shire served as the first female executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotel, in Beverly Hills, and has owned and managed several restaurants that she has loved equally, like her children. She creates a new menu for Scampo every three months. Savory foods are her favorite to prepare (and eat).
“I feel that wholesome food is good for you,” Shire asserted. “God meant us to have some fat.”
Shire announced that she will be opening a new restaurant in the Seaport with her chef son. Moss & Bronze by Lydia and Son, 601 Congress Street, Boston, will be an American grill that can seat 80 patrons and will feature a large bar.