6 Things to Know About Cultivar, Now Open Downtown

Chef Mary Dumont brings "modern American garden cuisine" to Boston
June 13, 2017
by Scott Kearnan

It's been two years since acclaimed chef Mary Dumont moved on from her eight-year tenure at Harvest in Cambridge to launch her first self-owned venture. After a long germination period, the resulting restaurant — Cultivar — has finally sprouted Downtown in the Ames Boston Hotel. Yes, it was worth the wait — and here's what you need to know about Dumont's glorious new garden of delights. 

Courtesy of Galdones Photography/Cultivar

There's a special meaning to its name
Dumont sees Cultivar as the culmination of her life and career to date — and that's why she chose its name. "Cultivar refers to any plant, whether vegetable or fruit, that has been cultivated through human intention to have the best characteristics of several plants," she said. "That’s the way I look at my life at this moment. It’s like I’ve taken cuttings of every part of what I’ve gone through to make one complete thing." Dumont has her roots in New Hampshire, where she was raised before cutting her culinary teeth largely in San Francisco at spots like the fine-dining icon Jardinière. She eventually returned to the Granite State, where her work as the opening chef of the (now-shuttered) Dunaway Restaurant at Strawbery Banke earned her a "Best New Chef" award from Food & Wine. She continued to earn plaudits for her fresh approach to farm-to-table dining at Harvest — and new fans for her run on The Next Iron Chef. 

Courtesy of Galdones Photography/Cultivar

​Dumont dubs the design "modern organic"
Dumont and her wife, Emily French-Dumont (Cultivar's director of operations), both grew up in historic homes — and they currently live in rural Groton, Massachusetts, with their four daughters (the eldest two are actually putting in some hours as hosts at the restaurant). So it was only fitting that Cultivar should have a woodsy, rustic New England aesthetic. To achieve that feel, the couple worked with NYC-based Glen & Company, the interiors team behind restaurants like Del Posto and Gabriel Kreuther. Cultivar's centerpiece is a beautiful bar topped with 300-year-old live edge copper beech wood; Dumont says that she grew up with copper beech wood in her backyard, and wanted the tree's nickname — "queen of the forest" — to serve as a nod to her late mother. The bar front's galvanized metal panels were repurposed from chicken coops.

Courtesy of Galdones Photography/Cultivar

The rest of the 88-seat dining room features rich woods and sumptuous blue banquettes, plus accent pieces like tree branch–inspired chandeliers and hanging Japanese kokedama, moss balls covered in ornamental plant growths. Adding a touch of home to the space is a custom black steel sculpture by Groton-based artist Ray Ciemny, a swirling design entitled "Swarm of Bees." There's also a 55-seat patio with tile-topped tables, lounge seating and fire tables. 

Courtesy of Galdones Photography/Cultivar

The restaurant is home to a "freight farm"
Responsible sourcing has always been important to Dumont, who plucks many of the ingredients for Cultivar's dishes from her Groton garden. But Cultivar's farm-to-fork ethos really excels thanks to the restaurant's use of Boston-made Freight Farms: shipping containers repurposed as hydroponic gardens. Inside the containers, which are plopped right on Cultivar's patio, Dumont can grow everything from radish to kohlrabi to tomatoes — year-round. She puts ingredients like this to great use, creating gorgeous plates like yakitori morels and fiddleheads (pictured at page top) with fava bean hummus spiced with lemon thyme, furikake and Meyer lemon, and Burgundian snail toast (pictured above). Pastry chef Robert Gonzalez swipes Duke's mayo on his bread, which is griddled and topped with fresh herbs, green chickpea hummus and French snails sautéed with Pernod and garlic.

There's certainly an environmental incentive to using the Freight Farms containers, said Dumont, although she admits she appreciates the concept for more personal reasons too. "I wanted to be with the food every step of the way," she said. "And I'm not much of an urban person. When you step inside, it has a greenhouse feeling. It feels good to go inside and get away from the traffic and car horns."

Courtesy of Galdones Photography/Cultivar

Dumont calls the cuisine "modern American garden" 
That means seasonal ingredients, including plenty of foraged finds, are central to the menu, which includes a "Raw & Crudo" section (offering shellfish plateaus, caviar and crudo like razor clam with white soy and fried garlic), a selection of housemade pastas and a couple of large-format dishes like this whole roasted chicken for two with wild mushroom ragout stuffing and Anson Mills blue polenta. 

Courtesy of Galdones Photography/Cultivar

There's a 30 Under 30 alum in the kitchen
We've been keeping an eye on Brian Young since at least 2013, when we named him one of our 30 Under 30 superstars for his work at Post 390. Now he's chef de cuisine at Cultivar. Dumont calls Young, previously co-chef at Townsman (the Downtown restaurant from multiple Cochon 555 winner Matt Jennings), a "master butcher" — so she put him at the helm of a dry-aged program offering selections like the rib-eye for two, accompanied with bone marrow–roasted potatoes, pickled mustard seeds and loads of veggies. 

Courtesy of Galdones Photography/Cultivar

It's raising the bar on gin collections
Advanced sommelier Nicholas Daddona has pulled together a list of bottles from small-production, sustainably minded winemakers, and there's a strong selection of New England craft brews, including limited-edition finds from folks like Malden-based Idle Hands. But the bar is also where you'll find a particularly impressive lineup of artisanal gins curated by Dan Lynch, previously of Area Four. As cocktail director, Lynch decided to complement Cultivar's "modern American garden cuisine" with the botanical qualities of gin, used in tinctures like the Plum Island Swizzle, made with Brockman’s gin, beach plum, apricot and cinnamon, and some large-format drinks for sharing too. We have a feeling this bar will cultivate quite a strong following.

The details: Cultivar is open seven days a week, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner from 11 AM–11 PM. 

1 Court St.; 617-979-8203