When you sit down to enjoy a dinner at The Landing, in Marblehead, you will be immediately amazed at the sense of camaraderie between staff and guests alike. It may be Roary, a charming and charismatic servant, who cracks a joke or asks a patron about a recent trip cut short or a memory shared; A neighbor might be at the table next to you to inquire about your updated natural layout; The towers may be waiting for a table as they look across the harbor still bustling with activity even after sunset…but you’ll be sure to see Alex Pineda or Noe Ortega, the chefs involved in the new concept and the backbone of all the change, energy and stamina it takes to maintain Restaurant is alive and well during these complex days.
Alex Pineda and No Ortega have an eight-year fraternal relationship, and you can feel their connection when you talk to both of them. When asked about lessons learned from each other, other than specifics about cuisine, a shared flavor profile, or elaborate technique along side, Alex and Noe spoke of each other with admiration and respect. Alex shares that Noe pushes him out of the complacency that can come with an exercise routine. Noe shares that Alex knows what it means to be a man of your word. They admit that they would be lost without the other and it’s easy to see that they unite, support, and create together in ways that most chefs would agree is a hard-to-find balance.
On this occasion, we sampled menu items including the famous yucca dumplings with green garlic and coriander aioli and crumbs of cotija cheese to balance the stir-fry and add a light herbal flavor, and crispy pork belly with cabbage, potatoes and mustard accents as a play on the classic beef and cabbage. We talked about Noe and Alex’s love of family and home.
Born in the United States but raised in Mexico, Noi brings a gentle Latin American love of community to his cooking and celebration of flavors and textures from this part of the world. A new father, Alex is also the son of Lydia Shire, the queen of Boston’s culinary scene and the creative genius behind beloved restaurants Biba, Scampo, Locke-Ober, and Seasons at the Bostonian. Shire was also Executive Chef at Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Hills and the first Executive Chef at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to open a luxury hotel. His father, Uriel Pineda, a Colombian-born butcher who has worked with Shire, is also part of Alex’s story.
Pineda and Ortega met at the Shire Scambo Restaurant. Ortega’s culinary story included, prior to his time in Scampo, adventures in some amazing places including the colorful seasons in Sinaloa, the bread-and-bread dynasty and cartel-filled state of Mexico, and a stint in Alaska where he learned about fish, of course, and working through the eerie light and dark reality.
Before the call from Pineda, Ortega had made his way from a chef’s line to an executive at the Envoy Hotel. Pineda worked under his mother’s supervision through various stages, starting from a young age when he would stand on crates making Biba’s lobster pizza, cleaning marrow bones, peeling whole heads of garlic or spending his time in the pit of a dish. But he has also worked with other notable culinary names such as Wolfgang Puck in Los Angeles and at restaurants in London, China and Barcelona. Now, Pineda sees his opportunity at The Landing as an opportunity to hone his creative identity further and to create new concepts and flavors with his roots in mind.
When I asked what both his parents taught him in and out of the kitchen, Alex claimed his mom taught him to maintain interest in every step of the cooking process, every detail and tell the story of the meal with beginning, peak, and end. Knowing the ending, capturing that element, and even highlighting the bitter nature of filtering out a meaningful meal is as much part of the story as it is part of how it started. Alex reminds us that some chefs never find the true end. He says his parents taught him good old-fashioned perseverance and hard work.
I also had the opportunity to chat with Shire about her thoughts on Alex’s journey, who’s in the kitchen, and the ways he’s shaping his own. Shire openly discussed what she sees in Alex and what she also sees in herself. “We are strikingly similar in many ways – mostly our style and dedication to seasoning properly – the basics of good cooking. He is a worldly cook and very committed to serving food that is delicious, bold, bold, properly prepared, and always memorable. Alex is a very clean cook, and I am proud him for that.”
She also spoke about his energy as an entrepreneur, the work ethic he inherited from his parents, and his economic wise sense of business. Shire admitted that she, herself, pursued her mother, who was a fashion painter who preferred dramatic shoes, extravagance and red. Shire also shared that what Alex learned from his father was an understanding of proteins and what fats do in food — flavor, tenderness, and the basis for making the food you really want to eat. I was thrilled when Alex chose Carminola, a yucca pie, for his inaugural menu at Marblehead. She says he is fearless like his parents.
When you walk away from a meal at this new Landing, we hope after enjoying a delicately coated beet salad with sumac and pomegranate vinaigrette or pressed chicken with crisp skin and roasted carrots, you’ll be left with the knowledge that here, community and tradition still matter. That the past and family help shape new ideas, new food design and flavor, and that the future is about the possibility of change and borrowing from those who came before.