A native of Hartford, CT, William Kovel escaped the insurance capital to make his own mark as a chef. Studying with such luminaries as Traci Des Jardins of Jardinière, he moved first to San Francisco, then to London, and then across the US, until finally heading back towards home and settling in Boston at the auspicious Aujourd’hui at the Four Seasons Hotel. When that historic kitchen closed, Kovel jumped the river to Cambridge, MA, where he has been wowing the biotech and bistro-minded foodies of Greater Boston for the past five years at his progressively well-named restaurant Catalyst (www.catalystrestaurant.com) and his latest creation, Catalyst Cafe (www.catalystcafecambridge.com).
No stranger to being busy or to juggling many duties, the father of three is preparing to open a second location around the corner. Catalyst Café is set to focus more on the morning and midday crowds that pile into tech-savvy Kendall Square every day, but will surely not skimp on any of his signature creativity or attention to detail, which are among the attributes that have earned Kovel recognition by Food & Wine and Wine Spectator (he is Level II Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers), as well as a AAA Five Diamond Award and membership in the Chains des Rotisseurs.
MM: How did you get into cooking?
WK: I’ve just always known I wanted to cook. My first memory of it was an elementary school assignment to write a book and my bio at the end of the book said I was a chef. There was never a moment where I thought, “maybe I’ll try my hand at finance.”
MM: Where was your first professional kitchen experience?
WK: I headed straight for the West Coast after college and landed at Jardiniere under Traci Des Jardin.
MM: What is your favorite dish to prepare?
WK: Anything when it’s just my wife and me at home, but if given a full day and whatever ingredients I want, it would be a roast chicken with wild mushrooms and Madeira, potato gratin and a premier cru Burgundy.
MM: What is the best part of your job?
WK: The best part of my job is watching our team become leaders over the years. We promote from within and it’s a great feeling to reward people for hard work and talent.
MM: Who is your favorite chef?
WK: There are a lot of talented chefs, but I have to pick Chris Coombs. We’re good friends and he’s the one I actually call.
MM: What do you usually make for yourself at home?
WK: I have three toddlers, so we just grill. It’s a 23-minute window to cook and eat before things get crazy. Grilled chicken, corn and a tomato salad are go-to dinners in the summer.
MM: If you could dine with any three people, who would they be?
WK: For a chef dinner, it would be Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse and Danny Meyer.