Arts & Culture

At the table with Ben Lloyd

Owner of new Wayland Square restaurant discusses risk-taking, small businesses

By
Staff Writer
Friday, October 17, 2014

Hummus makes a healthy snack, and it comprises ingredients that can be easily found at any dining hall, such as lemon juice and olive oil. Salted Slate’s recipe for the spread is fairly simple for those off meal plan.

It seems that Ben Lloyd, executive chef and owner of the Salted Slate, has done it all. After not getting into dental school, Lloyd worked in insurance for Liberty Mutual and coached the Lesley College crew team. And when he discovered his passion for cooking, he added one more responsibility to his list: working nights at a local restaurant without pay. This decision would lead him, at age 23, to leave the insurance world to delve further into cooking.

Now, as chef and owner of one of Wayland Square’s newest restaurant destinations, Lloyd, alongside a dedicated front-of-house staff, works 95-hour weeks to turn his dreams into a reality. “When you are in the restaurant industry, you quickly realize that it’s not really what I do in the kitchen,” he said in praise of his staff. “It’s what we do on the floor that makes a difference. I could totally mess up your meal. But if there is great service, you’ll be back 90 percent of the time.”

In this installment of “At the Table,” The Herald sat down with Lloyd to discuss the power of a great service staff, the struggles of running a small business and the benefits of taking risks at a young age.

 

Herald: What about food inspires you?

Lloyd: In its basic form, we need it. We absolutely need it. There’s also the connectivity to food. Knowing how to cook and prepare food is empowering for people, not only on a social scale — it’s also on a personal scale with people. It levels the playing field for people. People can cross socioeconomic boundaries through food. You can be a person who buys gourmet skinless chicken breasts at Whole Foods that cost you seven dollars a pound or you can fabricate a whole chicken and you would end up with a ton of different stuff. It’s that aspect that is the largest driving force behind what I do.

 

What was your go-to college food?

During studying, it was definitely Snyder’s Pretzels with spicy mustard. That was what we had stocked in our house. We spent money — probably more than we should have. But we ate pretty well once we left the dorms.

 

What is your earliest memory in the kitchen?

I don’t know if I have a grand story. I grew up in this European-style household. My mom was a stay-at-home mom in Connecticut who cooked heart-healthy, low-salt food. When I was a kid, I was pretty experimental compared to both of my brothers; I was accepting of a lot of things they wouldn’t try. I was a test market for my mom.

 

What is your favorite thing to cook?

Something like a grouper. I’m doing halibut right now because East Coast halibut is in season. I love fish like that because they can be fitted to any type of cooking. I can be reserved with it. I can be delicate with it. They can take a lot of flavor as well.

 

What is your spirit food?

I would say an oyster or maybe a peach. I don’t know. It’s hard to pick!

 

What makes Providence a good food city?

We have men and women who are ambitious, who don’t feel the need to be in Boston or New York. But that being said, there are also fallbacks to that as well. We only have 170,000 people here, which is not a captive audience if you are trying to make yourself a name in the food industry. The drawback is that we are not a city ­— we are a town. Tapping into an economy outside of our immediate economy is tough. No matter how many write-ups we get in Food and Leisure, we have a shrinking population, and our economy is in the dumps. If you look around, we have little pockets of monetary dispersal, so it’s tough for a small business.

 

How would you describe your food philosophy?

I find myself very grassroots-oriented. I have an unwillingness to compromise when it could be easy. Also purity — flavor rather than so much flair.

 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 

Recipe: Salted Slate Hummus

Most of these ingredients can be pilfered from the dining halls. The tahini can be substituted with almond butter, cashew butter or peanut butter. For dipping, use vegetables, crackers or pretzels in the hummus for a healthy snack, or spread on sandwiches.

 

Ingredients

1 can of cannellini or garbanzo beans drained

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp pepper

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp tahini

 

Directions

Puree ingredients together. Then serve as dip or spread

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