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Jakob White and Fernanda White, both 2009 graduates of the Metropolitan College Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts, married in 2013 and threw themselves into realizing their shared dream of opening a restaurant serving small plates, “with an open kitchen and fun funky food.”
Last October, they realized that dream when they opened Comedor, an eatery specializing in Chilean-American tapas-style food, on Union Street in Newton, Mass. It’s been bustling ever since, winning raves for its imaginative yet unfussy food and its service to the community. (The two live down the street, offer cooking classes, and host charity events.)
“We weren’t originally looking in Newton,” says Fernanda. But after scouring several greater Boston neighborhoods, they found a location with seasonal outdoor seating and an adventurous clientele who “go out to eat all the time.”
At Comedor, diners can dig into small plates for omnivores or vegetarians, including pork anticuchos (tenderloin with peach, cipolini, and marmalade), octopus carpaccio, squid tacos, spicy pistachio chicken wings, sopaipilla grilled cheese, pumpkin cakes, and sweet and savory salads. A favorite dessert is the tempura-fried brownie with dulce de leche, a serendipitous recipe born one day when Fernanda was neck-deep in leftover tempura batter.
While Jakob, a native of rural upstate New York, has had a lifelong infatuation with the kitchen and grew up picking corn at his grandfather’s small farm, Fernanda, who comes from a family of cooks in Santiago, Chile, was a late bloomer. “I studied politics at Brandeis and it was a great experience; I love history and learning things,” she says. But politics proved unfulfilling, and although she had once rebelled against the Chilean expectation that all women learn to cook, she found herself living off campus and hungry for homemade meals. “So I started calling my mom and asking, how do you make that stew that I really like?” she says. “I’d buy books and watch cooking shows, and by the time I was a senior I was deboning entire birds, and I was like, this makes me really happy.”
Fernanda enrolled in BU’s gastronomy program because it combined her love of food and of culture. “After that I went to work at restaurants and never looked back,” she says.
Self-taught before he entered the MET program, Jakob read piles of cookbooks as a teenager, and his beer and bean chili, inspired by a family recipe, won a top prize in a regional contest. “I grew up in a place with a lot of farms and got inspired by finding local produce,” he recalls. Working as a bartender, but increasingly interested in cooking, he looked for a culinary program in Boston because of the area’s growing farm-to-table movement and the number of young chefs making their mark on its dining scene.
After finishing the MET program, the pair worked at some of greater Boston’s top kitchens, together and apart. Jakob started at the innovative Newton Highlands restaurant 51 Lincoln, quickly going from salad maker to sous chef to chef de cuisine. He and Fernanda had lost touch, but he heard she was looking for a job, recommended her, and they began dating. Jakob left in 2012 to become chef de cuisine at Waban Kitchen, but Fernanda stayed on at 51 Lincoln, becoming chef de cuisine and teaching cooking classes. She was named one of Boston’s top 30 under 30 in the Boston restaurant scene by Zagat that year.
“After a point, we felt that in order to grow, we needed to check out other places, and decided we wanted to look for a restaurant space of our own,” says Jakob. While they searched for a location, they worked as chefs at the catering company Max Ultimate Food, learning more tools of the trade. In 2014, Fernanda went to work for chef Cassie Piuma at her Somerville restaurant Sarma, and Jakob cooked for Ana Sortun, at Oleana, in Cambridge.
Comedor’s colorful, narrow 51-seat space fulfills their vision: it offers what they call “a casual vibe.” The kitchen is bathed in light, with end-to-end windows facing the street. “Every kitchen I ever worked at was a windowless room,” Fernanda says, “and here we see the snow, we see people all day walking around, and our employees tell us how much they love it.” The restaurant’s name (Spanish for “dining room”) reflects their philosophy. “We want people to feel like they’re in their own home when they’re here,” Jakob says.
As for the 12-hour days and the constant pressure to please demanding palates, the Whites say they went into the project with their eyes wide open. Their love for what they do, and for each other, permeates the place. “We are the best fit when it comes to cooking,” says Jakob. “Our styles and ideas complement each other. Her skill set is different from my skill set—she’s a wizard with breads and doughs, and I’m awesome with fish and meat and sauces.”
Download the recipe for baby Brussels sprouts with pebre and migas here.
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