Home Grown: An Interview with the Wahlbergs

The Wahlbergs add a soulful local branch to their restaurant empire.

From their working-class Boston roots, the extended Wahlberg family has made a huge impression on the entertainment world, but if you ever suspect that they’ve “gone Hollywood” just take a trip to the new Wahlburgers. In many ways, it’s their ideal brick-and-mortar vision of family, food and community—located at the heart of the Dorchester neighborhood that will always be home. So how did it all start and where’s it all going? We had a chat with chef Paul and his brothers Mark and Donnie.

Where Boston: When did you first realize Paul was a stellar chef?
Mark Wahlberg: Early on. He was always cooking with our mom growing up—the kitchen is where he’s most comfortable.
Donnie Wahlberg: Probably when he used to warm up the leftover Chinese food on a frying pan when we were kids. And somehow he made two-day-old Chinese food taste brand new and delicious again.
Paul Wahlberg: Everything that was left over got utilized. My mom and dad would make a boiled dinner with picnic ham, which is a smoked shoulder. We knew, if we were having that, within two days we would be eating what we called goulash, which was all of the potatoes, vegetables and meat all diced up and then fried in a skillet. And we always had pickled beets with it. It was filling, it was delicious, and it was very soul-satisfying.

WB: What is your favorite item on the Wahlburgers menu?
MW: Thanksgiving Burger. There’s nothing better than all the favorites of Thanksgiving dinner—turkey, stuffing, cranberry, butternut squash—right between a bun.
DW: The Bacon BBQ Burger, aka the Donnie Burger. It’s my recipe. I created it!

WB:
 Paul, which dish would you like to add to the Wahlburgers menu?
PW: A chowder. My mom, my grandmother and my aunts would make this brothy fish chowder with haddock, and it was so simple. You could make a meal out of that with a great crust of bread. I love peasant food: the more peasanty, the better.

WB: What are some of your best memories of New England food?
PW: When we moved out of a triple decker into a single family house, my dad put a garden in the yard right away, so we would grow tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers. Growing corn in the backyard was the single greatest experience because we’d come home from school in September and I’d go out in the yard, pull the corn right off the stalks and go inside and cook it and eat it. There was nothing better.

WB: Boston is the greatest city in the world because...
MW: It’s home. And while it’s small compared to other major cities, it’s culturally diverse and attracts incredibly talented people from all over the world to come together and do great things.
DW: It’s diverse, it’s a big city with a small town feel, and while it hasn’t been perfect, its growing pains have brought it forward into the 21st century and ensured that it will stay the greatest city in the world.
PW: [As a chef] it’s really kind of amazing what’s available, because of all the ethnic diversity that the region holds: in Fall River there’s a huge Portuguese community, and in parts of Dorchester, a huge Polish community. The Chinese, the Germans, the Irish, the English, the Italians—everybody had an influence. All these different ethnic communities would blend in that kind of melting pot of food. I live for mom and pop places because everything’s made with love. I can go anywhere in the city and find a great meal, especially in the local joints. There are some great restaurateurs that just keep popping out of the woodwork.

WB: On a perfect day in Boston...
DW: I would walk around the streets and talk to people from the neighborhood and just be one of them.
MW: Take my mom and the extended Wahlberg clan to Fenway for a Red Sox game and then have a big family meal with everyone at home.
PW: Everybody should experience Fenway Park. The city has so much to offer—walk around, look at the history, people-watch.

WB: What’s the best reason to visit Dorchester?
DW: It fills my heart. It’s the only place on the Earth where I can walk down the streets and know where every crack, bump, pothole and tree to climb is.
MW: The new Wahlburgers!
PW: You’ve gotta stop by and see the [‘Rainbow Swash’] gas tank. Only in Dorchester are you going to make a monument out of a gas tank.

WB: Paul, how do you feel about opening a Wahlburgers in Dorchester?
PW: I’m extremely proud but I’m also extremely nervous. Because our neighbors will tell us exactly what they think. Being able to serve the people that we grew up with, it’s unbelievable.

WB: You’re growing fast: Do you have any plans to open a Wahlburgers on the Moon?
MW: It’s on my list!
DW: No—I don’t have any plans to put Wahlburgers on the Moon, but I’m certain Mark already has plans to put it on Jupiter.

WB: If “The Wahlburgers Story” became a movie, which actor would play Paul?
MW: That’s a tough one. Some people have said he resembles Matt Damon. I would love another Boston actor to play one of the family.
DW: Danny DeVito.

WB: What’s the Wahlburgers philosophy?
PW: Just make people happy. Whatever it takes.

 

Mike Hodgkinson
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