Published in the Bay State Banner, December 21, 2016
Photo by Jose Luis Martinez
For Douglass Williams, Italian cuisine is the most relatable food in the world. Perhaps it’s the comforting flavors of olive oil and Parmesan, or the versatility of pasta, but Williams believes it can bring people together.
MIDA, which is Italian for “he gives me,” is a new restaurant venture by Williams and Brian Lesser. The restaurant is located at 782 Tremont Street in the South End, on the edge of Roxbury — a distinction of neighborhoods that was not lost on anyone, Williams said. Despite economic and racial divisions, “What can bring two sides together?” he asked. “I thought about what I like to do the most, what I like to serve the best, what I like to teach people the most, and I said, ‘Pasta.’”
Williams’ theory about Italian food being widely loved is an educated one, drawing on 13 years of chef experience, including five whirlwind years traveling the world. Originally from Atlantic City, his culinary roots are in Boston where he first worked at Radius and then at Coppa, where he “just fell in love” with the process of making pasta, he said.
He left Coppa to go to Thailand. “I wanted to learn more about other cuisines and see how that relates,” he said. He taught Thai locals how to make pasta, and learned how to make rice-based noodles. Then came a stint in New York City, where he worked at Paul Liebrandt’s Corton. Liebrandt, in 2000, was the youngest chef ever to earn a three-star review from The New York Times, at age 25.
Williams then spent some time in Paris, further refining his skills. “What I learned the most was that everybody there owned restaurants at 26 or 28 years old. And I said, ‘What am I doing here?’” He returned to Boston with one goal in mind.
Opening MIDA with Lesser was something he could not have done by himself, said Williams.
“Having a good partner really, really helps. And getting people to be honest with you, hiring the right people from the start,” he said. “You need to let people help you.”
Williams reached out to the Boston-based Restaurant Investment Group, a collective of restaurant and financial consultants spearheaded by real estate lawyer Dan Dain that provides access to capital and financial expertise to young chefs.
“We had conversations, tastings, and lessons on what needed to be done, as far as financial commitment, contracts, personal commitments, everything,” said Williams. MIDA is RIG’s first investment so far, with other restaurant openings in the works.