Chef Paul Wahlberg has been cooking for years focusing on upscale Italian cuisine, but he is now taking a fun chance opening a casual burger concept known as Wahlburgers. The burger joint is slated to open early next month across from his famed Alma Nove in the Hingham Shipyard.
Wahlberg, brother to Hollywood actors (yes, THOSE Wahlbergs – Mark and Donnie), admits he has always had a passion for cooking. "I have been cooking ever since I was a child," he said. "I used to watch Julia Child but really didn’t give it much thought at the time. I was looking for a job and my friend’s dad owned a restaurant and that was where I got my start washing dishes. Later on, someone said I should become a chef and that’s what I have been doing for over 30 years."
When working at various restaurants in and around Boston, he knew his goal was certainly to own and cook at his own restaurant one day. "I knew I wanted to open an Italian-inspired restaurant," he said. "I had been to Philadelphia and saw Alma incorporated into a restaurant name and my mother’s name is Alma and she had nine kids so I named it in honor of her. My mother had a huge influence on me and with nine kids she and my father were always cooking. Being at the Hingham Shipyard also just made sense. We had been looking around for a while and knew the Shipyard was in the planning stages. Living in Hingham, it just made sense to open the restaurant here."
At Wahlburgers, he plans to offer a more casual restaurant than his upscale neighboring Alma Nove. "It will be a true burger joint," he said. "You can walk in an choose from four different types of burgers, including a 100 percent all natural, a salmon burger with Asian spices, a turkey burger and a veggie burger, which we are also working on having it be gluten-free. We didn’t want to get too cutsie with names for the burgers because like at Alma Nove, Wahlburgers is going to be product driven. It will be a place you can come for great food and great music. The sign at the front will say ‘burgers, fries, frappes and tunes.’"
Wahlberg says his brothers’ music will certainly be played at the restaurant but they will also feature 60s, 70s, 80s and pop tunes as well as rock. "I want it to be a lively fun experience for everyone to come and have a great burger. It will be a true restaurant and a true experience. What gets people to return is due to my staff, who is an extension of my family. I want to create a work environment where people are thrilled to be there. People do a better job when they are happy. Happy cooks make good food and happy food just tastes better."
At Alma Nove where one of his signature dishes is a wood grilled swordfish with lobster mashed, Wahlberg admits he likes to be creative but still wants to remain identifiable. "It’s all about the customer experience, not mine," he said. "We have had a lot of feedback from customers about what sells. I want the food to be good. I could make the food that I like but then I would just be cooking for me. I love to go out with my wife and our two children to other restaurants to experience what they do. At my restaurant, I want to have an item on the menu that people crave. You want staples that the restaurant is known for but you can also try to steer people in a certain direction while realizing everyone’s tastes are different."
Has there been anyone along the way who has inspired his cooking techniques? "Absolutely; all of the chefs I have worked for have influenced me," Wahlberg said. "My goal now is to always make them proud of me and to see what I have learned from my experiences working for them."
The Grand Opening of Wahlburgers will be held in early October and yes, those famous brothers, Mark and Donnie, are scheduled to attend. For more information, visit AlmaNoveHingham.com.