Interview

Seafood King

Chef Christopher Lee recounts his lifelong history with the Lobster Pot

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If there were such a thing as a quintessential seafood restaurant, it might be the Lobster Pot. The restaurant, which has been open since 1929, overlooks Bristol harbor, a prime destination by car or by boat. The atmosphere isn’t the kitschy nautical fare of touristy New England; the open, well-lit dining room is an upscale experience. Christopher Lee is the executive chef of the Lobster Pot, and like any good marriage, he’s done a lot of courting to get there. His long history with the restaurant gives him a lot of perspective – and a deep respect for the place’s heritage.

Tell me about your history with the Lobster Pot.
I started here when I was a teenager, it was my first job. I worked here until I was 15 or 16 as a prep cook and then I left and bounced around a few other restaurants. I came back in 2008 as a line cook, worked here for six more years and then left again. Then I got the call last January that the owner wanted me to come back and take the executive chef job.

What is your favorite item on the menu?
My favorite thing is on the new menu – pan-seared jumbo scallops over roasted corn and bacon risotto. It’s excellent.

How was the change in dynamic from a line cook to the executive chef for you?
It became a lot less time in the kitchen and a lot more time doing administrative stuff, but a lot more freedom, too. All the things I said I wanted to do back then, now I am doing them. Just like the dish I just mentioned, it was one of those things where 10 years ago, you would’ve never seen that here.

Tell me about the changes you’ve seen since you started coming here.
Before 1929, this place was a fish market. Bristol is a seaport town; the fishermen would come to this spot, unload their boats and sell fish to the local people. We’ve seen a lot of things change here; this place used to be a clam shack. There used to be picnic tables inside, it was BYOB, and when the current owners bought it, it was transformed into an upscale place for fine dining. Everyone is a foodie these days, so now everything is more refined and creative than it was.

So people know their seafood here. Does that mean more pressure on you?
I don’t think so. If it is, I don’t feel it. We have the freshest products coming through the door, so it’s easy. When I have time I love to go to the fish market myself, especially this time of year when all the local stuff is coming in. I love to see the new items they have coming in, I got fresh halibut today, I knew what I was getting before it even came through the door.

What is your creative process?
I keep a notebook in my bedroom and I’m constantly jumping up, like “You know what would be good…” and I write it down. It looks like a mad scientist wrote it, and there’re notes all over it, but when I learn what fresh seafood I’m getting in, I can pretty much look down my list and put together dishes. It doesn’t always work, but that is the fun part. What is going to catch on and what isn’t?

Tell me about the people who come through the door here.
We have a huge following of regulars here. Even in the wintertime our bar will be filled with people on a Tuesday afternoon, but during the summer we get a little bit of everything.

Who is Chef Lee outside of the kitchen?
I have property in Northern Rhode Island out in the woods. If I’m not here, I’m hiding out there hiking or fishing. But I’m here more than anywhere else.

The Lobster Pot
119 Hope Street, Bristol • 401-253-9100