I have been working with and around chefs for most of my adult life and I can say with confidence that Bo Byrne is not your average chef.
Bo Byrne was born Robert Warren Byrne III in New Jersey in 1984. He learned his name was actually Robert on his first day of school at the age of 6. Bo had boarded the school bus and when the driver called out the names of the children on the bus, Bo did not respond. The driver told him he was on the wrong bus and that he should get off the bus. Bo’s mother reboarded the bus with Bo and asked the driver to call out “Bo Byrne,” Bo said “Here.” Bo’s mother set the driver straight and that’s how he learned his true name. Bo’s father and grandfather are both Roberts, hence his given name. To everyone he knows, Bo will always be Bo. Bo’s family moved to Falmouth, Maine in his sophomore year of high school.
Bo knew what he wanted early on. He enjoyed being in the kitchen with his mom. She wanted him to further test his culinary aspirations and purchased him a cooking class when he was in the seventh grade. Bo knew he had found his career path and applied for Southern Maine Technical College (SMTC; now SMCC) and Johnson & Wales during his last year in high school. He chose to attend SMTC because he didn’t think he was that great a student and he didn’t want to pay the extra tuition for a four-year college. Most aspiring chefs care little about getting a degree.
After only one month at SMTC, Bo heard about an opening at David’s in Portland. With years of practice and minimal formal training, he applied for the job. Bo spent a couple of days trailing on the line and was offered a position. (Trailing is a term used in the restaurant business; it’s way to interview cooks in the kitchen, during service; a chef will usually be able to determine an applicant’s skills fairly quickly.)
Bo’s first job was at the oven station. There he was responsible for fish, pork, pizza and David’s signature homemade garlic knots. He caught on quickly, enjoyed the work and developed a mentor/mentee relationship with chef/owner David Turin; he learned a great deal from his mentor. This relationship between a chef and a young mentee is uncommon in the restaurant world. Chefs are often too busy to spend extra time with their cooks and more often than not, young cooks are expected to fend for themselves.
Turin gave Chef Bo his big break when he graduated from SMTC. Bo was only 20 years old and was named sous chef at David’s Monument Square. His second break came not long after when he was given the opportunity to become chef de cuisine at David’s 388 in South Portland. In 2012, Turin opened Opus 10 at Monument Square. Turin asked Bo to be his chef de cuisine at Opus Ten — this was Bo’s third big break and he was still with Turin. I asked Bo why he stayed with Turin for over 13 years.
“There was so much to learn; I was never able to see it all, read it all, and I was always hungry for more.”
In 2015 Bo took a vacation to North Carolina for 10 days. When he returned, he was informed that Opus Ten was closing in four days. Determined not to let grass grow under his feet, Bo hit the pavement and dropped his resume off at 19 restaurants. There were all sorts of rumors about why Bo was parting ways with Turin, but Bo chose to be honest with his potential employers — he told those he met with the truth: there was no longer a place for him at Turin’s restaurants. Surprisingly, even though there were very few openings, 15 of the 19 restaurants called Bo back. His offers ranged from part-time line cook to full-time salaried chef positions.
Bo chose to take a position at TIQA. He liked what owner Deen Haleem had to say and the two hit it off. Bo took over as head chef Feb. 1. Deen worked in a corporate environment prior to purchasing the space for TIQA. He calls Bo’s kitchen Bo Inc. Bo gets to call the shots; he created his team and makes most of the decisions.
Bo tells me that if your goal is to make money, you're on the wrong side in the kitchen. Kitchen staff work long hours, it’s often extremely hot, and they have little time to try new restaurants. On Bo’s days off he’s cutting grass, doing laundry and playing football. Bo’s goal is consistency; make the guests happy and leave them with the desire to return.
TIQA’s guests will get to try something new soon enough. TIQA owners Deen Haleem and Carol Mitchell won the bid to open an eatery in the castle in Deering Oaks Park sometime in June. TIQA Cafe will have pastries, salads, sandwiches, beer and wine, Coffee by Design espresso and cappuccino, bocce ball, cornhole and outdoor seating. The plan is to be open from dawn to dusk. Great for the city and yet another opportunity for Chef Bo.
- Published in Food + Drink