By Carol Masshardt
(This series focus is on the journey of area restaurant chefs)
Joel Howard, 27, is a man of few words with a deep and clear passion for his work as Executive Chef at the popular Publico on 11 Dorchester St. This has earned him the respect of customers, his boss and team. Growing up in the central, Ma town of Spencer, his parents were in other kinds of work, but his older brother, Patrick, paved the way. That led to eventually working with Birch St. Bread Co. in Worcester with mentor Robert Fecteau among other chefs who inspired his French technique and work ethic.
“My brother is a chef now in Worcester’s Lock 50 and watching him is what helped turn my love of food into the profession,” he said. “I started as a dishwasher at Charlie’s dinner in Spencer and then line cook at the Whistling Swan and Ugly Duckling in Sturbridge. I knew I had to do something hands- on, “said Howard.
It took more than learning on the job, although that is the core of the chef’s work. He also spent his senior year of high school and a year of college at Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island. He also spent his senior year of high school and a year of college at Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island in a special program for promising young cooks.
“Johnson and Wales was about the cooking, and then my internship at Legal Seafood turned into a job and that’s where I learned the business from Marissa Lo, who is now at the Boathouse in Tiverton, RI,” he said. “But it’s the energy of the kitchen I love.”
He worked at Bostonia Public House as sous chef, and then by good fortune attended the opening of Southie’s Publico in 2017.
“I hit it off with Theo (Bougas, Managing Partner)” he said, and there he became one of the youngest chefs among the multiplying number of eateries now in South Boston.
“We had to simplify the menu a little bit to please the South Boston crowd, but we have everyone coming here, older, younger, plain eaters and foodies willing to try new things,” he said in a take it all in stride manner. “We had to simplify the menu a little bit to please the South Boston crowd, but we have everyone coming here; older, younger, plain eaters and foodies willing to try new things,” he said in a take- it- all- in- stride manner. He also introduced the popular three courses for thirty-eight dollars on Tuesday and Wednesday’s.
The match between restaurant and chef is complicated and built on trust, vision, and temperament and all of that seems in sync for Joel Howard and Publico.
“I have a voice here and that isn’t always true. I can change the menu and try things to keep people coming back, and I like that. We have a great team and management. It’s like a family. Theo goes out of his way to give everyone the best and is involved. He knows everyone, and we respect each other,” said Howard
The feeling is mutual. “Joel is a shy guy but a wonderful human being. He’s consistent, super talented and very skilled especially at his age. We both live in the building. It’s our life, and I’m really lucky to have him here, “said Bougas.
Reputation does matter in this business and the word is positive about Joel Howard and team. At late lunch last week, Mike and Kim Williams, visiting from Oregon with South Boston ties, had many choices within several blocks but were settled in at Publico. “We heard that the food is phenomenal, and really fresh and there’s a good vibe here,” they said collectively.
It is not surprising that when not working, Joel Howard is testing food at other restaurants with only a round of golf and watching basketball in between. But, it is his kitchen and team that are most compelling.
Future goals? “I don’t know. I’m happy but maybe there will be a second Publico,” he said and returned to doing what he loves in a place where he continues to succeed.