The Westland has been serving up classic American fare and craft cocktails since opening in January of this year. But, the new hangout near Symphony Hall is also dishing out a side of female empowerment, positioning two women in the restaurant’s lead creative roles.
Dorchester native Danielle Dorcil rules the kitchen as chef, and Boston native Julia Buccieri owns the cocktail program as bar manager. These two women are breaking barriers and mixing up avant-garde flavors with a strong collaborative partnership and a lot of laughter.
“I feel like we don’t look at this as running a restaurant,” says Buccieri. “We look at it as an opportunity to be creative, do what we love, and it energizes us.”
Exhale chatted with these women about their experience opening The Westland and what they’ve got going on.
Exhale: How did you both get involved in the hospitality industry?
Danielle Dorcil:It’s been a passion all my life, cooking. I grew up watching Julia Child, Jacques Pepin. That was my lineup: Sesame Street, then Jacques Pepin. Food was a big deal growing up in my house. We’re of Haitian decent so we cook our home food, but my mom loves to cook everything. I was making fried rice by the time I was five years old.
Julia Buccieri: I went to art school, and I have a classic fine arts background. I worked in Irish pubs for a long time, so that’s where I got the hospitality part. In cocktail culture, there’s so much pretension attached to it now, but I pride myself on my background in Irish pubs. I learned that old-school hospitality is kind of a lost art. It’s not totally gone, but it needs to be consciously preserved.
Tell us about how you develop your menus.
Danielle:I like to recompose a lot of traditional dishes. I feel like there are so many different cultures in America. Being an American restaurant, what I’m trying to do is have everyone’s native food here.
Julia: We definitely both are really into the seasonal ingredients. I think we’re both on the same level of creativity, which is cool. Sometimes I’ll say to her ‘I know this is weird, but I want to do it.’ And, she’ll be like ‘No, that’s awesome. I want to do it too!’
Danielle: Just taking something as traditional as tomato soup and grilled cheese and adding a twist to it. Why not have a grilled cheese with three different types of Italian cheeses in it?
Julia: I feel like that part of you is the same part of me that doesn’t use simple syrup in any of my recipes. My reason for that is, why would I use straight sugar when I could use something more exciting? I use wildflower honey, fortified wine, different vermouths, different cordials that I make in house. Also, lunch is launching soon. That’s going to be a whole different thing. We’re both talking about getting weird.
Danielle: Getting weirder.
Julia: Exactly. We’ll definitely have a variation of a cocktail on tap, maybe some kind of house-made cordial or amaro on tap. I’m thinking of doing a rotating frozen cocktail.
Danielle: For me, it would be more like small bites, easier to eat, funner foods. [Maybe I’ll have] fun with wings, people love buffalo wings. Why not do a French buffalo wing?
The restaurant has a real neighborhood vibe to it. Has the Symphony area influenced your menus?
Danielle:Absolutely. We also run a lot of specials. The Marathon is coming up, and it’s a big deal to do pasta specials, so I’ll be running some of those. We’ll probably do something fun for Opening Day for the Red Sox: hot dogs, Cracker Jack — making a house-made Cracker Jack would be fun. One of our pizzas, the sausage, peppers and onions is inspired by the Sausage Guy from Fenway, because he’s my favorite.
Julia: When Doug (Bacon, the owner) brought me over here, I started doing research into the history of Symphony Hall. I didn’t know that much about it, even though I grew up here. The statues [inside Symphony Hall] stood out to me. They’re based on mythological deities, gods, goddesses, nymphs, and, also, real-life writers and artists. It jumped out at me like, wouldn’t that be cool if I named all the cocktails as an ode to those figures? I spent a long time reading and pulling something from their stories to use in the cocktails.
How do you feel about having these power positions in a male-dominated industry?
Julia:There’s that mutual respect in knowing that it was a little harder for us to get where we are. I literally workout every day so I can lift cases, because I said to myself a long time ago, ‘I don’t want to be limited at what I do versus what a man can do.’ It was a very conscious decision.
Danielle: It’s been really a great adventure being a female chef. With times changing, getting more respect, and having people appreciate what you do, it feels great. To have a boss look forward to having two female leaders in the restaurant felt really good.
Julia: The icing on the cake is that we get along really well.
So you ladies work every day? When do you relax?
Julia:We try to take days off? I think we’re both off tomorrow, actually?
Julia: Oh, wait, no.
Danielle: When you’ve just opened a new restaurant, it’s your baby. You’re growing your baby. That’s how I look at it. So, if I’m going to lose sleep over it, I know I’m going to raise it correctly and then I can step away. We do work almost every day, but it’s for a reason. We’re building a solid foundation.