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Barbara Lynch looks to future of gourmet home cooking, and at Boston's culinary footprint

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - With one restaurant still a "baby" and another turning 16, Barbara Lynch's restaurant family is growing up, and so is Boston, the city she is determined to put on the culinary map.

"Boston's been sort of a desolate place — it hasn't been known for the food," Lynch said Friday during an interview at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. "But you'd be surprised, even in the recession, it was one of the only cities that continued to grow ... Yes, it was tough, but we didn't stop."

Lynch hasn't stopped, either. She oversees half a dozen restaurants, including her first — No. 9 Park and her most recent, Menton — and is about to launch a food product line called Barbara Lynch Made. She grew up in the housing projects of South Boston and has no plans to leave the city until retirement, and says she's amazed that it still has a conservative Yankee reputation despite its vibrant art and culture, its high-tech industries and the outdoor recreation opportunities in the surrounding New England region.

"We certainly need to work on getting the city of Boston tourism to become a little bit more modern — we're not the Paul Revere city anymore," she said. "People find a lot to do, and it isn't just go to Beacon Hill and look at the brownstones."

Lynch also is trying to get Bostonians to change their attitudes, as well. Menton, the 5-year-old fine dining restaurant she calls her "baby," is still a few years away from hitting its stride, she said. But customers are coming around to the idea of pampering themselves with a $300 meal.

"They were afraid of the four-hour dining experience. We eliminated that," she said. "Just let me cook for you. If you want to be out in an hour and a half, you're out. I'm always the rule breaker, anyway."

Her new venture is aimed at home cooks and was born out of one of her few unsuccessful undertakings — a produce store in an area frequented by young professionals who didn't want to buy vegetables and cook during the week. That spurred her to experiment with dehydrating veggies, with the end result being her new product line — a pound of peeled and chopped seasonal vegetables compressed into a 2.5-ounce bag designed to be rehydrated with water or stock, them turned into quick gourmet meals.

"It's quick, instant nutrition," she said. "It's actually a different way of cooking."

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