“Marty [Lyons] is a rising star in the Providence culinary sky,” said John Elkhay, the self-described maestro of the Chow Fun Food Group. For someone like Elkhay to offer such effusive praise might put a bit of pressure on a new chef. But as Lyons, XO Café’s new executive chef, and I sat at the intimate restaurant on North Main Street, it was certainly not evident. As we chatted amidst the early week preparations that must take place at any dinner restaurant, he was the picture of calm.
Lyons is from a small town in upstate New York called Whitehall, which is located on the Vermont border. These days, that region is enjoying a culinary awakening, but the chef recalled simpler times.
My first cooking job was working a church brunch when I was 16 with my mom,” he said with a chuckle. “It was a small, small town. Then a woman whose family lived across the road from my grandparents opened a café in town. She called my house and asked if I would like to cook for her. That was fourteen years ago, and it’s the only thing I have done [for a living] since.”
The road from Whitehall to XO Café was not a direct one. Lyons came to Providence as a sous chef at L’Epicurio, the former restaurant in the Hotel Providence, where he supervised the kitchen and bake shop. He holds degrees in food and beverage management and service management from Johnson & Wales University. Lyons then worked as a sous chef for Derek Wagner at Nick’s on Broadway before taking over the kitchen at Loie Fuller, the West End restaurant with the semi-cultish following. As has been written about in the past, Loie Fuller is the “restaurant-without-a-sign” that had added to its well-deserved, cutting-edge reputation. “There’s a small sign hanging outside!” said the chef in defense of his former employer.