Paul Wahlberg Dishes On Alma Nove’s Winter Menu, Christmas At The Wahlbergs & His Favorite Holiday Dishes

Photo Credit: Alma Nove

Paul Wahlberg grew up helping his mother (Alma) in the kitchen, but never thought cooking would be a profession he would later pursue. The fifth of the nine Wahlberg children who grew up in Dorchester, Mass. and still enjoys cubed steak, will next year be celebrating Alma Nove’s 10-year anniversary where he serves up everything from braised pork meatballs with creamy polenta to homemade tagliatelli with short ribs. We caught up recently with Wahlberg to chat about the new winter menu at Alma Nove, saying farewell to the Wahlburgers show on A&E and what’s up next for him and those famous brothers.

Tell us about the winter menu at Alma Nove.

We wanted to go a little more braise heavy, so there is a baked pasta with homemade rigatoni, braised short rib and cloth-bound cheddar cheese made with roasted tomatoes, spinach and a port-fig reduction. People just love it. We also have a braised lamb shank that is Moroccan spiced with lamb bacon tossed into the mashed potatoes. I really love the flavor from the lamb fat. There is also a pan-seared salmon with maple glaze and toasted pecan risotto with a little rosemary and horseradish that is really comforty. I love the winter produce – apples, squashes and pumpkins. The cold doesn’t bother me; it’s only the cold wind that does. One of my brothers moved to Florida and now he has thin blood when he comes back up here.

Who are some of your favorite chefs who have inspired you along the way?

Mostly cooks and people I have worked with. I worked at the Sheraton Commander Hotel, which was my first hotel job. They were doing nouvelle cuisine so it was the first time I had seen truffles and ingredients I never thought of. It really broadened my horizon. Then I worked with Tony Ambrose at Rarities and it was amazing to see what they were doing there. When I see incredible chefs now like Ken Oringer and the amount of time and effort that they put into food, it’s just amazing. It’s all about sharing the crafts that we do. I love to sit and talk food with Robin King in Scituate. He really cares about what he does.

Photo Credit: Alma Nove

Was singing or acting even in your cards?

Oh God no. I sound like a bag of cats [laughs]. My singing voice is awful. When I watch Mark and Donnie out there working their craft, they have to get out there and leave everything out there. They really have to sell it and people expect greatness. When the New Kids do their summer tours, they have to start training two months ahead. The connection the New Kids have with their fans is amazing. There’s something really special between them.  I get a lot of satisfaction when someone tells me they came back for a particular dish that they get all the time. I think, how lucky am I that I get to make that dish that they crave? I guess I am slightly emotionally needy.

What are some of your favorite holiday dishes?

I’m a big leftovers guy. I would do Thanksgiving all over again. There is nothing better than turkey sandwiches with stuffing. We went to my mom’s house for Thanksgiving and I did the turkey, stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes. There were about 20 of us.

Photo Credit: Alma Nove

What will Christmas be like at the Wahlberg house?

It’s usually chaos. We go to my sister’s house on Christmas Eve. It’s a big time for all of us to get together.

Will you be cooking?

Of course. I’ll cook at my house on Christmas Day and my mom will come by. I don’t know yet what I’ll be making. I’ll probably do a roast of some kind, maybe a tenderloin. My family loves that. My daughter is a vegetarian so I will do something special for her.

Photo Credit: Alma Nove

Best dish at Alma Nove?

That’s hard to put my finger on. I love that I can sell octopus and be able to sell more exotic things like rabbit and people trust us enough that they buy it.

What are some of your favorite dishes to prepare?

Whatever my kids want to eat. If I cook a pork roast, my son gets excited for the mustard sauce that I make with cream and apples finished with a bit of Dijon mustard. I also love cooking whatever my customers want. When someone requests something from me, I’m really blessed to be able to create that for them because I’m just a dumb guy who likes to make good food.

Photo Credit: Alma Nove

How did it feel saying farewell to the Wahlburgers show?

It was a lot harder than I thought. The show could be such a time crunch for me, but I got to enjoy some great experiences. I got to play golf with Bobby Orr, fly in an F16 and drive a tank. I never thought it was possible so it wasn’t even bucket list stuff. I just never thought that those opportunities would ever happen. Bobby Orr was just as nice as you’d hope. I also met Jacques Pepin and had the chance to hang out more with my brothers. It was a blast to do.

Best burger at Wahlburgers?

That’s easy – the Our Burger. That’s the burger I crave for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It has lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles on a bun that has a proprietary recipe made for us with pickles and Wahl sauce that are all homemade.

Photo Credit: Wahlburgers

Did you ever think it would be as big a hit as it has become?

God no. I figured my family would watch it and about eight other people. It was amazing to see how many people enjoyed the show.

When did you first realize you wanted to make a living in the kitchen?

When I was in high school, I worked as a dishwasher at my friend’s father’s owned a restaurant. It was just a job with my friends so I enjoyed it. It was really a Forrest Gump moment when I was cleaning steak tips. The restaurant was pub style. Someone said I should do this for a living. I loved doing it; it was fun and I have been doing it ever since now for the past 35 years. It was one of the line cooks at the restaurant who said it. I never thought it was a profession I would do. I loved watching my parents cook as a kid, but that was sort of just mindless entertainment. Then I really got a feel for it and have loved it ever since.

Photo Credit: Wahlburgers

When you think back to your childhood, which Alma-made dishes were some of your favorites?

Super simple things like having that Sunday dinner of roast beef or leg of lamb with good vegetables. English muffin pizzas with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, salami or mushrooms, peppers and onions. That’s what my parents loved. Having mac and cheese, the simple things. To this day, I still like cubed steak. I toast bread and put that down, pan sear the steak, put it on top and then make a pan sauce. Then I cook an egg in another pan and pour the sauce over it all. That’s as close as I can get to a childhood indulgence. My grandmother would make an incredible fish chowder. She would take a whole haddock, poach it and make it with potatoes, onions and a tiny bit of milk so it was very brothy. We also had hot dogs and beans with sliced brown bread. It’s very New England and one of the dishes that I absolutely love.

What’s up next for the Wahlberg brothers?

Probably just not trying to kill each other. We will all keep plugging along. We are also getting ready to open a couple more Wahlburgers so that will keep us busy.

Photo Credit: Wahlburgers