Editor’s Note: Today it’s my pleasure to introduce our newest blogger to Let’s Get Fresh. Chef Jay Mahoney will share his culinary expertise with you here one Sunday each month thru the course of the season. Now I’ll let Jay tell you a little, or maybe a lot, about himself!
Welcome! My name is Jay Mahoney. I am the Culinary Coordinator and Competition Coach at Pierpont Culinary Academy in Fairmont. Until about a decade ago I was enjoying the life as an Executive Chef at various resorts, restaurants and clubs around the country. It was everything I thought it would be and quite frankly more!
I can’t imagine spending my childhood anywhere but in Tucker County. What an awesome place to grow up! It didn’t hurt the fact that my dad was the District Ranger for the Monongahela National Forest (Cheat District) either. What can I say? Hiking, camping, canoeing, caving, and even camping out in fire towers. What more fun could possibly be had as a child? Dad was a transplant form “The City” although I’m sure he would say that he never belonged there. Some of my first culinary memories came from visiting my grandfather in New York City, but I’ll save that for another blog. After a brief stint in college and a few years following my dream to make a living playing music in The DC area I decided to apply for the Greenbrier Culinary Apprentice program. Some months later (to my amazement) I was actually accepted. I would begin the following March as a cook for a year and see if I was their kind of stuff or not and then enter the program. Fortunately my experience in Annapolis, MD, in two very nice French restaurants (while playing in the band) gave me enough experience to convince them into giving me a shot and it all began. We may talk about that later as well if you’d like. But for today we’ll move on.
I was a very spoiled chef upon graduating from The Greenbrier, heading to Arizona as a young man. Not only did the “Brier” subject me to the very best of the best but now I was immersed in one of the richest growing regions in North America as well. To the south was Mexico and to the west California not to mention Arizona. The availability of fresh local produce was amazing! And there I was smack dab.
At the time the word on the street was a place in Berkeley, Chez Panisse was doing incredible things with all things local, French and seasonal. If it wasn’t available through local farmers then it simply wasn’t on the menu. Well, that’s not entirely true, as a teenager Alice Waters traveled to France to study abroad so there was certainly very heavy French influence in her menus. What could possibly more exciting to a young chef than these things I ask? It wasn’t until a few years later that I actually got to experience the Grand Madame’s cuisine, I was fortunate enough however at that time to dine at Alice’s former partner’s new restaurant at the time in San Francisco (Stars). Jeremiah Tower was about as innovative yet traditional as a chef could be, and the personal tour was nothing short of amazing. I just couldn’t believe how organized everything was and how fresh all the ingredients were. Local cheeses, lamb, cured meats, mushrooms and a plethora of incredible produce. It was 1984 and it was obvious to me that these west coast culinarians really were representing the vanguard of our industry. I believe we can all agree that was truly our nation’s birthplace of what we now call Farm to Table, and the atmosphere was intoxicating. Keep in mind here, this was thirty some years ago, right! Well, back to Phoenix I went to begin to integrate as much as I could into the menu of L’Orangerie at the Arizona Biltmore. And boy was it fun!
Arizona was an incredible experience on so many levels I can’t begin to tell you in this particular blog, but I will tell you that it left its mark on me. My last position there was as chef de cuisine with L’Auberge de Sedona and if Sedona doesn’t move you nothing will. So, regardless of how moving it all was after several years I began to miss my home as I began to start my own family, now my desire was to take my knowledge and experience back to the Appalachia’s to be closer to family. At the time my home state didn’t have anything to offer me so it was off to the mountains of North Carolina, Boone to be exact. Who knew NC had mountains? It wasn’t West Virginia like I had hoped but as a child my folks would take us to Cape Hatteras, camp on the beach and eat blueberry pancakes and chow Mein off the Coleman stove so I knew North Carolina had possibilities.
Farmers markets in the early 90’s weren’t as far along in the mountains of NC as one might think. Down in the Piedmont it was a different story, the markets played a big role in the communities but in Boone it meant connecting with individual farmers without the assistance of a local market. One of my first connections was a farmer who simply brought his old pick-up truck to my back dock twice a week to unload any and everything he could. His appreciation came later in the fall in the form of a donation of the newest flavored corn beverage. Whew! Anyway, as I began to reach out to the community some of the first things I found were local greens and herbs from some ladies who took a lot of pride in their work, plenty of trout, and mushrooms, from a very interesting retired Professor form Appalachian State. It was a slow start but by the late 90’s things were starting to really pick up and before I knew it I had been there 14 years.
I must have become somewhat complacent in dear old Boone because apparently the powers that be decided it was time for me to finally make it back home to WBG Virginia. And, if NC was ten years behind California as far as the F2T concept then it felt like West Virginia must have been twenty years behind Alice Waters and her wonderfully logical notion of connecting farmers with chefs.
Alas! “All good things in all good time” an old friend once said. Timing couldn’t have been better; suddenly I stumbled on to a culinary instructor position right here in my home state. Now I could share my knowledge and experience with young culinarians and possibly give a little back to the state in which I have always called home and been so endeared to. About the same time things were really starting to happen around the state like the Culinary Classic, Cast Iron Cook-off, WVU Extension Service and Aquaculture, WVFarm2U and the Appalachian Regional Commission emphasizing value-added products from all over the region. Man, did I come back home at a good time or what! Participation at these events with my students and local chefs enabled me to meet a lot of great people all trying to make this movement work. It wasn’t long before I felt right at home.
Fast forward to today. I’m simply amazed at how far our state has come in a decade. Despite some set- backs our state has seen in recent years our particular industry is proving daily that people are becoming increasingly more interested in eating better and supporting local businesses, and I don’t think it’s more evident anywhere than at the Bridgeport Farmers Market. Every week folks turn out to see what our region has to offer in the way of produce, proteins, value-added products such as clothing, soaps, jewelry, wood products and all sorts of creative things. Not to mention music every week, artists, activities for pets and children, artists and specialty vendors providing some of the best tastings imaginable. Yes, I do believe we are blessed to have such a dynamic market for our communities and I hope you will join us each week as we begin another summer season of activities and fun.
I would also like to invite you to join “me and my blog” (could be a song there) each month as I share memories, thoughts, tips, favorite recipes and my take on this movement in particular, “The Market” here at Charles Pointe this summer. Bonne cuisine!