Chef Spotlight: Executive Chef Ginger Pierce of JAMS at 1 Hotel Central Park in Midtown Manhattan
Chef Ginger Pierce was raised in the San Francisco Bay area, where at a young age she gained an appreciation for the bounty of fresh, local produce. Her mother, an avid gardener, gave her an early affection for backyard produce, often yielding delicious tomatoes and a variety of fresh fruits. Ginger attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco where she learned to utilize the fresh produce she grew up on.
Upon graduating, Ginger landed a job at Roxanne's restaurant in Marin County, California where she was often assigned the task of selecting produce from the San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmer's market, as well as foraging for indigenous plants.
When Roxanne's closed its doors, Ginger set her sights on New York City, and had the fortune to end up at Barbuto working for Jonathan Waxman. It was there that she went from line cook to Sous Chef, realizing a serious love for all things Italian. Waxman, a fantastic teacher, instilled an appreciation for simplicity in Ginger.
After Barbuto, Ginger went on to work at Provence, for the dynamic restaurant couple, Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman. She continued on with them at their restaurant Five Points as their Chef De Cuisine.
Following her work at Five Points, Ginger joined forces with her husband, Preston Madson to co-Chef Freemans, Peels and ISA restaurants.
In September 2015, Ginger opened Jams by Jonathan Waxman, at 1 Hotel Central Park as the Executive Chef. Her passion for sustainability and seasonality is reflected in the vibrantly eclectic menu at Jams.
Ginger lives in Williamsburg Brooklyn with her husband and two children, Sebastian and Pierce.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Ginger Pierce about her career and Jams for our "Chef Spotlight."
What was your earliest interest in cooking?
From a young age I was obsessed with produce. Growing up in California, my yard was filled with fruits and vegetables. Our yard had many fruit trees and my Mother was an avid gardener growing a variety of vegetables. My siblings and I would pick fresh tomatoes and strawberries while playing in the yard. I loved putting together crudité plates and fruit assortments. I have vivid memories of visiting farm stands and farmer's markets through out the bay area and my love for ingredients was the thing that propelled me eventually into the kitchen.
Who were some of your career mentors?
I have been very fortunate to work with many talented chefs and operators that have inspired me. The most influential in my career has been Chef Jonathan Waxman. What I have learned the most from Jonathan is the need to empower the people around you. From dishwasher to waiter to manager, Jonathan always works to inspire a sense of ownership in every person that works in his establishments.
What culinary styles have influenced your career?
California is host to many different cultures in addition to great produce. I grew up eating all different styles of cuisine. I love fresh food, but I also love big flavors. Although Mediterranean flavors are the primary base of my cuisine, Vietnamese, Mexican, Thai, Indian all made a big impact in my youth. We also had very close family friends from Afghanistan that gave me an affection for middle eastern flavors, and a serious appreciation of good dried fruit and nuts.
What do you consider the most distinguishing features of your work as a chef?
Since my style is ingredient driven, In many ways I feel like a curator. My primary focus is sourcing the best produce and ingredients. Many of our fruits and vegetables are hand selected at the farmer's market. Our pantry is stocked with whatever our favorite ingredients might be at that time. Things like polenta come stone ground from a mill upstate. The freshness of stone ground grains makes a huge impact. Our cheese and dairy comes from the Saxelby Cheesemongers. Our meats from small local farms, the seafood, mostly local, comes in daily and is pristine. Many of these purveyors I have been working with for a decade and a half. They know our standards and each have rigorous specifications of their own. This is evident in the visuals of our food and the flavors. The food is fresh, bright, bold and beautiful.
What is your favorite meal or meals?
If anyone asks what my favorite food is, the answer is always: fruit. I am extremely passionate about good fruit. Great fruit is heavenly, and I revere it above all else. A juicy nectarine, pint of sweet tart late summer strawberries or supple apricot, these are a few of my favorite things. I love simply grilled vegetables and seafood. I like to pick a variety of items at the farmer's market and season simply with great olive oil and sea salt, and then serve with a variety of dips and sauces. Chermoula, Romesco, Salsa Verde and Gremolata are amongst my favorites. I also can never turn down a piece of grilled sourdough bread. Paired with cultured butter or a creamy Camembert, you just can't go wrong.
Tell me a little bit about your restaurant for our readers.
Jams serves great ingredients prepared simply. We believe in an approach that connects our passion for local goods, our stewardship of the earth and a devotion to our community. Our dishes celebrate all of their components by letting them shine. We host a variety of guests from all over the world and we hope to provide a special experience by serving a delicious meal that also brings a sense of well being.
Photo credit: Jams at 1 Hotel Central Park