How did a 37-year-old Pittsburgh chef who started turning burgers at McDonald’s get the culinary leadership position at the venerable Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, one of New England’s most historic and respected resorts? Answer: A sense of home, passion for the property and special talent in the kitchen.
Jon Sterrett arrived in the Berkshires with his wife Jen Gelormino in early summer, spent three months learning the ins and outs and now runs the resort’s restaurants, including the Main Dining Room, Widow Bingham’s Tavern, Courtyard (seasonal) and the Lions Den (reopened in autumn) together with the menu navigation for catering and special events. Gelormino will serve as the restaurant director for Red Lion, liaising between the front-of-house staff and the kitchen team.
“To be part of something with such a deep history and iconic reputation is an honor and truly inspiring,” says Sterrett. “The goal is to create something that future generations can build on.”
Sterrett’s career from McDonald’s to chef de cuisine at the venerable estate included stints at Nordstrom Marketplace Café, Fairmont Pittsburgh, the award-winning Superior Motors restaurant, Senti Restaurant and Wine Bar, and or The Whale in the District Hotel. While at Fairmont Pittsburgh, Sterrett worked with Red Lions General Manager Max Scherff’s wife, Mindi Morin, before becoming General Manager of Canyon Ranch in Lenox. So Sterrett was a pretty well-known being with a connection to Red Lion. Nevertheless, he had to prove himself during a long interview and a cooking rehearsal in which he prepared a five-course menu for the team. This is what he cooked: The first course was an endive salad with champagne vinaigrette, dried cranberries, tarragon and a crème fraiche made from black pepper. The second course was a classic beef tartare with shallots, capers, cattle and egg yolks, served with Cape Cod chips. The third course was pan-fried scallops, served with ratatouille, poached cauliflower puree, and parmesan tuile. The fourth course was a fried half chicken with sautéed radicchio chiffonade, topped off with pomegranate molasses, roasted new potatoes, charred cipollini onions, and an infusion of truffled chicken gravy at the table. For dessert there was raspberry clafoutis with locally produced SoCo vanilla ice cream. The team was “overwhelmed” by their passion and skills.
“When we were looking for a new chef for the Red Lion Inn, we wanted to find someone who not only understands the deep history and traditions of the restaurant, but can also transfer it to the menu,” says Scherff. “When we saw his rehearsal dinner, which he described as ‘a French-inspired take on classic New England cuisine that embraces local farming and foraging,’ we knew we had found the talent we were looking for.”
Sterrett realizes that he is walking a fine line between old and new. “I think guests are looking for an experience that makes them feel like they are part of the inn’s rich history,” he says. “We want to give you a sense of comfort in this story, this nostalgia, and create exciting things at the same time.”
Some popular dishes will remain, including the inn’s famous turkey meal, prime rib, and chicken pie, though each gets a little “fresh perspective”. Sterrett will also bring in new dishes, such as the highly recommended smashburger, an upscale, homemade sirloin shaped into thin meat pies and topped with Vermont cheddar, grilled onions, dijonnaise, cucumber, Arcadian vegetables and tomatoes on a potato bun. He’s also excited to introduce an upscale version of fish and chips and an elevated beef tartare.
So far, the pace has been high and the working hours long. But we asked Sterrett about the Berkshires and what surprised him most.
“How little do I miss life in the city,” he replied. “There’s a sense of peace in this area that I didn’t realize I long for.”
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org