Jordan Lloyd honed his skills in the kitchens of some of America's greatest chefs, like Thomas Keller at Per Se in New York and Michael Richard at Citronelle in Washington, D.C. He returned to his hometown on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to create the Bartlett Pear in Easton, a restaurant that's one of the Mid-Atlantic's culinary stars, earning a rating of 28/30 by Zagat. He has just returned from his appearance at the James Beard House in New York.
What drew you to your profession/vocation?
I started working in a little family owned operation called Café 25 on Goldsborough Street in Easton when I was 12 and haven't looked back since. I have always known this was going to be a path I could enjoy for a very long time.
Any early memories of cooking?
The kitchen has always been apart of my life. I remember being a little kid enjoying big family holiday parties watching and helping my Aunt Pat prepare these massive meals for 50 to 60 people single handedly. She always let me help, but never accepted and genuinely did not want help from anyone else. She was insistent that all of her guests relax and enjoy the home she worked so hard to keep clean and just perfect for guests at all times. I think she was my first introduction to the art of hospitality and understanding the pride one feels in taking care of others. When I was nine, I spent the night over at my best buddies house Lee. Somehow I convinced Lee that it would be okay if we made cookies from scratch following The Joy of Baking recipe... at 2:00 a.m. We almost had the cookies in, then we were busted by the Mom. This best friend later went on to buy me my first Escoffier book and is getting married at the Bartlett Pear this fall.
How has the restaurant landscape changed since you first started?
I was very fortunate to catch the tail end of the highly respected superstar European Chef movement, i.e. Jean-Louis Palladin, Michel Richard, Guenter Seeger, Roberto Donna, Georges Perrier, Christian Delouvrier, etc. During this time as a young cook, if you didn't come home with a few bruises and a couple tears shed on the subway ride home, you didn't push hard enough for the day. With Jean Louis and Alice Water came the hunt for the most exquisite locally sourced product possible, farm to table in America was born. Fine dining continues to prove to be a labor of love more than a viable business plan, so vast majority of newer establishments are moving to highly casual with still a strong focus on quality with the elements that matter, food, beverage and service.
Had you always dreamed of opening your own restaurant or was it more a matter of opportunity?
I always had that dream but didn't expect it to come by age 30. After opening restaurants and resorts in New York, Atlanta, Miami, Hilton Head and D.C., I realized it was time to settle down for a bit since I had kids age three and one at that point. We moved back to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, our home base. I began working in D.C. opening Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak and commuting from Easton to D.C. I drove by [what had been the celebrated] Inn at Easton, dreaming. I saw the For Sale sign, wishing for its possession. The market then was terrible and the building was going into foreclosure, so I decided to go for it. Every waking moment I wrote a business plan and began searching for investors. I found three partners and we opened on September 19th, 2009. All three investors fell to the wayside within the first couple years due to personal circumstances, no bridges burnt. My wife Alice and I now outright own and operate Bartlett Pear Inn.
Who are some of your sources of inspiration in terms of cooking?
I think my biggest inspirations are the young eager cooks in my kitchen. Over the years, I have had the great pleasure to play a part in their food education. I really enjoy feeding off of their ideas and energy. The farmers, their products and the landscape around me is also a constant source of inspiration. Obviously, the direct mentors I have had from Delouvrier to Michel Richard to Keller to Mina are daily voices in my head pushing me to be better.
You're serious about locally sourced ingredients. Farm-to-table has become such a buzz term. How does your menu reflect your commitment without lapsing into a foodie cliché?
I think we are able to keep it genuine because we never intended to be farm to table from the beginning. We evolved into that only in pursuit of the highest quality product possible. It happens to be right in our back yard. The Eastern Shore is a fertile crescent. The products produced here are consistently superior to any other ingredients I have worked with. To boot, I grew up here and really enjoy cooking with the products my friends and family produce.
Your menu is prized for its many local ingredients, but you also source from further afield, like Rhode Island for sea scallops. Can you talk about how you make these decisions?
There are some superior products that are produced locally and some that are not.
For instance, when we buy truffles, we can't get them locally so we go to Italy, France or Oregon. Our Dover sole comes from Brittany, France. It all goes back to our kitchen's focus on finding the highest quality ingredients possible first, local second. I would never allow quality to suffer in trade of being local. I want the best. It happens to be that the Eastern Shore of Maryland is absolutely outstanding at producing the most majestic pure products in so many different varieties. That's what makes the Eastern Shore such a special place to cook. You can support local, buy local and be blown away by the quality every single day.
Your restaurant is located in a beautiful small town on Maryland's Eastern Shore, about 70 miles from Washington, DC. How have you managed to attract customers from around the Mid-Atlantic and beyond?
I believe offering the same quality and culinary artistry as the big fancy places in D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia in the charm of our small town is the main draw to the Bartlett Pear Inn. The 225-year-old building has a great presence that lures you in and makes you feel welcome immediately. We rarely have paid for print advertising. Word of mouth and social media has been our most powerful tool.
While the restaurant is elegant and the menu sophisticated, there's a warmth and friendliness to the Bartlett Pear. You even welcome children. Can you explain how you have achieved this balance of culinary excellence with comfort?
I believe this hospitality goes back to my aunt instilling the instinct and insight of caring for others' comfort. I also learned early when working at the Four Seasons to always pay extra attention to the children because they are our future guests.
Any ingredients that you are interested in working with that you haven't yet had a chance?
One ingredient that I have only seen but not worked with directly are pibales, baby eels. I remember eating these after watching Michel Richard prepare a sea urchin cream sauce with sautéed pibales topped with caviar, of course. For years I have longed for an excuse to bring these in but have only procrastinated. Soon I hope.
Recently you opened a bakery across the street from your inn and restaurant. What drove you to this new venture?
There was a very Americanized bakery previously and the ladies wanted to retire to spend more time with grandchildren. Instead of seeing another empty storefront across from our business, Alice and I decided that it would be a great breakfast annex to the Inn. It has been very successful so far. We have a mini local foods grocery store there that carries about 20 different local farm products from milk to ducks to eggs to a variety of meats. Along with all of the fresh breads and pastries, we offer a full-scale complimentary breakfast menu for the Inn guests to choose from. And locals are invited to come in and enjoy them as well
You maintain your own farm. What do you grow there? How do you use the fruits of your labor?
It's more of just a large garden, about 4,000 square-feet with 28 raised beds. It's highly manicured and produces for us from March to December. We are presently producing an abundance of arrow leaf spinach, Russian kales, garlic and onions. Very soon we will have carrots, beets, eggplants and varieties of peas. It would be fair to say that during the height of our growing season, about eight months of the year, our garden produces about 70-percent of all the vegetables we use in the Inn and bakery kitchens.
We all know that America is now food obsessed. What do you think is driving this trend?
Obviously, the Food Network and food reality shows have made cooking a lot more accessible and interesting to households all over the world. This campaign beginning with people like James Beard and Julia Child and continuing with Anthony Bourdain and Rachel Ray. As we evolve, we realize more than ever the importance of eating with a consciousness. The story behind our food is as juicy as the product itself. People are generally concerned with where our products are coming from now, knowing the potential atrocities that can be associated with them.
When you're not working, what's your favorite go-to meal at home or out?
Sushi and barbecue are my go-to spots right now on days off. I can't seem to get enough of either one.
Any food trends that you predict will (or should) wane soon? What about food trends that you see as emergent and exciting?
It seems that molecular gastronomy isn't going anywhere anytime soon. I think that will continue to evolve, especially since it is a part of culinary school curriculum these days. I hope farm to table will continue. I had a dream the other night that I was serving braised lamb in a bowl that nestled into a bed of lamb's wool from the same creature. I think the pursuit of bringing the earth directly on top of the table will be a continued pursuit of mine personally.
Flash forward ten years: What are you doing?
The only thing I know I will still be doing is cooking beautiful ingredients and genuinely trying to warm hearts, minds and bodies with thoughtful creative cuisine.