How does a 37-year-old chef from Pittsburgh, who got his start flipping burgers at McDonald’s, land the executive culinary position at the venerable Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, one of the most historic, revered resorts in New England? Answer: a local connection, a passion for the property, and special talent in the kitchen.
Jon Sterrett, with his wife, Jen Gelormino, arrived in the Berkshires early in the summer, spent three months learning the ins and outs, and is now at the helm of the resort’s dining venues, including the Main Dining Room, Widow Bingham’s Tavern, the Courtyard (seasonal) and the Lion’s Den (reopening this fall), along with menu direction for catering and special events. Gelormino will act as Red Lion’s director of restaurants, providing a liaison between the front-of-house staff and the culinary team.
“To be a part of something with such a deep history and iconic reputation is an honor and has been really inspiring,” says Sterrett. “The goal is to create something that will serve as a foundation to build upon for generations to come.”
Sterrett’s from-the-ranks journey from McDonald’s to executive chef at the venerable property 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 Distrikt Hotel. While at the Fairmont Pittsburgh, Sterrett worked with Red Lion’s general manager Max Scherff’s wife, Mindi Morin, before she became the executive director of Canyon Ranch in Lenox. So, Sterrett was a bit of a known entity, with a Red Lion connection. Still, he had to prove himself during a lengthy interview and cooking audition, which included preparing a five-course meal for the team. Here’s what he cooked: The first course was an endive salad with champagne vinaigrette, dried cranberries, tarragon, and a black pepper crème fraiche. Second course was a classic beef tartare with shallots, caper, grass-fed beef, and egg yolk served with Cape Cod chips. Third course was pan-seared scallops served with ratatouille, puree of poached cauliflower, and parmesan tuile. Fourth course was a roasted half chicken with sauteed chiffonade of radicchio finished with pomegranate molasses, roasted new potatoes, charred cipollini onions, and a tableside pour of truffled chicken jus. Dessert was a raspberry clafoutis with locally made SoCo vanilla ice cream. The team was “blown away” by his passion and skill.
“When we were looking to hire a new chef for the Red Lion Inn, we wanted to find someone who would not only understand the deep history and traditions of the restaurant but also be able to translate it to the menu,” said Scherff. “Once we experienced his audition meal, which he described as ‘a French-inspired take on classic New England fare that embraces local farms and foraging,’ we knew we had found the talent we were looking for.”
Sterrett recognizes that he’s walking a thin line between old and new. “I think guests are looking for an experience that makes them feel like they’re a part of the inn’s rich history,” he says. “We’re looking to provide them with a sense of comfort in that history, that nostalgia, while still creating things that are exciting.”
Some beloved dishes will remain, including the inn’s famous turkey dinner, prime rib, and chicken pot pie, though each will receive a little “fresh perspective.” Sterrett will bring in new dishes as well, like the highly recommended Smashburger, an upscale house-ground sirloin formed into thin meat patties, and topped with Vermont cheddar, grilled onion, Dijonnaise, pickles, Arcadian greens, and tomato on a potato roll. He’s also excited to introduce an upscale take on fish and chips and an elevated beef tartare.
So far, the pace has been fast, and the work hours long. But we asked Sterrett about the Berkshires and what surprised him most about the move.
“How little I miss city living,” he replied. “There’s a sense of peace in this area that I hadn’t realized I’d been craving.”
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com