Bourbons Bistro chef balances art with quality

Bourbons Bistro chef balances art with quality

Listen to some chefs tell their stories and you’ll hear about a passion for cooking that sprouted when they were a child. Jereme McFarland tells a different tale.

“I wasn’t going to get anyone to cook for me, so I figured I had better learn or I would never eat again," he said. “My friends and I started barbecuing. My mom, who was a hotel chef and owned a catering business, showed me a few extra things here and there.”

He learned quickly and eventually became a chief cook in the Marine Corps, serving 300 to 500 Marines breakfast, lunch, dinner and a mid-shift meals.

After a year as sous chef at Bourbons Bistro, he was named executive chef on his birthday last January.

“On that day, I was more scared than I ever had been since the day I got on the bus to go to Marine boot camp. That’s a good thing. If you’re nervous like that, you’re moving in the right direction. If not, you’re stagnant,” McFarland said.

He calls himself a late bloomer, not achieving the top position in a restaurant until he was almost 35 years old. Running Bourbons Bistro for the last several months has been “stressful, exciting and very rewarding.”

Completely revamping the menu from day one was not his style. Gradually, he’s making the menu his own, adding crab cakes, mussels, country ham-style salmon cakes, corn and crab fritters, lamb belly (similar to lamb bacon) that’s cured in-house, and grilled flatbread with caramelized onions, prosciutto and goat cheese. He brines pork chops the same way as the previous chef but wraps them in prosciutto and pan sears them.

“We tiptoe the line between polished casual and fine dining. That gives us opportunities to do some upscale dishes while keeping most of the menu down to earth,” he said.

His menu creation has to take into account the skill levels of his staff, the available equipment and practical concerns of what can be executed successfully when the restaurant is busy. He’d like to turn out extravagant show-stoppers but has to constantly balance “artsy” with the integrity and quality of the food.

Next on his list of “possibles” is a pineapple upside down cake with tableside preparation. It may be one of the choices on a new fall dessert menu.

The restaurant offers about 150 different bourbons, but McFarland’s kitchen isn’t in competition with the bourbon. He designs dishes to complement bourbon and uses bourbon in a few of them, but he doesn’t dominate the menu with bourbon-centric selections.

His role of executive chef involves much more than cooking.

“You have to play politics in a restaurant and keep the staff happy without choosing sides. There’s a lot of drama. The best thing you can do is stay out of it. Still, working in a restaurant is great. If it’s cold outside, there’s a warm oven to stand next to. If it’s hot outside, you can stand in the walk-in” he said.