Chef James Laird’s acclaim emanates from his home town of Middlesex, New Jersey to the much larger culinary world. The New York Times named him “one of the best classically trained chefs in New Jersey,” and New Jersey Monthly magazine has consistently rated his restaurant among “the best of the best.” The Record describes his cuisine “as a soft and subtle love song,” and Crain’s NY Business remarked, “Serenade is among the Garden State’s most rewarding dining destinations.”
Upon graduation from the Culinary Institute of America, James traveled to Europe to hone his skills under the tutelage of renowned chefs Georges Blanc and Alain Pic. During the early ’90s, he held positions at Lespinasse, The River CafÃ© and Aureole, eventually moving on to New Jersey’s esteemed Ryland Inn. During his tenure as sous chef, the restaurant received an “Extraordinary” rating from The New York Times (the equivalent of four stars).
It was also in the kitchen of The Ryland Inn that James met the woman he would later marry and partner with at Restaurant Serenade, Nancy Sheridan, a former Wall Streeter-turned-Culinary Institute star grad.
In 2011, James and his wife, Nancy were presented with the New Jersey Restaurant Association’s Gold Plate Award, which recognizes excellence and longevity in the restaurant business. In 2000, as a tribute to his creativity and expertise, James was the first New Jersey chef awarded the prestigious Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence. The Mondavis, who were present at a gala celebration held in his honor, cited James as a chef who “embodies the timeless principles of gastronomic greatness” by creating cuisine that pairs beautifully with wine.
James Laird and Restaurant Serenade have been featured in The New York Times; Wall Street Journal; Gourmet; Reuters; Chocolatier; New York magazine; New Jersey Monthly; New Jersey Life; Food Arts; The Star-Ledger; and The Asbury Park Press.
James has also been seen on The Today Show and The Food Network. He has made multiple appearances on the CBS Saturday Early Show; WNBC-TV’s, Weekend Today in New York and News 4 You; WCBS Channel 2 News; Channel 7 Eyewitness News; and CN8’s, Let’s Cook with Paul Dillon.
Nancy Sheridan Laird
Nancy Sheridan Laird’s skills and talents are found everywhere at Serenade and are key to the success of the restaurant. Her sound business background and good judgment — coupled with her culinary training, an excellent wine palate, and natural charm — have propelled her to the forefront of today’s successful restaurateurs.
Nancy followed a more traditional career path, receiving a Masters Degree in Library Science from Columbia University. Not content to be cloistered in a community library, she set out to rise to the top of Wall Street where she quickly became a research librarian at Morgan Stanley. Nancy broke the mold when she jumped from research to trading and on to a top position as Vice President of the Mergers and Acquisitions Group for Kidder Peabody.
Sommelier & General ManagerJohn Jansma
Our Sommelier and General Manager, John Jansma, has been working in some of New Jersey’s finest restaurants since 2005. With a decidedly “old world” palate and classical wine and spirit training John provides Restaurant Serenade’s guests with an eclectic wine collection to choose from. John works closely with Chef James Laird to create memorable wine and food pairings on a nightly basis.
John is also accomplished behind the bar creating seasonal signature cocktails and teaching cocktail classes for our guests. He won the Iron Shaker award in 2014 by beating the rest of New Jersey’s best mixologists in competition.