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 Café 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.
Throughout his impressive career, 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.
Both James and Nancy donate their time and services to important charitable causes whenever possible. They have been frequent contributors to, and participants in, benefits and fundraisers for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, American Heart Association, New Jersey Battered Women's Association, The Valerie Fund, and Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation.
James, a yoga and golf devotee, also enjoys fly fishing (catch and release only). He raises organic, heirloom vegetables in a raised-bed garden as well as heritage chickens. Years of buying Serenade's produce in season from local farmers and growers has led to great mutual respect for (and from) area producers, with whom long-term relationships have been cultivated and nurtured.
Contact Chef Laird