At the “Farm” with Chef James Laird
Local and Organic, Why We Should Dine Responsibly
Chef James Laird has been farming organically at his home “farm” since the early nineties. It’s been his goal to provide locally grown, organic foods for the guests at Restaurant Serenade since its conception in 1997.
“My mother and grandmother were both smokers. They also ate a lot of junk food; cola, chips, candy, food without nutritional value. They both died young from emphysema so from a young age I knew that I wanted to be healthy. When my mother passed away, I really got into exercising on a regular basis.
With exercise came the need to eat better. The old adage “you are what you eat” is so true. I started experimenting with fresh produce, nutritious grains, and lean proteins, and found I was feeling better than ever before. My aches and pains went away, my energy level increased, I felt like a whole new person.
When I discovered this secret to eating fresh, local produce, lean meats, and fresh fish, I knew I wanted to share this with other people. Being that I own a chef driven restaurant, I simply want to feed people what I like to eat!
Freshness is my mantra. The key to a healthy dish is sourcing the freshest local ingredients possible. When I put together a dish I like to use seasonal ingredients from our local farms. Serving what the season has to offer allows me to use fruits and vegetables that not only have the best flavor but are also at their most nutritious.”
Walking the raised beds with Chef James you will find twenty different varieties of heirloom tomato, lettuces from escarole to little gem, fresh herbs, garlic to be pulled, peppers blushing from the sun and of course the clucking of James’ chickens!
“I get asked what is the difference between white and brown eggs. It’s simple, white chickens lay white eggs, brown chickens lay brown”
Chef James explains how his cooking style respects the healthy, home grown ingredients:
“My cooking style is focused on showcasing an array of healthy fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean meats. I like to preserve the natural flavors by cooking in a light and restrained style. My soups are made without cream, I don’t use too many starches, and when possible I substitute healthy alternatives such as quinoa and freekeh. Also, I have recently committed myself to a gluten free diet.”
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).
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.