Following The Seasons With Chef Jason Williams
Chef Jason Williams has carved out a pretty rad life. From June-September you can find him cooking at his restaurant The Well at Jordan’s Farm. The Well is situated on an idyllic working farm in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Tables and small gazebos are nestled next to rows of flowers and look out over a fine piece of land just a couple of miles from the ocean. Jason’s kitchen is compact (8’x20’) but capable. There he creates dishes full of seasonal farm produce and responsibly sourced meat and fish. Reservations at the Well book out pretty far but they are worth thinking ahead. Once The Well closes for the season Jason spends his time chasing winter and traveling around the country to cook at smaller ski resorts, events like the winter X-games and the Burton US Open, and occasionally on Burton Snowboards photoshoots.
I caught up with Jason in the shoulder season to chat about cooking on the farm and on the road.
Brenna: Can you give me a bit of your background?
Jason: I grew up in Mt. Washington Valley, New Hampshire. Was introduced to the restaurant business when I was 16, my first job was as a dishwasher at a roadside barbecue joint. It was a horrible job, but I loved the energy, drama and camaraderie that came with it. So I decided pretty early on in life to pursue cooking as a career choice. I started working with actual chefs throughout high school, trying to learn as much as possible from the best people around me. Attended culinary school at The Culinary Institute of America right after high school, which really exposed me to all the endless ingredients and possibilities out there.
So after graduating I took advantage of those opportunities and started traveling, living and working in some of the most appealing places to me- Lake Tahoe, Maui, Napa Valley. After about 10 years of bouncing around I migrated back to New England and settled in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. I’ve lived here for the last 14 years, and owned a seasonal restaurant called The Well at Jordan’s Farm for the last 8.
Brenna: Where’d you come up cooking?
Jason: All the places I’ve lived, worked or travelled have influenced the way I cook. And it’s one of those crafts that offer endless opportunities for knowledge. Especially in this day and age, where everything is so accessible and you can see what the chefs or restaurants you admire are doing. So I feel like I’m still coming up, and every season I have to prove myself again, keep it exciting, stay current, make it fun.
Brenna: How’d you get involved at The Well?
Jason: I started The Well in 2010, pretty much for selfish reasons. I wanted to be close to my ingredients, and wanted a nice view. I had been purchasing from Jordan’s farm for a few years prior for the restaurant I was working at the time, and it was always my favorite part of the day. It’s a 3rd generation 120 acre produce farm and pretty special place. It feels a world away from the city, but it’s only 15 minutes away from Portland. The family was kind enough to give me a shot in 2010 and the rest has been history.
Brenna: How’d you end up getting to travel/snowboard/cook?
Jason: Snowboarding, and being in the mountains is probably one of the things I love the most. It’s been that way for over 30 years now. And I don’t see it slowing down any time soon. And I think all three of those things I was going to do, whether I was successful at it or not. It’s really not hard to be a ski (snowboard) bum. Thankfully, things have fallen into place better than I could have imagined. And I’m so grateful I can combine all the things that I enjoy into a career that’s rewarding and exciting.
Brenna: Is cooking on the road for events/lodges/photoshoots something you marketed yourself to do or it’s just kind of evolved that way?
Jason: It’s pretty nice to be able to do different stuff in the off season. I think it makes me look forward to what’s next, and appreciate what what I have at the farm. I never marketed myself that way, but my interests outside of the kitchen definitely steered me a certain direction and the rest has fallen into place with some hard work and luck.
Brenna: Where is the coolest place you’ve traveled to for work?
Jason: I worked a season at a heliski operation in Cordova, Alaska. I still think about that place all the time.
Brenna: Most memorable trip cooking on the road?
Jason: I’ll never forget the Peace Park trips at Grand Targhee. Grilling on the side of mountain with the most incredible terrain and most talented riders. Just having the best time day and night.
Brenna: Where would your dream cooking trip be?
Jason: Probably some remote cabin, in the mountains with a snowcat full of friends, endless tree runs and a wood fired oven.
Brenna: What are the challenges/difficulties of cooking on the road?
Jason: Sourcing quality products (preferably from smaller local producers) is usually the most difficult part. Especially in remote places in the middle of winter.
Brenna: Favorite dish to make on the road?
Jason: I always try and make fresh bread on the road. I think it’s one of those simple things that can be so satisfying.
Brenna: What inspires your cooking?
Jason: Available ingredients and weather.
Brenna: What chef’s do you look up to?
Jason: Really anyone who puts in the extra effort. It’s a lot easier to cut corners in this business. And there are so many different levels of dining experiences. I look up to the chefs, short order cooks, and home cooks that take the time to do it right and care about the finished product.
Brenna: Top 3 favorite ingredients?
Jason: Salt, fat and acid.
Brenna: If you could have dinner with 5 people dead or alive who would they be?
Jason: Jean-Louis Palladin, Jerry Garcia, Sierra Skye, Rodney Dangerfield and Andre the giant.
Brenna: How many snowboarding gold medalists have you cooked dinner for?
Jason: Hmmm, maybe 3-4 Olympic gold medalists? A bunch of X Games medalists
Brenna: What’s your favorite dish to make for yourself?
Jason: I love to make soups for myself.
Brenna: Most essential cooking instrument?
Jason: Cast iron pan
Brenna: What’s your least favorite ingredient?
Jason: High fructose corn syrup
Brenna: Favorite meal after a day riding?
Jason: Any of the braised dishes, or stews. Those things that warm you up from the inside.
Brenna: You live in Maine, what’s your favorite way to eat lobster?
Jason: On a beach, at sunset with a cold beer or glass of wine.
Brenna: What’s your shift drink?
Jason: Either a Miller High Life or Rye Old Fashioned
Brenna: Favorite restaurant?
Jason: Sushi Mizutani
Brenna: Butter or olive oil?
Brenna: Italy or France?
Brenna: Pasta or rice?
Brenna: Beer or wine?
Jason: Sure, thanks.
Brenna: Food emoji you wish existed?
Jason: Pate en Croute
Brenna: If you could only cook with one heat source for the rest of your life what would it be?
Jason: Wood 100%
Brenna: If you could only eat 1 type of cuisine (Japanese, Mexican, Italian?) for the rest of you life what would it be?