New chef at UnWine’d
Jason Smith hopes you’ll stay for dinner
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
UnWine’d in Manchester has a new maestro in the kitchen. Actually, chef Jason Smith has used his skills at the wine bar for a few months now, but he officially took over the kitchen in August. Since then, his goal has been to create a menu that best represents the nature of this place.
Smith is a graduate of Newbury College’s culinary program in Massachusetts. He and owner Scot Kinney have been friends for a number of years — ever since their days at the Bedford Village Inn, where Smith was the banquet chef until autumn 2007. He went on to start his own personal chef-catering service, and then Kinney asked him to work weekends in the UnWine’d kitchen. By August, Kinney wanted him to come on board full-time.
The Hippo asked Smith about his career and what he has in store for UnWine’d’s patrons.
How did you start your career? Have you worked in restaurants all your life?
I didn’t work in my first restaurant job until my internship. I went to culinary school based on the fact that I cooked a lot at home for family and friends. People would say, “You should go to culinary school.” I grew up in Peterborough. My mom was a good cook. I remember as a little kid on snow days I’d make cookies and bread with her.
That first internship — what did you think of working in a restaurant?
Wow, this is pretty hard work. The chef’s internship program had us do all the jobs — dishwasher, prep cook, line cook. When you are dining in a restaurant and they present you with a beautiful plate of food, you don’t realize the hard work that goes into it. But I fell in love with it right away.
How have you changed the UnWine’d menu?
A: I wanted to use more wine in the dishes. We have a lot of wines work with. Also, there was no real rhyme or reason to the menu. Some of the dishes didn’t match well with wine. We had typically been a place where people go out to have wine and fondue before they go to dinner. I want them to instead stay here for dinner.
The new menu has been up and running for about a month. It has a lot of fall flavors and warming foods. One of the things that make us different is that not everyone that comes here will order an entrée. A party of four might order a cheese fondue, bruschetta, salads, dessert, and that’s it.
Where do you get your food inspiration from?
From different places. You don’t really think about it. It just happens. You think of flavor combinations in your head and try them. Chefs have the ability to taste foods in their heads. You think about it, then you try it. I cook food I like and hopefully other people will like it, too. There is a lot of seasonality to the food, and I do food I liked as a kid.
What are some of the more popular menu items?
I would say my signature dishes are the baked salmon “en croute” (salmon baked in a puff pastry with grilled asparagus, a crab and dill compound butter, and served with an herbed rice), the duo of duck (roasted duck breast and duck confit ravioli with a cranberry cream sauce and sautéed winter greens), and the seared ahi tuna appetizer (served with a ginger and Nori risotto, drizzled with a sweet chili sauce and a side of wasabi). The yellow fin tuna BLT panini (seared tuna, apple wood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mild chili-lime mayo) is really good. In the kitchen we call it the greatest sandwich in the world.
How has the job been so far?
It’s been awesome! I enjoy it a lot. We’ve gotten a lot of great compliments on the food. There are a lot of happy diners.