CHEF JASON ZIMMERMANN REINVENTS THE CLASSICS AT THE MOLLY PITCHER INN
BY JESSICA JONES-GORMAN • PHOTOS BY ERIC COLEMAN
When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered restaurants across New Jersey, halting indoor dining for several months and putting much of the culinary industry on hold, Jason Zimmermann, like many chefs in the country, found his future in flummox. Deeming it impossible to translate his fine dining specialties to takeout, the seasoned chef instead made good use of his furlough, turning the pause into an opportunity to update his menu.
“We had been considering modernizing our menu for a few years now but business was always too chaotic to make any substantial changes,” noted Zimmermann, speaking of the traditionally classic Molly Pitcher Inn where he serves as executive chef. “COVID actually created time for us to work on some new items that better represent a shift in clientele that we’ve been noticing for years.”
The changes reflect some of Zimmermann’s best work. He brought in a seared mahi-mahi for the summer served over a bed of spiced sweet potato hash and topped with pickled pineapple and salsa verde gel, garnished with a blood orange reduction and to stones (crispy twice fried plantain slices commonly found in Caribbean cuisine). Other new dishes include burrata with grilled peaches and black sea salt plus a modern take on chicken and waffles: boneless, soaked in butter milk, and served on top of a roasted corn waffle with a hint of napa cabbage coleslaw and a chipotle remoulade.
“We couldn’t keep enough ingredients on hand; these dishes hit all of the right notes with our customers and continuously sold out every night,” said the chef. “Since we reopened in June, our sales were up 300%. Compared to last year, we’ve seen a monumental increase in business, and I think this modernized menu has a lot to do with it.”
Zimmermann, who said he was first inspired to cook by his mother and grandmother, prepping vegetables and other integral pieces of the Sunday dinner in his family’s kitchen, earned his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island before taking his first job at a private dining club in North Jersey.
“There I worked for chef Lance Knowling, and chef Tom Valenti came in to consult,” he noted. “To be exposed to these incredibly talented, classically trained chefs right out of school was an incredible experience. During that time I was able to really sharpen the skills I learned at Johnson & Wales, at the same time learning what it was like to cook for all of these gala events.”
He then worked at the Molly Pitcher Inn as a banquet sous chef (and was promoted to banquet chef after a year and a half), before taking a position as executive chef at the Inn on Main. He executive cheffed at Bobo’s 33, the Heldrich Hotel, and F&B Fine Catering before returning to the Molly Pitcher Inn in 2017.
“I came back as banquet chef and when the executive chef left a little over a year ago I was offered the position,” he said of his current title at the inn. “Since being named executive chef we’ve talked a lot about modernizing the menu to suit this area’s changing clientele. The changes we’ve made over the past several months are now in full effect.”
Flanks to Zimmermann, 90% of the Molly Pitcher menu is new; only a few of the locally famous salads and pot pies remain. For fall, the chef pulled out all the stops.
“We’re offering a duet of duck. The breast is served pan roasted with duck cont. A cranberry bread pudding, fried Brussels sprout leaves, and a cranberry relish complete the dish.”
Zimmermann, who grew up in a “meat and potatoes household,” said braised meats are his specialty. He recently added one of his mother’s simple Hungarian dishes to his rotation: chicken paprikash (dark meat chicken braised in generous amounts of paprika and finished with sour cream), but his rendition will be baked en croute.
“It’s rolled in puff pastry and served with ratatouille vegetables,” explained the cuisinier. “It’s a piece of my childhood on the menu, tweaked slightly to satisfy a fine dining audience.”
Zimmermann will also introduce themed happy hour menus to the Molly Pitcher Inn this winter, crafting gourmet burgers on Monday (think Al Pastor specialty topped with pulled pork and pineapple relish and a short rib burger covered in roasted tomatoes), high-end tacos on Tuesday, and specialty wine and cheeses on Wednesday.
“I’m having a lot of fun with this. Our customers are loving the change and so am I.”
The Molly Pitcher Inn
88 Riverside Avenue / 732.747.2500 / themollypitcher.com