Conversations: Chef Jason McGarry

Chef Jason McGarry

Chef Jason McGarry cut his teeth amid the heat of luxury resort kitchens, including the lauded Greenbrier in West Virginia and South Carolina’s Montage Palmetto Bluff, before bringing his skills to Central in downtown Montgomery. As Executive Chef, he’s overseen menu creation, ingredient sourcing, staffing, and of course, cooking, for the last six years.

There are always plenty of plates spinning, but when it comes to food, he prioritizes simplicity. And when it comes to employees, he’s after several equally uncomplicated but critical qualities.

What first got you interested in being a chef?

Watching The Food Network when I was growing up and cooking with my mom.

How would you describe your cooking philosophy?

My cooking style is called KISS — keep it stupid simple. I believe cooking isn’t hard; it’s about the passion and the ingredients. Have fun and be creative but just don’t over complicate it.

What is the biggest challenge you and the restaurant have faced in the last year and how did you overcome it?

Mainly, the cost of goods and staffing. With the cost of goods, we have gotten creative by bringing on different vendors and using secondary cuts and turning them into something special on our menus. On staffing, it’s just hard to find cooks now. I have been fortunate to have a solid core team for the last six years. And the way to keep a good staff when you have it: Treat your guys the way you want to be treated.

When you’re hiring employees, what is the No. 1 quality you are looking for?

A strong work ethic and loyalty. When I interview, I look at work history and specifically, how long someone has been employed at a place or how many times they have jumped around, etc. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have work ethic and integrity, you won’t make it.

How would you rate Montgomery’s current culinary scene?

The city’s food scene is growing, and there is a great group of chefs around here that really create some amazing food. I look forward to seeing what happens in the next few years. It would be great to see a few more restaurants down in the entertainment district.

What do you love most about your work?

It’s a combination of seeing guests in the dining room enjoying their experience and teaching my guys in the kitchen new and classic techniques.

Personal Matters:

Best Bit of Biz Advice:

“If you listen, you have half a chance.” From Uncle Larry, the lead butcher at the Greenbrier.

Best Bites:

It can change with the seasons, but one of my favorite things to eat is red wine demi-braised short ribs with some five-onion parmesan grits. My favorite dish to cook is beef wellington.

Farmer Friends:

Houston Farms. They grow all of our mushrooms for us.

Another Life:

If I were not a chef, I have often wondered what I would be doing, and I’m not sure, but I would probably be a professional hunting or fishing guide.