May 11, 2012
A talented chef lands job on the farm

254279_1792558329303_1100006574_31565437_5891698_n.jpgMike Ward, who recently left his job as chef de cuisine at Lounge ON20, didn't stay unemployed for long. He just accepted a job at Feeding Crane Farms. It's a newly created position called culinary development manager, and given Ward's background in the kitchen along with his interest in organic farming and green living, it seems tailor-made for him.

I recently wrote about this promising new farm and actually interviewed Ward, who was then a customer.

When I called Ward on Friday morning, he was already out in the field, as upbeat as ever. I could certainly sense his excitement, but I was more than a little concerned as well. Ward is no ordinary cook. He is a real talent, a chef with passion and creativity who has put in his time developing his skills. When he wanted to up his game, for instance, he moved to New York City and started working at some of the best restaurants in the city, and eventually landed a job at Picholine, a highly regarded Michelin two-star restaurant.

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At Lounge ON20, Ward made a major impression. While executive chef Pajo Bruich got most of the headlines, Ward carved out his own niche with his amazing and constantly evolving charcuterie plates. They really were a tour de force, combining old-world artisan methods with modernist techniques and plenty of artistry. He was also a real showman, whether working the line or stopping by tables to talk about the food with customers.

By taking a job on this organic farm, would that mean Ward was walking away from all that? Fortunately for us, the answer is no.

"I'm not walking away from the kitchen by any means," he said, noting that Feeding Crane Farms has major, long-term, big-picture plans to turn the enterprise into something really special - catering, pop-up dinners, wholesale food products, and, down the road, maybe even an onsite restaurant.

"I'm very excited to be part of this team and help these guys grow," Ward said. "It's going to be a big life change. The last 15 years has been spent working under fluorescent lights and now I'm out in the sunshine. It's an extreme life change, but I'm willing and able, and I'm super excited for the future."

You've got to admire his attitude. Ward has already been living the green and organic life. In fact, his enterprising wife, Kristin, along with Amanda Wucher-Aller, started a blog and business in January called "A Happy Green Life." They make green-oriented products, including environmentally friendly laundry soap they sell on the blog, Kristin also makes custom cloth diapers, which she sells on a this website,

As for Mike, he's full of enthusiasm for what lies ahead. After losing his job when Lounge ON20 scaled back, it looks like he turned a negative into a big and multi-dimensional positive.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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