Jason Holmstrom gets a kick out of showing off his skills in the kitchen, but as a chef at the Ram's Head Inn in Galloway Township, he rarely gets a chance to flex his chops on dishes of his own design.
For the past year, chef and baker Chris Groome has put on monthly tasting dinners at his Mays Landing bake shop, Brownies Squared. Holmstrom, who is a fan of Groome's work and frequents the bake shop, has attended two of these dinners.
It occurred to Holmstrom that such a dinner might be successful at Ram's Head and would allow him to indulge his creative side, so Holmstrom proposed a collaboration.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity because I like to do my thing as well," Holmstrom said. "Four of his courses, four of my courses. It just seemed like a new way to kind of showcase his event and our talents."
The Jan. 13 menu featured a variety of delights, from veal sweetbread ravioli with wild mushroom ragout to porcini-dusted lamb T-bone with red pepper gastrique and crispy mint. Portions of each dish were about three to five bites each, and each was paired with a specially selected wine.
Jacob Cavileer, who has been a server at Ram's Head for more than a decade, attended the dinner with his wife, Stephanie, as well as his Saturday night serving partner Linda Pofi. Cavileer was invited by Holmstrom, with whom he is close.
"It was incredible," the Absecon resident said. "I've served dinners like that, but I've never been able to sit down and enjoy each course. They just had a little bit of everything to taste. It was perfect."
Groome and Holmstrom worked on their halves of the menu on their own for a few weeks before meeting at the Ram's Head a few days before the dinner for some tweaks.
With just 31 people attending, the dinner was more intimate than the typical meals Holmstrom puts together, he said. The more relaxed pace of the tasting menu allowed Holmstrom to not only plate his food but bring it out and converse with the diners, which he found satisfying.
"When we put out the plates, we were putting it out ourselves," Holmstrom said. "That was cool, too. Our food, our hands on the plates, that was pretty neat."
By all accounts - diners and chefs alike - the dinner was a big success. Groome said he plans to continue holding his monthly dinners at his bakery, and Holmstrom said there's a possibility that the Ram's Head might branch out with a recurring tasting dinner of its own.
While neither knows what the future holds for the collaboration, they hope it's the start of a trend among the many fine dining establishments in the area.
"We've got Philadelphia next door with some amazing stuff, but it's about time New Jersey brings something to the table a bit more frequently than it has," Holmstrom said. "I think people are doing it. I think more people need to, and I hope that they do."
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