Joe Sheridan wasn’t inspired by his grandmother’s kitchen skills to take up a career as a chef.
But the Ocean City man says his grandparents’ hand work and commitment to the food service industry has guided him along his career path — no matter how much they wished it hadn’t.
“My grandfather was a bartender. My grandmother was a waitress. They are all rolling over in their graves because they swore I’d never do that,” the 52-year-old chef instructor at Atlantic Cape Community College’s culinary school said.
Sheridan worked jobs in different areas — draftsman, credit investigator — before being drawn inexorably back into food service.
“It was like I couldn’t avoid it. Maybe it gets ingrained in your DNA,” Sheridan said. “If you are around people who get some kind of satisfaction from service or enjoy making people feel good, it gets in your blood.”
Sheridan has been hanging around restaurants and bars almost since he could walk.
Born in Dover, Morris County, his mother was a waitress and his father a bartender, too. While his parents were in and out of his life, Sheridan was sent to live with his grandparents, Pearl and Doyle Olman, in Chicago before his first birthday. A first-birthday photo shows him sitting in an empty Miller High Life case in a bar on Clark Street.
Doyle Olman worked the day shift as a bartender. His wife worked the night shift — so there was always someone home to watch their grandson. Even when his grandparents weren’t around, Sheridan didn’t lack for a watchful adult eye.
“I’m not sure what kind of commentary this is on my upbringing, but I used to play with my friends all day and if I ever got into any trouble, I could run into any one about a half-dozen bars in the neighborhood and I’d be safe because the owners knew me and my family,” he said.
Despite her late-night work schedule, Pearl Olman worked hard to care for her family. Sheridan remembers his grandmother always had a hot meal on the table when dinnertime rolled around.
Olman’s meals were as simple as they were filling. The aim wasn’t to impress, but to feed her family good, nourishing meals.
“You hear chefs on TV talk about how they were inspired by their grandmother stirring the sauce pot in the kitchen — that wasn’t me in any way, shape or form,” Sheridan said. “She cooked simply, but she could cook very well.”
One of her specialties was roast beef served with homemade noodles. He remembers her working in the kitchen on Sundays, spreading the dough and cutting the noodles. Another weekend favorite was his grandmother’s roast chicken, which she served with roast vegetables.
Pearl Olman also made a very good cheesecake. But, there was a problem.
“My grandmother made the best cheesecake I’ve ever had in life, but she never learned how to scale a recipe. She could only make six cheesecakes at a time,” Sheridan recalled. At one point, Sheridan got so tired of eating cheesecake in industrial-sized portions he stopped eating the treat.
Sheridan and his grandmother moved back to New Jersey after Doyle Olman died when Sheridan was 10.
Despite his family’s efforts to keep him out of the hospitality business, Sheridan himself was tending bar by the time he was 19. He wound up working in the Hilton Hotel in Parsippany. It was there Beverage Manager Tony Fiduccia took Sheridan under his wing. Sheridan was promoted to lounge manager but left the hotel when Fiduccia got a job in Atlantic City. In 1988, while working at TropWorld Casino and Entertainment Resort Sheridan met his wife, Mary Jo, and decided to attend the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape.
“I was just hoping to compliment my front-of-the-house experience. I never intended to become a chef,” Sheridan said. But working at the school, he became “fascinated with being in the kitchen.”
“This was where my passion grew. The chef educators were inspiring, and I grew to respect all of them,” he said.
After graduating from the academy, he worked in both local restaurants and at Atlantic City casinos before returning to Atlantic Cape five years ago — this time as a member of the faculty.
Working around the food on weekdays, Sheridan and his wife don’t do much cooking at home. But on weekends the two “cook up a storm and have a great meal on Saturday and Sunday.”
“What we make really depends on what I’m in the mood for and the season,” Sheridan said. “Right now its grilled stuff. In the winter, it’s stews and soups — we’ll make a big pot of soup during the weekend and reheat it during the week.”
Sheridan said his cooking style is casual and comfort foods. If he ever tires of teaching, he could see himself opening a gastropub, serving simple, but delicious fare.
Whatever he does, he knows it will involve food. Like it or not, it’s in his blood.
“If you know anyone who is a great host at home — they are the kind of people who would enjoy this work. I take such great satisfaction from something as simple a someone saying, ‘I really enjoyed that meal.’ There’s such a sense of satisfaction,” he said.
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Roasting a chicken
The key here is roasting at a high heat, which crisps the skin, while the butter under the skin helps keep the breast meat moist. My grandmother used to roast her chicken with carrots, onions and potatoes, in her cast-iron skillet. I still use that skillet today.
In this version, I use fingerling potatoes, baby carrots and cipollini onions, but readers should feel free to use any vegetables they prefer. I also like to add some fresh herbs and garlic cloves into the cavity before placing the bird into the oven.
Once out of the oven, remove the chicken and vegetables from the pan, add some white wine, a touch of lemon juice, allow the liquid to reduce by about half, and whisk in some whole butter to make a great sauce.
Trussing the chicken also helps to ensure even cooking.
To see a video on trussing a game hen (the procedure is the same for the chicken), go to: atlantic.edu/whatscooking/index.php?currentVid=mdvriBYyt1w
Roast Chicken with Cipollini Onions, Baby Carrots and Fingerling Potatoes
1 chicken, about 3 to 4 pounds
4 tablespoons whole butter, sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 head garlic, top cut off
1 bunch thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 to 12 fingerling potatoes
8 to 12 baby carrots, peeled
8 to 12 cipollini onions, peeled
1/2 cup white wine
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Chopped parsley, sage and rosemary, to taste
Preheat an oven to 425 degrees. Place an ovenproof skillet or roasting pan in the oven to preheat. Wash the chicken with cold water and pat dry. Gently slide your hands between the skin and the breast meat, and place 2 pats of sliced butter evenly under the skin. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper, inside and out. Place the garlic and thyme in the cavity of the chicken.
Toss the vegetables and potatoes with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the vegetables in the pan, and place the chicken on the vegetables, breast-side up. Roast until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes. An instant-read thermometer placed into the bird should read 165 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, pierce the thigh; if the juices run clear, the chicken is done.
Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter. Skim off any fat from the pan and place over medium-high heat. Add the wine and lemon juice and reduce by half. Remove from heat and whisk in remaining whole butter. Taste the sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Finish with chopped herbs.
Serve the chicken on a platter with the potatoes and vegetables. Pour some of the sauce over the platter and serve any remaining sauce on the side.
Adapted from the kitchen of Pearl Lowery-Olman.