John and Lisa are Interviewing…Chef James Malaby of blueplate
The one thing that usually comes to mind when thinking about Mullica Hill is antiques. When blueplate opened its doors in 2005, however, you could now add great dining to the list. The man responsible for blueplate is owner and head chef James Malaby. Chef James certainly has the resume of a chef that has worked his way up: trained at the Culinary Institute of America, spent time as a sous chef at Brasserie Perrier in Philadelphia; in all, has almost 20 years of experience in the restaurant business.
We’re very happy to have Chef James take a few moments to answer some questions.
J&L: How do you manage the ‘diner by day, sophisticated restaurant at night’ split personality at blueplate?
Chef James: We don’t look at ourselves as a diner. Sure, we fit all the classical descriptions of a diner but we like to look at blueplate as a “FULL” service restaurant. We try to offer what our customers want when they dine here. We do all the classical diner dishes for breakfast, but we also run some of the most unique breakfast specials in South Jersey; many weekends you can find specials at our brunch that rival any of the food you would see in downtown Philly. We look at the whole experience of dining with us as one: very casual at breakfast and lunch, with great service, and the same at night. Sure, the style of service and food we do are different at different times of the day, but all of it is done with the same thoughts from our employees: give the customer what they want.
J&L: What makes your breakfast and lunch better than a typical Jersey diner?
Chef James: Our employees!! We all work very hard to go beyond satisfying our customers. Our waitresses do it by trying to give the best service possible and anticipating our customers ever needs. Many of them know our customers by their first names and ask about family members on a daily basis. Our chefs- well they work on they same thought-satisfying the customers!-with fresh food, new menu ideas, and learning what the customer likes. We offer or we will offer to do almost anything- our chefs are well experienced and plenty of times we have people with special needs that we will recreate a dish or give them a offering of suggestions to fit their needs.
J&L: What did you learn from your time working at Brasserie Perrier?
Chef James: Time management and the BIG picture. There was always so much to do there and learn there every day. I would leave there with my head going into a thousand different directions with all the things you would see. Between Chef Perrier and all the other chefs, cooking for different VIP’s, banquets and a la carte business, it was like trying to cross Route 295 on foot in rush hour. Learning to see the whole picture of what it takes to run a great restaurant is the single most important thing. Everything from the curb on the street being clean to the facial tissues in the bathroom being offered makes or breaks an experience, oh yea and don’t forget the food.
J&L: Describe your signature dish Warm Chocolate Sex on a blueplate.
Chef James: Un-Describable!!@? It’s custard-cake like, or is it cake-like custard? Different people describe it differently but it’s a lot of chocolate, warm and vanilla bean ice cream-what can be wrong like that? When I first made it one of my employees say it was like having sex (think I learned a little too much about her there); that’s how it got its name.
J&L: How do you see the connection between your restaurant and the community in Mullica Hill?
Chef James: Over the short 4 years that we have been open I’ve been very busy building a close relationship with our community. My wife has been a local school teacher, so between the both of us we see a large population of the town. Blueplate and I try to get involved with as many charity events and fundraisers as possible. I currently sit on one of the local government boards; I am a strong voice in the local Main Street Merchant Group. One of the most important things that I wanted to start when I opened the restaurant, and slowly is becoming a very strong point of the restaurant, is its connection to the local farmers. During the growing season we use as much local grown ingredients as possible. I personally travel to each and every farm to meet them and pick out what are the freshest ingredients to use at blueplate. My employees and guests find that using the local ingredients give the final product on the plate a more fresh and clean taste. Local corn, berries, apples, asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes and many more all find their way to my kitchen, and many of them find their way to special themed dinner menus using that ingredient as a major flavor in each dish.
J&L: Do you find being a little off the beaten path a challenge?
Chef James: Sure, it’s hard to hear from fellow restaurants in South Jersey who are finding great business in their towns that are established. Mullica Hill is a growing community so we are not as established with shopping districts and tens of thousands of homes yet. Being 30 minutes from the city, or 20 minutes from any well established town has its downs, but the word is getting out and we slowly building a following from other guests from other towns. Mullica Hill will not be off the beaten path forever!!
J&L: During these tough economic times, what is the one thing you have focused on to keep your customers?
Chef James: VALUE, VALUE, VALUE!! Especially in tough times people are shopping value, and value isn’t always seen as price. Day after day we put fresh ingredients prepared freshly on our dishes then serve it to our customers with a smile. That was what we decided to do on day 1 when the restaurant opened and that is what we continue to do today. It’s a simple idea but it doesn’t get done as much as it should anymore. For the price sensitive customers we do offer some lower price items for both our breakfast and lunch menus that we didn’t offer before and we have offered some of our pre fix menus and at more valued price this year.
J&L: What do you love most about the restaurant business?
Chef James: The people you meet; you are always meeting new people!! The excitement, the stress, the consistent unpredictability of the business. It’s such a challenge everyday, NO 2 days are alike – it’s like a big game that at the end of the day when you go home you look at your day and say “Did I win today?”(Meaning did I put my best foot forward on every dish and make every bodies experience the best I could of?) And if not, you always have your rematch the next day.
J&L: The Bourdain question: What would be your last meal be?
Chef James: A cinnamon Pop-Tart with a cup of coffee.
Thanks again to Chef James for answering our questions. If you have dined at blueplate, we’d love to hear about your experiences. Please feel free to comment.