by Len Lear
10 Arts Bistro & Lounge by Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia has announced that Jennifer Carroll will leave her position as Chef de Cuisine in October, possibly as early as next week.
“After several highly successful years as Chef de Cuisine at The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, Jennifer Carroll has decided to leave the hotel effective Oct. 6, to explore a variety of exciting options open to her,” said Olivia C. Brown, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, in a prepared statement.
“Not only has Chef Carroll presided over our very successful 10 Arts restaurant, she has made two appearances on Bravo’s Top Chef and developed a popular following among customers and the media. She will participate in the Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner Series, one of only 20 such dinners throughout the country in 2011, on Oct. 5 along with Chef Eric Ripert.
“The Ritz-Carlton has launched a nationwide search for Jen’s successor, and we expect the new chef to be on board by early November. We want to thank chef Carroll for the wonderful culinary contribution she has made to The Ritz-Carlton, and we wish her the very best as she pursues the next step in her career.”
All of the attention Carroll has received from her appearances on national TV have made her a magnet for investors who see her as a can’t-miss chef-owner of a modest-sized restaurant. So far there is apparently no deal in place for such a restaurant, although Jennifer has said it will offer a “middle-of-the-road menu” with no entrees over $26.
Although Jennifer, now in her mid-30s, looks extremely modest and girl-next-doorish in real life, her image is obviously getting an injection of sex appeal. A website called quarrylandfarms.com, of all things, features Jennifer in a bikini, and the Philadelphia Daily News on Tuesday of this week featured her in a “Sexy Singles” feature.
Jennifer grew up in the Somerton section of Northeast Philadelphia but attended Mount St. Joseph High School in Flourtown from 1989 to 1993 along with her sisters (one of whom, Jessica, also graduated from Chestnut Hill College in 1995). Small and thin, she could pass for a college student, but despite her diminutive, seemingly delicate stature, Jennifer is a powerhouse in the highly competitive, macho local restaurant industry.
The deceptively demure and soft-spoken Ms. Carroll, who hardly looks like a drill sergeant, has been the chef in charge of running 10 Arts, the posh restaurant in the palatial lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel. This is a job that in the not-too-distant past would have always gone to a man, probably one from western Europe. Professional kitchens have long been a bastion of sexist, intimidating behavior towards women.
“There’s certainly still some sexism you face in this job,” said Jennifer, who appears to weigh not much more than 100 pounds, in an interview with me before her TV appearances, “but I’m strong, and I stand up for myself. I’m sarcastic. Some women (in this business) do let the boys push them around, but I don’t. Sexism doesn’t bother me; I can deal with it. I have to work harder and faster to get the job done. If there is something heavy to lift or some other (physically demanding) task, I always say I’ll do it.”
The lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel (right across the street from City Hall), where the new 10 Arts restaurant is situated, is extraordinarily impressive to all but the most jaded observer. (The name of the new restaurant comes from the hotel’s address, which is 10 Avenue of the Arts.) Its 16 huge marble columns, made of white-gray marble from the same Tuscan quarries that were used by Michelangelo and other Renaissance sculptors, surround a rotunda which support a 100-foot wide dome that was designed to look like the Pantheon in Rome.
“I realize I am very lucky to work here,” said Jennifer. “In fact, it’s unbelievable. I know that I will never work in a place like this again in my lifetime.”
Although Jennifer grew up in Northeast Philly, her parents insisted that she and her sisters, Jessica and Sunny, attend Mount St. Joseph because “they said that education was very, very important and that Mount St. Joseph had a great reputation.”
Jennifer earned top grades at every school she attended, but when she was at “the Mount” in Flourtown, no one could have predicted she would wind up running a restaurant in the Ritz Carlton. “My dad was a steak-and-potatoes guy,” she said. “My mom took cooking classes and wanted to be more adventurous, but my dad would have none of it, so our meals were pretty basic — protein, starch and Del Monte canned vegetables.”
In addition to her scholastic excellence, Jennifer played on the soccer and lacrosse teams at Mount St. Joseph. “My sisters swam,” said Jen, “and we all played piano and tap-danced and did other activities. Our mom (Joan, now 61), was awesome. She was at every one of our sporting events, and she was also a softball coach and soccer coach. She is very proud of me now, and she still calls me every day, and she visits us all a lot.”
Jennifer originally planned to go to law school, but after one year at Catholic University and two years at St. Joseph’s University-, she realized that her destiny would not be found in law libraries or courtrooms. She informed her mom that she would be dropping out of St. Joe’s and enrolling in the Restaurant School of Philadelphia. “She said, ‘You’re crazy, but you have to follow your heart.’”
“I think that (being a chef) is either in you, or it’s not,” said Jennifer. “I always loved cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, even when I was a kid, and I worked in a restaurant in Ocean City as a teenager. I always felt I had to be different from anybody else I knew, and I guess now I am.”
After graduating from the Restaurant School, Carroll became the first female sous chef at Sonoma in Manayunk. She subsequently worked in other restaurants in Philadelphia and San Francisco before landing at New York City’s ultra-chic Le Bernardin. “Everyone starts at the bottom at Le Bernardin,” said Jen, “no matter how much experience you may have.”
Le Bernardin, run by famed French chef Eric Ripert, is the only restaurant ever to earn the New York Times’ highest rating of four stars 10 years in a row. When the Ritz Carlton in Philly asked Ripert to open a restaurant in their spectacular lobby, he selected Jennifer Carroll to run it.
“She has been so good and so energetic,” said Michael Walsh, the hotel’s general manager. “Thanks to the way Jennifer is running the kitchen, we’re getting a great reputation as one of the best restaurants in the city.”