Chef John Lawrence
Executive Chef at George’s Food and Spirits
Chef John Lawrence brings his food passion for oysters to the Blue Ridge
“I want people to see George’s Food and Spirits as a wonderful place to get good seafood.”
John Lawrence is the Executive Chef at George’s Food and Spirits located in the George Washington A Wyndham Grand Hotel in downtown Winchester, Virginia. Being open minded as a chef has had a huge impact on the success that John has reached in his culinary career. Having worked in many seafood towns including the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Chef John has brought a seafood twist to the menu at George’s Food and Spirits.
My favorite dish to cook: Curried Eggs, it’s a family thing
My guilty food pleasure: Five Guys Hamburger
My most essential culinary tool in the kitchen: Japanese Steel Knife
My new favorite culinary tool: Emergent Circulator: circulates water temperature.
The one food spice I can’t live without is: Thyme
What are your earliest memories in the kitchen?
“Washing too many dishes, I started out as a busboy and a dishwasher. When I was about 7 or 8, I got my first lesson on how to cook pancakes and it just snowballed from there. My father traveled the world and would always bring back new food dishes.”
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
“My father inspired me to become a chef, as we go through history on my dad’s side there were a lot of chefs. On my mother’s side, my great-great grandmother owned and operated the Savoy Hotel in Pearisburg, Virginia. She used a cast iron stove to do all of her cooking, she would wake up at 5 am and start the fire, and at the end of the night she would stay up to put it out. I actually have a lot of her recipes, I’ve modernized a lot of her recipes that I’ve used in the past they’ve been very helpful.”
What do you love most about food?
“The challenge, food is fun. I’ve worked with food for so many years and something always surprises me.
When I first started way back in the dark ages, it wasn’t as exciting, there wasn’t as much to work with. Nowadays, it’s just awesome – the international culinary world is right here in our backyard.”
Do you have formal culinary training or have you learned everything on your own?
“Both, I started out when I was 16 and I went back to school when I was in my early 30s. I graduated from New England Culinary Institute in 1994, and from there I did almost 8 years with the Ritz-Carlton. Then to New Orleans back to Coastal Virginia’s Tide’s Inn and down to the Outer Banks at the Sanderling Resort.”
What sets George’s Food and Spirits apart from other Winchester restaurants?
“I added oysters – you have to have oysters. I have worked with the Rappahannock Oyster Company in Virginia for years as my house oysters. We serve them raw, we serve them baked, and we are now added fried oysters to the menu. I want people to see George’s Food and Spirits as a wonderful place to get good seafood.”
What food styles have you brought into the kitchen based your experiences?
“There’s an Asian influence, a Southern country influence for example using black eyed peas in some of our dishes. It’s interesting to see what you can marinate together.”
What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
“I’m torn on that, I always enjoy some fresh ginger. I’ve been playing with fresh peppercorn, and when it comes to flavoring agents I do a brown sugar and apple cider vinegar that I use with pork. I have mastered Asian brine that brings out a different element to the meat. I love bright flavors and some sweet.”
What has been your most challenging project in the food industry?
“Getting people trained and getting them to come in and work on different things, it’s winning the hearts and minds. Also, it’s getting customers, when I started to change things on the menu people would say to me ‘oh that’s my favorite dish’ and I would tell them well I can make it taste better for you.”
What is the key ingredient of becoming and maintaining success as a chef?
“Being open minded; don’t be afraid to eat anything. It might look nasty, but it’s going to taste great. Time management skills and realizing that this is not a 9 to 5 job, physically it can be challenging but it’s more of a mental thing you must keep focused on what you need to do. You have to juggle many balls and you can’t let any of them drop or else everything will come to a screeching halt.”
Just two blocks from Old Town Winchester an easy walk, book a weekend at this historic award winning boutique hotel and meet Chef John Lawrence in person. Enjoy the night life with three craft breweries within walking distance.